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Self-care isn’t just watching Netflix, it’s an action

Editorial opinion by Emily Feek

One of the hottest trends of the last decade, self-care, is undoubtedly going to follow us into 2020. You’ve heard it all before: take time for yourself, relax, run a hot bath and read a book.

But self-care isn’t just sitting back and doing nothing after a busy day. There’s validity to tuning out for a while and watching some TV, but is it self-care? Not really.

Self-care means different things to different people. There are a number of ways to practice self-care, and while taking a long bath might be a great way to unwind for one person, to someone with anxiety and overactive thoughts, it might just be too much time to think.

Regardless of what works for you, we can probably all (or at least mostly) agree that self-care is important to your relationship with yourself.

Often when we talk about relationships, we refer to how we interact with others. But how do we interact with ourselves? We spend more time with ourselves than anyone else does, so shouldn’t that be a priority?

Taking care of ourselves comes down to the same thing all of our other relationships do: putting in effort.

This effort is particularly vital for full-time students with part-time jobs; a paper written by Whitney McLaughlin in the Journal of American College Health addressed the need for resident advisors to practice self-care to avoid burnout.

According to McLaughlin, “achieving wellness requires intentionality in health-related decision-making.” That means our self-care should be, you guessed it, intentional.

If we are making decisions for our health and well-being, that means we shouldn’t just sit idly by and binge-watch “Friends” for the third time, justifying it as self-care. (Trust us, Netflix is doing you and your well-being a favor by ditching “Friends.”)

Our best bet at practicing active and effective self-care is to focus on consistently practicing healthy behaviors — forming good habits, essentially.

Good habits are always going to be good for your health and well-being, and self-care is considered integral to maintaining mental health as well as physical health, according to McLaughlin.

This holds even more true when it comes to managing burnout from work.

When considering our relationship with ourselves, we need to consider that we have many selves; each person will view us differently, and it’s accurate to say we adopt different personas to suit whatever situation we find ourselves in, notably between our work and personal lives.

Bringing your work home with you is a common issue that boils down to a lack of separation between our work and personal selves and a lack of effective self-care, according to an article by Sara Bressi and Elizabeth Vaden published in the Clinical Social Work Journal.

Though the article focused on social workers and the unique demands of that field, the concepts of burnout and bringing home your work are applicable to us all in different ways. Even if our work is not as emotionally demanding as social work can be, we still have to deal with workplace stress and the burden of overworking ourselves.

One notable element of the article is this: self-care should acknowledge the many facets of the self, focusing on balancing the different elements of ourselves and the specific expectations and roles we fill.

Self-care isn’t just about relaxing, but about containing “the impact of the professional self on the personal,” and separating our work stresses from our personal lives when possible, according to Bressi and Vaden.

The best way to manage those stressors is with behavior that promotes well-being, aka intentional self-care habits. Things like active hobbies, exercise, creative activities and socializing with the people we care about, are all viable options for putting distance between yourself and your work, according to Bressi and Vaden.

Sometimes, though, self-care is more than managing day-to-day stress. Sometimes it’s about coping with mental illness and that classic seasonal affective disorder that we’re running into this time of year. That’s okay.

If you want to practice active self-care this year and work on improving yourself, be intentional about it. Do things that you know work for you and make you feel good. Go outside more, spend time with friends or learn new skills like knitting or cooking.

And most importantly, don’t be afraid to utilize the resources we have on campus. When it comes to managing mental health, a lot of us aren’t prepared to go it alone and we shouldn’t have to.

Self-care isn’t just about the things you do by yourself. It’s about the things you do for yourself, and that includes reaching out for help from others. Utilize the Counseling Center and the Wellness Wednesday group meetings if you can, and if you need.

We owe it to ourselves to keep ourselves healthy and happy, and that’s what self-care is all about. So the next time you pull up “The Office” and decide to rewatch a season, take a second to ask yourself if it’s actually fulfilling or if you’re just dodging issues, because escapism only works for so long before everything compounds. Take care of yourselves.

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