Self-care remains an important part of the student lifestyle, but have we moved away from its true meaning?
First term can be a tricky one for all of us, at any stage of our degree (I’m about to start my third first term and believe me, they never come without a challenge).You’ve had the summer to reflect on what you’d change about the last year, and the improvements you want to make for the future. Perhaps you’ve made a list of societies you want to join, club nights you want to book, and grades you want to achieve.
However, during this first term, many people admit to feeling down. You may feel stressed about upcoming assessments, or starting off the year on a high note. Maybe you’re worried about making new friends, as it seems most people are already in their cliques. You’ve never lived away from your hometown before, and London is huge and incredibly intimidating. Perhaps most of your friends have opted for a year abroad and you’re faced with the prospect of having to make new friends in your third year. Let’s be honest, the list of things to worry about is endless. But we’re not here to talk about that – we’re here to talk a little bit about “self-care”, and how its popular definition may not be all that accurate.
It’s important we take time to look after ourselves in a society that doesn’t always accommodate a healthy lifestyle. We’ve all seen those diagrams – a triangle with one of life’s demands at each point, but you can only ‘pick two’: choose between your health, social life and good grades. Choose between your relationship, sleeping for eight hours a night, and finishing that essay due Monday. While the reality is a lot more complicated, the theory isn’t far off. So, it’s vital that we adjust our lifestyle to society’s high demands, and take time out to focus on ourselves for a hot minute.
But what does self-care actually look like? Over the past six months, I’ve heard the concept of ‘self-care’ thrown around a lot. Martha is staying in and watching Netflix tonight with a Chinese takeaway, because ‘self-care’. Joey just bought new trainers, because ‘self-care’. Emily just spent two hours in the bath, applying three different face masks, and lighting twenty candles whilst listening to Bon Iver on vinyl because, well, freaking ‘self-care’. But overindulgence isn’t necessarily caring for yourself, and in fact may be doing the opposite if you really can’t afford this lifestyle. Good self-care – active self-care – should be accessible to everyone capable of initiating it.
I hold my hands up. I am completely, 100% guilty of a good old self-care day, week or month. But that’s the problem: it becomes a lifestyle, and it’s one that doesn’t necessarily make you feel a whole lot better. Aren’t all your worries still alive and kicking? Deadlines still looming? Once the self-care sesh is over, there’s still the just-as-long list of things you ought to be doing but really can’t bring yourself to do. Surely this isn’t how it’s meant to work? Isn’t self-care meant to leave us with a feeling of peace and calm?
I feel that maybe the idea of self-care that we’ve come to know and love is potentially distorted from what really might help us get over those uni blues and beyond. I wonder if many of us (myself included) simply use it as a form of procrastination. Instead of putting off deadlines and binging Grey’s Anatomy for the second time, maybe what would benefit my mental, physical and emotional health is putting on my favourite playlist and tidying my room. It’s not going to get my essays written any quicker, but maybe it will help clear my mind and make me more productive when I sit down to do them later.
This distorted view of self-care – passive self-care – often involves spending unnecessary time and money. What may be more effective is active self-care. This often means doing the more difficult thing, the thing you really don’t want to do that much, and actually helping yourself get tasks completed. It’s about being your own friend, giving yourself the encouragement you would give to your best mate, if they were in your shoes. When trying to define self-care, I came across a wealth of sources that nearly all suggested it should improve our emotional, mental or physical health.
Specifically, self-care is being active in improving your own wellbeing, particularly in times of stress. It needs to be planned, self- initiated, and it must be something that we enjoy. In short, self-care should help relieve anxiety and feelings of stress or sadness. I’m not saying that if you feel you need a break you shouldn’t take one. Sometimes life is overwhelming, and we need to check out for a while.That’s okay – balance is important. However, while an evening of Netflix after a day of study is totally reasonable, I don’t think that can be classed as self-care, but rather simply relaxing. For me, self-care isn’t easy or passive – it’s active.
We should also keep in mind that self-care is a spectrum of sorts, meaning that you may need to do something small, like get your home space organised to feel better, or you may need to work through some heavier challenges. It may get to the point where self-care isn’t enough. Sometimes, you need someone else to care for you – and that’s okay too. Part of listening to yourself is knowing your needs and when you need help. If you’re feeling constantly down, even though you feel you’re exercising ‘self-care’ every day, consider re-evaluating your view on what self-care means to you and whether it’s bene ting you in the long run. Everyone wants their first term to run smoothly, and caring for ourselves – really caring for ourselves – is an important step towards that.
This article was originally published in Issue 721 of Pi Magazine.