NEVER THAT: A Closer Look at Self-Care

As the year comes to a close, final projects start to pile up, job applications are being sent left and right and sleep is… well, nonexistent. As college students we often forget that we have limits to our capabilities — mentally, emotionally and physically. We have to remind ourselves that it’s okay to take a step back once in a while and, in fact, it’s actually healthy. As two people who are under a lot of stress (some of which we even bring upon ourselves), we each have our own ways to practice self care. Neither of us are experts but we’ve found what works for us.

Letting Self Care Break Your Bank? Never That

While self care is still something many people — Alyssa included — sometimes feel guilty about, we often use the phrase “Treat yo’ self,” as a way to justify. What once started as a Parks and Recreation meme has now turned into an excuse to buy coffee, clothes, or even a face mask. Self care has become extremely commercialized and has turned away from its true essence. Instead of being something to recharge our minds and emotions it has become a commercialized industry that sells bath bombs, face masks and candles. “The advertising industry has nudged self-care away from introspection and towards reflexive consumerism,” according to The Atlantic. “Self care” has inquired a superficial connotation with price tags attached.

Diminishing your mental well being for the sake of others? Never that.

Many think that the characteristic of an ideal romantic partner or a loyal friend includes being able to lean on one another. And while this is true, it’s important for individuals to recognize when leaning on someone can becoming dependence. It can be hard to know when to step back from a situation that you know you are not qualified to help with, and when aiding with the improvement of someone else’s mental health is in turn taking a toll on yours.

While giving advice and listening to each other is a necessity in so many interpersonal relationships, there is a limit to how much of someone else’s problems and individual can handle. And quite frankly, some psychologists have theorized that giving advice doesn’t always work (and can even backfire — Alexis can vouch for this first hand!).

Thomas Plante, Ph.D. is an experienced psychologist and author of psychological research. For Psychology Today, he wrote that: “Research using reactance theory informs us that whenever someone tells us what to do and how to do it, we respond with a defensive defiance because we want to maximize our personal freedom and decision making.”

So sometimes, stepping back and being there for only the amount of support that you are mentally able and willing to offer is your best bet. Protecting someone else’s mental health should never be done at the expense of your own.

One size fits all self care? Never that.

And while we recognize what works for us — going to bed before midnight, comfort food for dinner, an extra long shower — by no means is this the only way to take care of yourself. There are small steps that everyone can take to better their well being but it’s so important to be able to recognize when you need further, even professional support. There are resources available in the community (here in Ithaca we have things like CAPS, The Advocacy Center, and more) that can offer up additional resources and assistance. No one is ever alone in their self care journey nor should they feel ashamed of their process.

There’s a negative connotation around therapy that is slowly starting to change. Admitting you need help can be scary and is often looked down upon. How dare you seek outside help for your problems or even admit you have problems? Seeing a therapist is healthy and something everyone should do, whether you suffer from mental health issues or not. Therapy should be as normalized as seeing a general practitioner for your yearly check up. The Huffington Post reported in 2017 that although 18.6 percent of American adults suffer from mental illness, only 13 percent seek treatment. They attribute this to “structural policy problems like the lack of mental health research and a growing psychiatrist shortage.” As conversations surrounding mental health become more normalized, the stigma is starting to break down.

Thinking physical health and mental health aren’t connected? Never that.

We’re both big supporters of body positivity and feeling good in your own skin. What we’re not supporters of is letting poor physical health choices that will in turn affect your mental health. Neither of us are size 0, but we do realize the positive effects of being active in some aspect and eating (somewhat) healthy. Research shows that physical activity releases endorphins in the brain. According to the Mental Health Foundation “participation in regular physical activity can increase our self-esteem and can reduce stress and anxiety.” Physical activity can be as simple as a short walk.

What you put in your body can also affect your overall well-being. Alyssa is the first to admit she loves a good 4 for $4 from Wendy’s, but she also likes to cancel it out with a salad at times. A healthy diet can manage and prevent effects of depression and Alzheimer’s. Harvard Health Publishing states: “multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.” We aren’t encouraging anyone to crash diet or completely cut out junk food, but maybe just throw in a carrot once in a while.

While out generation seems like the first to take mental health seriously, we still have a long way to go. The first step may be to recognize your own limits and acknowledge that your feelings are valid and important.

Letting someone else tell you how to feel? Never that.

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