When self-care becomes self-destruction

I spend most Sundays asleep. After a long week working and a long night partying, I grant myself permission to spend the day locked away napping and snacking with Netflix by my side. I free myself of the guilt that accompanies an unproductive day with the simple excuse that I am exercising self-care. I push responsibilities aside in the name of my own ‘well-being’ and in doing so fall prey to the rhetoric of the self-care movement. This behaviour exemplifies a widespread occurrence of students allowing shared notions of what defines appropriate stress-coping mechanisms to force them into unhealthy habits.

The decision of whether to go out can be a tricky one. Adrian Kiva/Argosy
The decision of whether to go out can be a tricky one. Adrian Kiva/Argosy

The self-care movement dominantly promotes the prioritization of one’s health and happiness. Lifestyle blogs release lists that outline how to love yourself by exercising mindfulness, eating kale and attending Pilates classes. But within the university environment we see a divergence from this. Students rather define self-care through self-destructive modes of behaviour. Drinking, napping, eating unhealthily and boycotting the gym and library are popular behaviours exercised by individuals set on practising self-love.

As students, we work extraordinarily hard to do well at Mount Allison. These academic efforts should certainly be balanced with relaxation to avoid overwhelming stress. But the problem lies in the stark contrast between the extreme ends of the spectrum. We force ourselves to stay in the library for eight hours straight, then see it as justification for drinking a whole bottle of alcohol.

When we uphold the belief that work and pleasure are mutually exclusive, we are motivated to find solace in the pursuit of non-academic avenues. While this can be beneficial, in some cases it discourages those passionate about their work from putting in their all. Each Friday, the familiar interaction of someone pressuring a friend to spend their evening at the bar instead of at the library can be heard on campus. In these cases, people are made to feel as if they’re not treating themselves with adequate care and respect for prioritizing long-term goals over short-term enjoyment.

This approach to self-care is also problematic because it upholds inadequate coping mechanisms. If self-care is understood through the aforementioned behaviours, problems go unaddressed and undealt with. Skipping out on the library to sleep then becomes a mode of putting off stress rather than managing it.

We should be mindful that what we call self-care mechanisms can become harmful and destructive. I will admit that I sleep all morning to rest, but I sleep all afternoon to fend off the stress of the impending week. Beyond health, it all boils down to the simple fact that we all love and care for ourselves differently.

We should not let stock-templates of what works for others determine what works for us. It would benefit us all to redefine our own senses of balance and self-care. By focusing on moderation and personal benefit, we redefine our understanding of self-care and limit the number of people at the bar only because their friends guilted them out of studying.

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