Self-care is choosing how to think about things
I had never heard the term “self-care” more than during my first experience at AU. I sat in the Ward Circle Building listening to orientation speeches and tried to memorize each slide that flashed before my eyes, as if each jumble of words contained the secret to surviving here.
Because of this messaging, self-care has never been an idea with which I have been unfamiliar, rather it has been something natural or common sense. If I had a rough day at school I would relax, maybe order a pizza and take some time to myself. It was a simple concept to me because I wasn’t facing many challenges that couldn’t be managed with a simple night-in or a readily available distraction.
This simplicity was easily maintained by my mother’s grooming and the structured paths laid out by my high school. However, these preconceptions regarding self-care and the naiveté surrounding the stability of my own mental health set me up for a downward spiral once I reached my sophomore year at AU. This past semester’s challenges transcended all parts of my life and essentially affected my perception of my surroundings and those that inhabit them.
In a Ted Talk titled “Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid”, Dr. Guy Winch discusses the importance of emotional hygiene. Emotional hygiene is the idea that maintaining emotional health holds the same importance as maintaining physical well-being; in fact, the two are connected. Depression and loneliness can lead to a suppression of the immune system and increased susceptibility to disease.
While not everyone deals with the same mental illnesses or perhaps to the same degree, everyone is prone to them. Dr. Winch explains that instances of failure and rejection, perhaps a string of denied applications or failing grades, can create injuries to our emotional health. We begin to damage our own self-esteem more than these experiences already have, drowning in thoughts of self-deprecation.
So how does one maintain a clean bill of emotional health? Well, it is a choice in how you choose to think about things. It is a conscious effort to regain possession of your thoughts and your perspective. You can take a shower and go for a run and watch some Netflix, but if you return to the same racing thoughts and relentless buildup of despair, then you will remain in the same state of loneliness that you were before. If I am left alone to roam the corridors of my own mind, I will think myself into oblivion. It never occurred to me that the loneliness surrounding my thoughts is a choice;I simply had to reach out to someone and maybe create a chip in this fence that was corralling me inside my own mind.
Self-care is personal to every individual; different practices help different people. However, it is important that self-care be viewed as more than a “treat yo-self” day. To ensure emotional well-being, we must wake up every day and make the conscious decision to see ourselves and our world in a way that contains hope and kindness. We must be gentle toward ourselves.
Julia Gagnon is a Sophomore in the School of Public Affairs