An analysis of digital stories of self-care practices among first- year students at a university of technology in South Africa




This article reports on a qualitative study that explored self-care practices among first-year students
in managing stressors related to the first-year experience in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Qualitative data were collected using a purposive sample between March and June 2022. A total of 26
first-year students registered at a university of technology in South Africa participated in the study by
producing digital stories sharing how they practised self-care. The domains of self-care were adopted
as a framework and data were analysed using thematic analysis. Six domains of self-care practices
emerged from the data and were categorised as physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, professional,
and psychological. The findings show that first-year students engaged in a range of self-care practices
across the domains of self-care including exercising, listening to music, performing ancestral rituals,
donating blood, following successful people on social media, and learning new skills. Further,

relational self-care was the most fundamental domain that underpinned first-year students’ well-
being. In contrast, oversleeping or sleep deprivation, reckless spending, and eating unhealthy food

to cope with stressors related to the first-year experience pointed to unhealthy self-care practices
in managing the stressors. Unhealthy self-care practices can threaten first-year students’ well-being
and possibly academic success. Student affairs and services need to design self-care programmes and
curricula to prevent harm and support adequate self-care. In designing self-care programmes, social
involvement and engagement are fundamental principles that should be emphasised. Future studies
can develop a self-care inventory to identify students at risk of poor self-care and design targeted
interventions to promote self-care.