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  • Writer's pictureJessyca Stoepker

The not-so-pretty part of "self-care"

These days, "self-care" can mean just about anything. Social media gurus pose with lattes, comfy socks, and bath bombs and call it self-care. All the markets have caught on to this trend, labeling cozy blankets and Netflix series and tea and shopping sprees as a way to de-stress and practice caring for oneself.

Self-care has also come to represent misguided ways of thinking. I can't even mention how many times I've seen someone on Twitter or Facebook claim to aggressively "cut out the toxic people" in their lives. While creating boundaries and separating yourself from people that are truly abusive or overstepping is definitely important, it has seemed to become an abrasive trend: to shun everyone who disagrees with you, has a different opinion, or expresses concern, even if it's because they care about your well-being.

I'm not saying that doing these things or buying these items doesn't give us any sense of relief. I for one love candles, fuzzy socks, and sleeping in late just as much as the next person, and everyone needs a break from the taxing stress of life and the frustrating people in it. I'm a FIRM believer that multiple factors in our daily lives put too much pressure on achieving perfection--work, school, societies competitiveness, toxic masculinity, parents, relationships, etc. Mental illness wreaks havoc across our population due to this obsession, and it can be hazardous to our health.

But why do we think that we can label everything as "self-care" when it really doesn't do us well in the long run?

Those friends that disagree with you when we get a new girlfriend? They're not going to be there to vent to if you slam the door in their face. Those $10 daily face masks and manicures you pay for every month? They're not going to heal your traumas or help you pay for the therapy visits you may really need. Skipping class and calling it "a mental health day" is completely reasonable--especially if you have any existing mental or physical illness--but if missing those days starts to pile homework and lower test scores on to your shoulders, is that really more helpful and better for your psyche?

Perhaps the most dangerous part of what the "self-care" ideology has become is the thinking that treating ourselves to

nice things is the only way we heal--that, by preoccupying ourselves with materialistic satisfactions and dramatic actions we can later brag about, we side-step the bigger issues and bandage them with capitalist fads.

I'm not here to call anybody lazy, or to point fingers at who I think needs to try harder. We all have our own obstacles in life. I'm just suggesting that we quit using our skewed definition of self-care in order to feel better about our decisions.

Here are two things I try to keep in mind:

1.) Ninety percent of the time, physical possessions are not going to make us feel better. Of course, I'm guilty of doing this, too. I tend to go thrift shopping when I'm not feeling very well: it stimulates my thinking, and it gets me excited for new things to wear. And I just love having good style. But I've also learned to limit myself, either by only going once a month or by only buying one or two things.

2.) Self-discipline is an overlooked aspect of self-care. While I can claim I'm taking care of myself mentally by not forcing myself to go to the gym, in reality regular exercise is great for clearing my head and keeping my body functioning. There's only so many times I can claim "self-care" before it just becomes another excuse. This has been hard for me to learn, and I still struggle with it every day.

This also rings true with other things. Keeping my space clean and tidy helps TREMENDOUSLY with my mood. But with depression comes fatigue, and I don't feel like doing anything, let alone the dishes or the laundry. I'm stuck in this paradox: I'm too depressed to clean, but if I don't clean I get more anxious and depressed.

This has also been very hard for me, but I'm slowly building up my self-discipline to keep my studio at a respectable level of cleanliness.

If one really wants to practice self-care, I would recommend focusing on balance first. Ease up sometimes, but keep motivated. Stay in a few days, but get out of the house eventually. Buy things, but let those things actually improve your mental state (paints, books, music, plants). Allow yourself desserts, but stick with healthy meals. Distance yourself from people if you need to, but always be kind and supportive of others. Go with the flow until you recover, and then get back

on track. Be nice to yourself, but also be firm enough to achieve your goals.

Self-discipline is the hardest part of self-care--and it's definitely not the prettiest--but I would argue that it's usually the most important.

Does any else struggle with this balance? Let's talk. I'll be your accountability buddy if you need one, or your shoulder of support if you want one.

All the best,


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