Self-Care Doesn’t Mean Self-Indulgence
In our high-pressure world, there is little time to stop and reflect, let alone to really care for ourselves. Long before we came to college, we were pushed to be the best, to not only prove that we were excellent academics, but to also fulfill all the categories colleges look for in prospective students. Instead of pushing forward with work at the expense of our well-being, we should learn to care for ourselves and prioritize our health.
Self-care has recently emerged as a technique to deal with the threat of burnout and exhaustion. We are bombarded with stress relief and time management methods to try to address the problem on an individual level and to enable us to continue at the same frenetic pace of life. Change in habits is often equated with failure, and breaks from constant activity are too often criticized as a weakness or prevented by the prejudiced systems that expect all bodies and minds to be healthy all of the time or face the consequences. Our society places far too much value on “pushing through,” and we are trained to ignore our own needs. From the limited number of absences permitted in high schools around the country to Wesleyan’s restrictive and unhelpful medical leave policies, we are told that caring for ourselves is something we should only need to do if something goes wrong.
This should not be the case. We should not simply tolerate negative or toxic environments, whether those are constituted by workplace hazards, mold infested living spaces, or destructive people; we should actively work towards ensuring our own safety and well-being and that of the people around us. Too often I have heard people say that if a job is dangerous or inaccessible, people should simply get another job. After all, you only need to apply to several places, wait for responses, hope you get interviewed, hope you get accepted, hope you find somewhere to live, and hope you can move there. Of course, all this takes no time and has no cost on your health, either.
The balance between working on everything we would like to and taking care of ourselves is especially important for us when we are ill, injured, or disabled. Our culture permits temporary impairment, but even then, our responsibilities during that time are not forgiven, and the demands placed on us do not take into consideration the time it might actually take to heal. Recognition of physical limitations is framed by our society as a weakness, but ignoring the need to heal can lead to longer convalescence and greater damage. There is little awareness, let alone tolerance, for the rest needed to recover from a head injury, for example.
Someone who suffers a concussion becomes more vulnerable to repeated injury, a factor that increases with the number and severity of concussions. The symptoms can last for years. Even though awareness of various needs is increasing, such as the importance of proper care for concussions, there is very little acknowledgement that being ill, injured, or disabled is not a personal flaw. The need to rest, to care for one’s self, is common to everyone, and everyone benefits from the results.
It is a simple and indisputable fact that we all do better when we are less tired. We are safer, more accurate, and have more effort to give. How can we create a system in which we value hard work without neglecting our individual needs? I believe it is possible by being more receptive and encouraging flexibility to individual needs.
For example, I have had a number of professors argue against extensions on papers in the name of fairness, and I have been the annoyed student who worked hard to get their paper in on time when someone else received extra time, but I have also appreciated the professors who emphasized the quality of the work over the timing. For those students who won’t put in any effort, giving them more time won’t change the quality of their work, but for those who do care, time can make a huge difference in terms of the quality of the work they produce.