The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
As I dragged myself out of bed this morning, ten minutes before I had to leave for a French class, I realised I was rapidly hurtling towards burnout. I pulled on the comfiest clothes I could find, drowning myself in an oversized fleece; shoved my hair up in a claw clip (it makes me feel like Audrey Hepburn even when I’m exhausted), and grabbed my laptop before heading out the door.
The class went over my head. I was in no state to engage with a grammar lesson and so I sat there trying to conceal my yawns and avoiding eye contact with the professor by staring at my knees for the majority of the hour. Bedraggled, emotionally and physically drained, and lacking in anything resembling motivation: I was the epitome of a sight for sore eyes.
It goes without saying that it was time for a self-care moment. But in a world where we’re expected to operate at 100% all the time, how can we justify taking a moment to ourselves, without that coming at a cost to others?
When we think of self-care, it’s often face masks and beauty treatments that spring to mind. Whilst I find these things enjoyable, on occasion, they resemble gimmicks more than providing any sustainable solution to what is often an emotional burnout. Yes, my skin might supposedly look brighter because I used a vitamin C mask, but I’m still craving the security and peace of hibernating in my bed for the foreseeable future.
Therefore, for me, self-care comes in different forms. It doesn’t necessarily always have to pander to a physical vanity. It represents a reset in my mind. Despite the cliché, I find if the spaces I occupy are clear, my mind reflects that state by being positive and optimistic.
Let me explain…
In moments of total exhaustion, I’ll often spend the day at home, completing more mundane tasks that I’ve been avoiding – like laundry or doing a food shop. It gives my mind space to breathe and recollect its thoughts. Whilst I would usually remain around the university buildings in between lectures, I’ll come home and work in the quiet of my room instead. I’ll have my favourite snacks on hand and listen to what my body tells me is necessary. It might not be the most productive of workdays, but in the long term it will help my work rate. Maybe I’ll even opt for a night to myself and try and get to sleep earlier than usual, even if that means turning down or cancelling plans.
Alternatively, sometimes when burnout creeps in, it’s time to lighten the pressure placed on us with some well-deserved fun. I’ll avoid doing another preparatory reading, in favour of going to the pub with some friends for a laugh, or heading to a coffee shop for a catchup and a cake. Sometimes alleviating stress means spending time with people who make you feel loved. You might not be the life and soul of the party but being around the action can revitalise your mood.
None of these solutions, be it alone or with people, are selfish. There’s an important distinction between being selfish and self-care that has been lost in translation over the years. Selfishness is doing something self-serving to get ahead, often at the direct expense of others. Meanwhile, self-care stems from a place of underlying confidence in recognising personal limits and acting accordingly to put in place healthy boundaries. By taking time to invest in ourselves, we inadvertently benefit others, as we’ll have more positive energy and time to dedicate to those around us.
Although no one wants to relive the era of lockdowns during the pandemic, there is one thing I think we collectively learnt in the midst of the chaos: that slowing down is sometimes an unavoidable necessity. Taking time to reflect, recollect and revitalise yourself in the name of self-care is essential to thrive in a world that never seems to stop. So be it a face mask, a nap or a night out, spend some time today investing in your future self.