Mind your mind: Self-care doesn’t have to mean Netflix alone

Before I rush into this week’s topic of self-care, I want to give it some context. This past Friday, I was talking to a new friend at work and in between the many shots we were pulling at the espresso machine, we were exchanging news of how our weeks went. I’d noticed her usual bright and upbeat demeanor was a bit muted and I learned that she’d had an emotionally taxing week.

But something she said stayed in my thoughts throughout the rest of the day. My friend — in that half-exhausted half-upbeat manner we’ve all learned to act by — mentioned that she had been going out every single day, planning events and going to parties, and running on just two hours of sleep while waking up super early to get to work and go to classes. She told me about her plan to stay in that night to take care of herself.

Here’s why I kept thinking about this particular detail after our conversation ended.

I had a week that was almost the opposite of the week my friend had: it had also been mentally and emotionally taxing, but I spent a lot of it lying in bed, hiding away from the world and listening to Sam Smith’s newest single (nothing wrong with his music — I think it’s gold, but it’s not exactly emotionally productive to listen to it on repeat for days on end). I barely had the energy to go to my classes and talk to people at work, much less smile at them. I was basically marinating in my bad mood and had zero desire to go out and do things.

What was I doing wrong? I was doing all the things the conventional idea of self-care encapsulates: taking naps, listening to gentle music, taking a break from homework, from life — you know, relaxing things. None of it did anything to pull me out of the emotional black hole I found myself sucked into.

Then I realized something important three days after I dragged myself out of bed to attend two classes I had been planning to skip.

Self-care doesn’t always mean having a relaxing night in. It’s not always drinking a cup of your favourite tea while watching Netflix in bed. It’s not always indulging in long naps, curling up in your room away from the rest of the world. It’s not always sleeping in and avoiding your responsibilities. It’s not always about taking a break from your life.

Sometimes self-care means giving yourself a pep talk and getting yourself to class or work on time, fully prepared, even if the last thing you want to do is leave the comforts of your bed. Sometimes, it’s pushing yourself to run that extra mile on the treadmill or choosing to cook a healthy meal for yourself instead of eating out when you’re starving after a long day. Sometimes it’s starting a conversation with someone when you’re too burnt out to talk. Sometimes it’s keeping yourself up with the pace of your life so you don’t fall behind.

Sometimes self-care is pushing yourself to do the things you don’t want to do or feel too tired to do, because you know it’ll be better for you in the long run. It’s knowing what your body, your mind and your soul needs, and caring about yourself enough to give it exactly that. Sometimes, it’s not always good or relaxing or fun. Sometimes, it can be really damn difficult, but that’s okay.

Pay attention to yourself. Be smart and courageous enough to give yourself the care you need even if it might be the hardest thing you do that day, whether it’s taking a break to hide from the world or going out to socialize when you have absolutely no energy to. A day, a week, a month from now, when eventually the rough patch you’ve been going through evens out, you’ll thank yourself for it. I know I definitely did.

The authors of this column are not mental health professionals. If you need additional support, please contact Student Health Services, Sexual Assault Support Centre and/or the Wellness Centre.