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EAT SLEEP REPEAT | “It’s Called Self Care” — Why the Mantra Is Ruining My Life

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In the past week I have napped an average of two hours per day, impulsively bought three sweaters that I cannot afford, practically inhaled Twizzlers and an entire sleeve of Oreos, and watched five of the raunchiest past episodes of The Bachelor, all while telling myself, “It’s called self care.”

Hindsight is 20/20 of course, and looking back I think my actions were probably the complete opposite of self care. In the moment, however, I was so encapsulated in my stress from prelim season that I allowed myself to do practically anything just because I have this extremely vague mantra to “affirm” my desires. And it doesn’t seem like I am alone in my quest for an excuse to treat myself.

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It seems as though social media’s mainstream idea of self care just feeds into a cycle of bad habits, and undermines the necessity of actually taking care of ourselves and our bodies, straying away from what the term was actually meant to accomplish. The term “self-care” originated as a medical concept, as a way for doctors to tell patients to treat themselves and lead healthy lifestyles. In fact, according to the Good Therapy Organization, self care is a term used amongst mental health professionals to refer to “feeding oneself, showering, brushing one’s teeth, wearing clean clothes, and attending to medical concerns.”

Users on social media outlets have decided to broadcast a new definition of self care that is synonymous with treating yourself to anything that you want. Not only does the new glamorization of self care tell people to indulge in things that they maybe should not indulge in, but it also generalizes the solutions to serious mental health problems into simply putting a lemon slice in your water and watching reruns of your favorite tv show. Now, it’s not that you shouldn’t treat yourself once in awhile and indeed put that lemon in your water. The problem is that with labeling these “cute” actions as self care, we desensitize the importance of engaging in actual self care activities.

The term’s misuse and overuse is also starting to be equated with privilege. Not only do I see a #selfcare on every other post in my Instagram feed in between all of the #spookyszn posts, but the hashtag is also often captioned under pictures of Bahamas retreats, staycations, or gel mani pedis. If I can’t afford an all-inclusive resort or a Zero Skin Caviar Peel Off Face Mask, am I not entitled to self care? GirlBoss Radio’s new podcast, Self Service, explains that our mainstream definition of self care is “synonymous with luxury.”

The way social media treats self care is looking outward for something we can purchase or indulge in in order to feel better. But self care isn’t something like a cashmere sweater that you can hold in your hands, and you cannot just wash away depression with a bubble bath. The reality is that self care means responsibility and empowering ourselves to treat our bodies with respect. It is looking inward in order to motivate ourselves to stay healthy and positive. Self care isn’t a status symbol that you should flaunt with a #selfcaresunday, but rather it is the little things that we do to take care of the activities of everyday living.

Self care should be the practice of keeping ourselves physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy, and it should be taken seriously. Although we should not use it to justify skipping class to sleep in every day, we should use it to improve our sleep schedule to ensure that we are well rested. It should be making ourselves shower even when we really don’t feel like it, motivating ourselves to go to the gym even though we barely feel like getting out of bed, and seeking out help when we need it. So no, I am no longer going to use the mantra to allow myself to spend money I don’t have and watch countless hours of trash TV when I don’t have the time. However, I am going to continue to use the phrase, this time in the way it should rightfully be used — as a way to motivate myself to be the best possible me that I can be.

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