The Ugly Side of Self-Care

“Before anything else, make sure you’re taking care of yourself.”

We hear these words all the time during exam season. From our friends, our families, our professors, student wellness advocates on campus, and sometimes even random strangers on campus. While the sentiment that persuades us to take time for ourselves is often well-intended, the tendency to promote self-care can sometimes be harmful, especially when we look to the examples of self-care promoted on social media.

There is a narrative on social media that is becoming increasingly popular that self-care consists primarily of rewarding ourselves when we complete tasks that need to get done. Self-care, through the lens of social media, consists mostly of bubble baths, face masks, and binging Netflix after completing even the smallest of tasks.

These little rewards we give ourselves are quick fixes that satisfy us at the moment but usually end up making us feel worse in the long run. Every time I’ve watched Brooklyn 99 for three hours in bed instead of getting a head start on an assignment, I’ve ended up feeling even more stressed out than I did before since I’ve wasted time which I could have instead filled with productivity. While several of us, myself included, find watching Netflix or having a bath to be great ways to unwind during times of stress, there are other ways in which we can (and probably should) take care of ourselves that help us feel better in the long run.

Instead of gratifying our immediate impulses for ways to take care of ourselves, it’s important to prioritize things that we actually need to get done to both increase our productivity and help keep us comfortable. Instead of watching TV or scrolling through social media for our much needed breaks from exam prep and final assignments, we can easily do that load of laundry that really needs to get done, finish up a few smaller tasks we’ve been putting off all week, go for a walk, or even go to bed early. While these tasks are not the glamorous acts of self-care we see on social media, these are the acts that are ultimately going to help us feel our best when we are under the most stress.

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