I have made quite a few questionable decisions in the name of “treating myself.” I’ve seriously gotten off a train on my way to a class because I received an email saying one of my favourite stores was having a sale. For some reason, in second year I considered skipping class to buy a new pair of jeans a revolutionary act of self-care.
Obviously, this eventually backfired, and I quickly learned that dodging responsibilities did nothing for me in the long run. I always ended up at my desk writing an essay at 3:00 am with only the heavy bags under my eyes and the fluorescent light of my lamp to keep me company.
When I think back on this period of my academic career I usually laugh at how ridiculous and irresponsible I was. However, I completely understand how I got to that point. Sometimes when we get overwhelmed, instead of doing everything, we end up doing nothing.
Post-secondary can be difficult at times because everything tends to happen at once. October comes out of nowhere like a cold bucket of water. Everything is due, you’re behind on your readings, and the expensive planner you bought, and swore you’d use, is nowhere to be found. Even the kid who shows up to class in a full suit is having trouble keeping up.
This type of busyness is normal and ultimately manageable. The real problem is when you begin to feel overwhelmed and out of control. It’s like driving with that one person in your life who has intense road rage and no concept of a speed limit. If you’ve ever experienced this feeling I invite you to answer this question: how many times have you said yes when you should have said no?
University is a place where you have so many opportunities to discover and explore new interests. There’s a club for everything, an outing every weekend, and an on-campus event happening at any given time. I am in no way saying that the desire to get involved and participate is a bad thing. On the contrary, I think it’s healthy to take a break from the academic side of the post-secondary experience to develop interests, friendships, and just have fun. However, it is definitely unhealthy to go to unrealistic lengths in the name of not missing out on anything.
The reality of the situation is that there is no possible way anyone can keep their mental health and well-being at a good level without setting some boundaries. This is exactly what happened to me in second year. I said yes to every night out, yes to every extra shift at work, and yes to every favour anyone asked of me. I became so overwhelmed with all the things I said yes to I convinced myself that ditching my responsibilities and “treating myself” was self-care.
I know now that my interpretation of self-care was definitely warped. True self-care is setting boundaries that you respect, and do not allow others to cross. Saying no is an act of self-care that can take years of practice but is necessary to develop.
How many times have you said yes to something only to have the day roll around, and the thought of having the other person cancel fill you with unbridled joy? Don’t be fooled into thinking that needing a day to yourself every now and again makes you selfish or lazy. We live in a culture that loves to throw the word lazy around when people simply need down time. Instead of lazy, consider the fact that you might be tired, anxious, stressed, frustrated, or just in need of some alone time.
Everyone has to find their own balance, and it does take time. Trust your instincts and listen to what your body is telling you. There will be another club meeting you can attend with the hopes of meeting like-minded people. There will be another pub night you can wait in line for to be awkwardly patted down, and then spend all night dancing in the cafeteria with your friends. However, as cliché as it sounds, there will never be another you. Take care of yourself.