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The great misconception of self-care

What is self-care really, and are we doing it right?

Cecy Juárez is a Life columnist for The Cavalier Daily.
Cecy Juárez is a Life columnist for The Cavalier Daily.


How do you self-care? For most people, including myself, self-care entails just letting go. After a long week of constant work, stress and headaches, I decide it’s time for some self-care. I’ll toss my homework aside and do whatever I please. I’ll delete all the homework tabs on my browser and go straight to Netflix. Bags of chips and cookies quickly replace notes and textbooks on my desk, and sooner or later I whip out some clay masks to rub onto my face. This all usually takes place after an approximately two-hour long nap. All in the name of looking after my mental health and staying sane — right?

As school starts to pick up the pace, I’ve been reflecting on the whole notion of “self-care.” Where did it even come from? For myself, at least, my definition is derived from social media and friends. I constantly see Instagram posts about the best self-care trends, lists of the most popular face masks — I could go on. At the essence of it, though, is the notion of having a “self-care day” where people choose to forgo any and all responsibilities and relax. 

Even the show “Parks and Recreation” has had an impact on my perception of self-care — namely, two of the characters' humorous annual “Treat Yo’ Self” day where they go to the spa and splurge on spending. All of this has led me to believe that self-care means just doing whatever I want and spoiling myself whenever I feel the need.

But is this what self-care should always be? Does tossing all my responsibilities out the window really help my mental health in the long run? I’ve thought a lot about this — especially in the midst of the modern-day efforts to destigmatize mental health. People are finally acknowledging the need to slow down and take time to breathe. It's more socially acceptable for people to take time for themselves and to seek out professional help to figure out what’s on their minds in order to work through personal issues. While this conversation is great, it can get tricky and into dangerous territories.

Social media has enabled information to spread like a wildfire — for better or for worse. As people finally talk about how we can do better about looking after ourselves, we are also prone to being misled about what is best for us. Don’t get me wrong  — I don’t think there’s a bunch of malicious people out there determined to make us feel worse by telling us to buy mud masks and eat certain kinds of food. But I do think some of us may not always interpret this information correctly. I had even fallen into the misconception that self-care can only mean a lack of productivity. 

Not everyone will feel better by taking the whole day off to binge watch “The Crown” and eat cake. Sometimes, taking a long bubble bath and a two-hour nap won’t cut it. Resting and taking the day off can be essential to our mental health, but it doesn’t mean it’s the only way we can “self-care.”

Sometimes, self-care means actually cleaning your room and making your bed. Toss in that load of laundry you’ve been putting off and try sweeping a bit in the meantime. Find a healthy snack and call your family — they miss you. If you lack the energy to complete assignments, jot down what you have coming up to plan ahead and space out your workload. Maybe even try yoga or some type of physical activity to get those endorphins going.

I’m not saying that relaxing and watching TV is the worst thing you can do for yourself — absolutely not. But I am definitely saying that self-care and looking after your mental health can mean actually getting stuff done. It’s important to think critically and reflect on what our body and mind need at a certain moment. Sometimes, our body tells us we just need to decompress and give our body a break by doing nothing. Other times, though, we might feel better and less overwhelmed if we look after our obligations.

Everybody is different, and we all have different struggles and needs. For a long time, I thought that the only way of taking care of my mental health was being inactive. But after thinking critically about what actually makes me feel better, I know now that self-care can be so much more. I’ll still take a “treat yo’ self” day every once in a while, but I’ll keep in mind to also take care of some of my responsibilities  — whatever I’m capable of doing that day.

Cecy Juárez is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at