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Mental Health

Giving Yourself Grace: Supporting Your Mental Well-Being

The importance of taking care of yourself and creating goals to better support your mental well-being.

When it comes to perfectionism, it’s not difficult to see how a perfectionist might blur the line between being self-reflective and self-sabotaging.

I, Carlin A. Steere, tea connoisseur and the author of this article, am no therapist or social worker. I have no degree in cognitive behavioral therapy or yoga teacher certification. However, I share the capital-D-Dragon of perfectionism, the devilish creature that never seems to be satisfied and for those of us with the same Dragon, I think it’s safe to say that we think it’s tough.

I’d like to stress the significance of goal setting. If you’re like me, goal setting is something that you “shoot for the moon” with. For example, if I were to have a five-page paper due in fourteen days, my first instinct would be to plan my weekend around writing that five-page paper…however, that would make having a fulfilling social life on campus kind of difficult, right? Yes. It would make it extremely difficult… and I would be the one responsible for it.

It may seem easier at times to crank out work all at once and way ahead of time with the idea that I would have more free time later on when I theoretically wouldn’t have to worry about writing the paper, but the Dragon wouldn’t be satisfied. Besides, and I know this from experience, spending upwards of 10 hours in the library in one day isn’t the healthiest thing for a person to do.

The solution to this sounds incredibly simple but is harder to accomplish in practice: spacing out the work that needs to be done. That seems almost juvenile, right? Like, a first grader could come up with that answer! Well, maybe I need to talk to that first grader and have them hang around with me 24/7 because that is some solid advice. Just because it seems simple, though, doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a lot of hard work to be able to put it into practice.

Setting alarms on your phone or computer is an easy way to remind yourself to put the pencil down and take some time for yourself or to rejoin society and hang out with your friends. If you can put away your work before bed and do something mindless (or better yet, mindful!) your mind and body will thank you for it. Keep in mind that just because you have work doesn’t mean it needs to be done ASAP. Your health and mental well-being deserve some care and love too.

I am well aware that the idea of self-care has become a cliché as of late, but self-care doesn’t just have to be starting a bullet journal or taking a bath. Self-care is meant to suit your needs and if it happens to be journaling or bathing, that’s wonderful. If it takes a little more effort to get out of your head, that’s totally okay too.

Leaving schoolwork out of your personal life is huge. I believe this is one of the most impactful pieces of advice that I can give when it comes to giving yourself grace. Separating time for yourself to take a break from essay writing/studying/etc. can help tremendously in terms of stress levels and even with your self-image. If I find myself doing schoolwork for too long or being unable to stop doing work, I remind myself to take a break. I’m a big fan of scheduling, so physically writing down my me-time is a way to hold myself accountable for my self-care, an idea that might be beneficial for anyone wanting to make sure they have time in their day/week/general schedule to unwind and re-connect with themselves and others.

You might require a little more re-training of your mind to get you to a spot where you can recognize that self-care is something you need, and if that is the case, many colleges (including Kenyon College) offer mental health services that I would encourage all students to take advantage of. Though in my humble opinion, there is no such thing as taking advantage of mental health resources, as therapy and mental healthcare are helpful to each and every being on the planet. Being able to talk with a professional that doesn’t have a direct connection to your life can be incredibly helpful, even if it comes across as you ranting to your therapist for the allotted time.

Catching yourself in the act of self-sabotaging and/or self-demeaning is another positive step to take when working on scrubbing away any toxic perfectionism that might be plaguing your mind. If you find yourself in a downward spiral of self-criticism to the point where you are putting yourself down, take a second to stop and pause. I tend to use the following questions:

  • Why are you thinking these things? 
  • What can be done so that you can work on stopping the downward spiral of self-sabotaging?
  • How might I reframe these thoughts to help myself instead of hurt myself? (It is important to note that this question is one that might not be applicable to your situation. It might be the case that the negative self-tape you find yourself trapped in is not warranted under any circumstance. If this is the case, disregard this question and instead focus more on the second.)

It’s commonly said that acknowledging the fact that there is a problem is the first step in solving it and such is the case here. Of course, it is not the only step necessary to take in working on toxic perfectionism, but it does lead to working on re-wiring your thought process and allowing yourself to adjust and adapt in a positive manner.

Let’s do a quick recap of what’s essential to all us recovering type-A personalities:

  1. Setting attainable goals (and not working ourselves to death if we find ourselves setting unattainable ones)
  2. Setting time for self-care and rest 
  3. Catching ourselves in the act of a self-sabotaging spiral
  4. Not required but encouraged if possible: Seeking professional help to re-train our minds

We are all growing through what we are going through and just as a seed rarely grows into a blooming flower overnight, it is important to keep in mind that giving yourself grace is a process. You wouldn’t expect an acorn to grow into an oak tree in the blink of an eye, so it’s necessary to give yourself time to slow down the negative self-talk in order to quell the voice in your head.

We are only human but being human is wonderful, if not challenging. Those of us who have a strong desire for everything to fall into place as soon as possible might face a tougher time breaking through those challenges, but we know that it is possible.Keeping hope and continuing to work on ourselves is our “out” of toxic perfectionism. We are all deserving of love and happiness, so working on accepting that love and care is our collective, lofty-but-completely-possible endgame.

Be gentle and be kind to yourself. You got this.

Carlin Steere is a writer and poet at Kenyon College. When she's not on campus, she can be found on the beaches of Connecticut with a notebook in hand.