The other day I watched a youtube video titled “Self-Care is Kinda BS” by one of my favorite Youtubers Arpi Park. To introduce, Arpi Park has a generous following of 265k followers on Youtube and is most well-known for his videos on being a student at Stanford University. I was expecting the title to be click-bait and was a bit surprised to hear about how Arpi actually dismisses the concept of self-care.
The video starts off by Arpi explaining how many people in today’s society believe in the concept of “limited willpower.” This concept became popular during the early 2000s and is basically the theory explaining how everytime you make a decision, you are cutting back on the reservoir of willpower that you have available to yourself. Under this theory, if you are being very productive all day and consistently resist the multiple temptations (ex. social media) around you, you will eventually cave-in at some point because you are limited in how much self-control you have. Thus, if people are limited in willpower, in order to have moments of productivity people need moments of unproductivity to refuel or recharge.
This theory might sound reasonable or familiar to you because it’s deeply ingrained in our conception of work-life balance. In my opinion, if you believe in the practice of self-care, by default you believe in the idea of limited willpower. Self-care exists on the foundation that we all have limited willpower because it assumes we need to give ourselves me-time in order to continue functioning in the future. Arpi rejects the concept of limited willpower and concludes that students “don’t need self-care as much as we think”.
He believes that only those who believe that self-care is necessary will need self-care to function better. My first response after watching the video was similar to when I first read its title; how can you NOT value self-care!?! Aren’t we limited in energy to have constant self-control, we’re not robots after all. But then I realized I was missing his point. He’s arguing that my need for self-care in the first place is because based on my perception that I am limited in the amount of self-control and brain power I have. I now somewhat agree with Arpi that self-care is not the cure to unhappiness as cute, mental health instagram posts present it to be.
I still see some of the benefits of self-care but I also see how the term can be abused. Let me explain. With COVID-19, I feel like I’ve been able to incorporate self-care into my life more than ever. Throughout my years at Mount Allison I’ve tried having an end time to my day at 5pm. To have an “end time” of 5pm means as soon as 5pm hits, I can drop my pen and do whatever I want. I could then use my evening to try a new recipe, partake in hobbies, play sports, watch a movie, etc. The benefits of having an end time is that you’re inclined to be more productive during the day, not burnout in the long-run, live meaningfully, and have more energy throughout the day. In previous years, I’ve never been able to afford a 5pm end time for more than 1 day a week. However with COVID-19, I’ve been able to have 3 or 4 days a week where my end time is 5pm and it has brought me so much happiness. It’s been really nice to have more frequent video-calls with my family and have time to extend on topics I’m randomly curious about. I consider a lot of what I do after 5pm as “self-care” and having this time to socialize and make time for myself has been incredible to my mental health. At the same time, in my past I’ve escaped from social events in the name of “self-care.” During my second year at Mt. A, I struggled to take care of my mental health because I would use self-care as an excuse to step-out from social situations. I would often feel so drained from the school week that by Friday when a lot of social events were occurring, all I wanted to do was watch Netflix and sleep. Instead of going to my friends house for board game nights, to club meetings, or midnight trips to Goyas with friends, I would tell myself that my exhaustion and unhappiness were from not giving myself enough me-time and rest. I’m not saying that binge watching netflix or going to bed early is a “bad” thing to do, they’re just not very good at making you happy if you’re doing it all the time. Sometimes when you’re feeling down, getting your foot out the door and giving yourself a small push to show up at a friends house can be the right call. Over the years I’ve realized that while I enjoy spending time with myself, social interactions are super important to my well-being as well. There is nothing like having a meaningful conversation with someone, regardless of whether you know them well or not. Self-care is not an excuse for me to exclude myself from social situations though I still do that from time to time. Are you letting self-care get in the way of making once in a lifetime connections?