Eat your vegetables. Exercise daily. Brush your teeth. Put sunscreen on.
When we hear the term “self-care” at Knox, we immediately jump to considerations of mental health. I believe this is largely due to the fact that as children, we were taught a very one-sided version of self care, one that is almost entirely contingent on caring for our physical selves with very little concrete advice on how to take care of our mental and emotional health.
With Knox’s commitment to activism and a rigorous academic life, it is not surprising that when the topic of self-care comes up, it generally means we need to give ourselves some time to breathe and tune out the world. The campus is opening itself to discussions of sensitive topics and triggering descriptions that ultimately will serve us well as we push the college to be a better place.
However, in the short term, a lot of emotionally taxing and difficult conversations can leave us unprepared to take on the challenges presented in academic and social life.
The simple solution to the problem is self-care, just not the type your parents probably raised you on. While eating right and maintaining physical health certainly can help your mental state, focussing on your emotional well-being should also be a part of your daily health rituals.
Whether it’s finding time to meditate or taking a break from your work to sit down and watch a favorite TV show, there needs to be a shift in our understanding of what is necessary to live a healthy life.
The hardest (and therefore most beneficial) part of the mental aspect of self-care is taking the time to honestly listen to yourself. Finding the balance between work and relaxation is hard enough when intense emotions and exhaustion aren’t at play, so this aspect of self-care is more of a continuing journey than a skill that can be acquired.
Personally, the hardest part for me is being able to step back and acknowledge when things are not okay in my headspace. I often adapt the mentality that if I just keep pushing, I’ll be better when all my work is through. But without attention to self-care, that mentality can be dangerous, if not deadly.
All too often we are lead to believe that physical ailments are the only reason we should be taking time off from our obligations. Daily practice of mental self-care helps create a cultural shift that recognizes the equal importance of mental and physical health. It is substantially easier to tell when something is wrong with our bodies, but that is no excuse to neglect the nebula of our emotional well-being. Moreover, the stigma of mental health issues silences far too many wonderful people. We must revolutionize the way we teach methods for healthy living to include caring for our mental health.
It all begins with taking time out for ourselves to de-stress, reevaluate and plan for the future. I am making the pledge to spend an equal amount of energy on my physical and mental health everyday, and I suggest you do the same. Self-awareness is difficult to develop, but by taking time for ourselves when we feel overwhelmed we are establishing a pattern of self-care that acknowledges the importance of mental health.