Self-care isn’t selfish

Last year, when I arrived at Mount Allison, I was a scared, anxious wreck with only one goal in mind: to survive. I figured that as long as I devoted all of my time to schoolwork and exercising, I would be the well-rounded student that I thought I absolutely needed to be, and maybe then I would be happy. This harmful mindset hung over my head like a raincloud through all of my first term.

At the end of the year, my grades were good. I had been exercising several times a week and trying to eat well. I left my dorm long enough to go out for coffee with friends before dragging myself back to my desk to study. I had done everything I could to fit the image of the “perfect student” that I had in my head.

And yet, I was miserable, and the facade I had created eventually fell apart. When faced with difficulties, I chose to bury what I was feeling rather than meet it face-to-face. Sometimes, those emotions would surface and threaten to swallow me whole, and I didn’t yet have any healthy coping mechanisms that would help me deal with them. I began feeling lost and distant from the rest of the students around me, and I started leaving my room less and less.

If I’ve learned anything since last year, it’s that this is no way to live.

I put too much emphasis on my schoolwork and not enough on my mental health. I knew how to write papers and exams, but I didn’t know myself.

I’ve learned that self-care is anything but selfish – it is self-preservation, and could even be considered an act of rebellion in a society that doesn’t value taking breaks. So if you haven’t heard it lately, this is your reminder to put your books and pencil down and breathe if you’ve been working for too long.

When was the last time you did something for yourself? Ask yourself: am I overwhelmed? What do I need right now? If you’re hungry, take the time to eat. If you’ve been studying for too long and your brain is turning into mush, get up. Remember that being gentle with yourself only when you’re content is the same as watering the plants only when it’s raining. You can take that bath, or go for that walk, or talk with that friend. Self-care doesn’t need to be extravagant – sometimes it is just simply letting yourself be still in a world that is go, go, go.

If you’re struggling today, if the towering pile of schoolwork in front of you is too much to bear, please know that it is perfectly okay to look after yourself first. Let this article be your permission slip to walk away from your responsibilities for a little while – I promise they won’t seem so heavy when you return.

Sophie Betts