The ups and downs of 2020 have introduced many post-secondary students to a new version, a more radical version, of self-care — self-preservation.
The wellness industry has been growing for many years, but in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic it has taken off in a whole new way. Now more than ever, it’s important to look after your well-being physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
For some, self-care used to be just about pampering yourself, like by having a spa day and a chance to relax. Now, self-care has begun to take on a new tone. One that involves being your own caretaker and stepping up to take direct action against the issues you are facing.
That’s not to say that things like bubble baths and facemasks aren’t a fun way to take some time for yourself and relax. If those little gestures of care create joy for you, there’s no reason to cut them out. However, there are often many larger, deeper problems that cannot be fixed with surface-level attention and some deep breaths.
In a series of workshops from Indiana State University, radical self-care is described as “the assertion that you have the responsibility to take care of yourself first before attempting to take care of others.” The main focus is on making sure you are addressing your own health concerns and taking care of yourself, before extending your energy to others.
This is especially important to keep in mind as a university student. Students already experience staggeringly high levels of stress, along with many other challenges to their mental and emotional health.
The 2019 National College Health Assessment surveyed 55,000 students across Canada, concluding that over 80 per cent of them had felt “overwhelmed by everything to do” in the previous year.
Living through a global pandemic, large-scale racial unrest and many other circumstances over the last 12 months has only served to worsen this.
Statistics Canada released the results of an online questionnaire completed by over 46,000 Canadians in 2020, in which over half of the participants indicated that their mental health had worsened since the beginning of the pandemic and the start of physical distancing. Young people aged 15 to 24 were the most likely to report a negative impact on their mental health, and were also the most likely to report symptoms of moderate to severe anxiety.
Radical self-care looks different for everyone. It all depends on what you need in order to preserve your health and stability.
Some people might need to put up boundaries and limits on their behaviour. This could mean cutting off ties with negative people in your life, or working to quit harmful practices and habits.
Others might need to seek help by accessing some form of therapy or reaching out to those around them. Many probably need to work on developing healthy coping mechanisms and holding themselves accountable for their own well-being.
One thing to be wary of is toxic positivity. This is when, for the sake of being positive, we ignore or neglect what we are really feeling. Instead, it is essential to acknowledge any negative thoughts or feelings you might have, and take direct action to combat them. This is what self-care has evolved into.
It is important to spend a lot of time checking in with yourself. Everyone should work on recognizing their emotions, remembering that their feelings are valid and taking the time to address them. Becoming aware of yourself, and then realizing what you need to do to improve a certain situation, is vital to the preservation of your mental health.
Self-preservation is radical self-care because taking care of your own health over the last year has been an act of survival.
Facing all the challenges of 2020, and then prioritizing your own well-being, is not only radical, but it is also essential in order to keep moving forward during this time.
Beth Zentner | Contributing Reporter
Graphic: Anh Phan | Design Editor