One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2019 is to take better care of my mental health, and I definitely don’t feel like I’m alone in that decision. I think in recent years there’s been a pretty dramatic improvement in how we talk about mental health, but we can always do better.
I want to focus on the concept of self-care. A lot of corporations have taken the term self-care and made it into just another way for them to sell you stuff…
“Planet Advertising in America orbits completely around the need to convince the uncertain consumer that yes, you have actually warranted a special treat. This Bud’s for You! You Deserve a Break Today! Because You’re Worth It! You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby! And the insecure consumer thinks, Yeah! Thanks! I AM gonna go buy a six-pack, damn it! Maybe even two six-packs! And then comes the reactionary binge. Followed by the remorse. Such advertising campaigns would probably not be as effective in the Italian culture, where people already know that they are entitled to enjoyment in this life. The reply in Italy to “You Deserve a Break Today” would probably be, Yeah, no duh. That’s why I’m planning on taking a break at noon, to go over to you house and sleep with your wife.”
-Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
….but that’s entirely missing the point. Sometimes self-care does look like in advertisements or on social media: a face mask, a bath bomb, a new book, a meal out. And that’s great! Little luxuries are fantastic and no one is a bigger advocate of them than I (ask my family about me and bubble baths, they’ll tell you). However, to make self-care contingent on how nice it looks on your Instagram story is to miss out on what self-care actually is: things that you can do for yourself to help you feel good/get through the day/what have you, rather than just another excuse to buy stuff.
So, my point. I want to discuss a few of the slightly less glamorous ways to practice self-care. I haven’t always stuck to these perfectly (hence the necessity of a resolution), but they have gotten me through some pretty tough times. University is not always an easy place to be, and I hope that maybe they’ll help you too.
Develop morning and evening routines
Everyone’s schedule is different and so are their personal needs, so what this looks like will differ for each individual. However, having these in place helps me immensely on days when even getting out of bed (and going back to sleep at night) feels like a challenge. Try to keep them flexible enough so as to give yourself leeway for when things come up (as they so often do when you’re living the student life), but once you find something that works for you, stick with it. One thing I would recommend including is picking out clothes for the next day before going to bed. It’s such a small thing, but it makes getting out the door the next morning feel ten times easier.
The world is a stressful place to be sometimes, and I’m not just talking about the near-constant bombardment of apocalyptic-sounding news headlines. As wonderful as our small Acadia community is, it can feel like a bit like a pressure cooker sometimes. At a school where everyone knows everyone else’s business and the rumour mill never takes a break, even passive participation in campus culture can be hard on the head. I don’t quite know why this is, but very often people are quick to tell me quite personal things despite us only meeting recently; thus, I end up entertaining a lot of gossip and I always regret it afterward. If this sounds like you, take a break. It’s okay to disable your social media accounts, even temporarily, if that helps. It’s okay to tell a friend “I don’t have the mental space for this right now” if their gossiping is getting to you. Do whatever you need to do to not feel stressed out about your environment; try to remember all the good things about being here. It’s way easier said than done, but try not to stress about things you hear through the grapevine. What people have to say about you or those you love is none of your business, and it almost always reflects more on the person saying it than anyone else.
We’ve all heard this one before: if you’re having a hard time, talk to someone. However, for many people, myself included, that is far easier said than done. I have struggled immensely with opening up to people for pretty much as long as I can remember. Part of that was because I always felt like opening up to someone had to be this big dramatic thing where I cry for a million years and the other person gives some sappy motivational speech. It doesn’t, though. It can be as simple as being honest with someone when they ask how you are. If you’re having a shit day, say so! Chances are they’ll be sympathetic, and it feels much better to commiserate with someone over a rough day than it does to fake more cheerful small talk.
Reaching out goes both ways, however. If you think a friend or acquaintance is struggling with something, take a second to ask them if they’re alright. Don’t push them, but if they do want to talk, be there as best you can. It’s hard to feel like all you can do is listen, but most of the time that’s all people need. University can be an incredibly isolating experience for some, so try to create as many moments of genuine connection as you can.
I would like to end this article by letting you know that if you’re struggling, you are not alone. If talking to a friend doesn’t feel like enough, there are many resources you can try. The ASU has the Acadia Mental Health Initiative, the university has a Counselling Centre that also offers online assessment tools, and the Nova Scotia government recently rolled out a new program called HealthyMindsNS, which aims to make professional online and telephone counselling available 24/7 to students at all 10 universities in Nova Scotia. Please seek help if you think you might need it. Whether you feel like it or not, your presence on this campus and in this world is valuable, and you deserve to be happy.
Good luck this term, my friends. Let’s take care of ourselves this semester and beyond.
Mallory Kroll is a fifth year Economics student and Managing Editor of The Athenaeum