September 18, 2018

TAARIQ | Care About True Self-Care

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On Monday I did not go to any one of my classes. I was exhausted from a weekend-long trip in the woods for a Biology class, but the exhaustion was more mental than physical.

Tonight I ate a pint of ice cream, a bag of chips and fruit snacks for dinner — and no I do not have a gym membership.

On most days after class, I like to come back and take those loooong naps, where you wake up and feel even more stressed because you know you lost a lot of time.

How do I justify these destructive behaviors? I call it self-care.

At a school like Cornell, self-care is essential for a student to succeed. It doesn’t matter if you are super smart, have a perfect resume or have great time management skills. You could lose it all if you are not concerned with YOU first. But if mental health is something as serious as this, why is it in our campus culture to take it so lightly?

I had to take a step back and reevaluate my own use of the term self-care. We justify actions as self-care like we justify billing things to our bursar, or adding drinks to a bar tab. I neglect to acknowledge the fact that these behaviors could be indicative of something a lot deeper. Students often mistakenly ignore the fact that these feelings of stress, social or generalized anxiety, depression and more should be addressed with less destructive activities then what we label “self-care.” We are so quick to respond with “I’m fine,” that we delude ourselves and our friends into thinking it is true. In contrast, we are so quick to say “I’m depressed!” that we desensitize ourselves to the reality of depression on college campuses. When are we going to realize that it is not okay for you or your friends to say “lol I have too much homework, I’m going to kill myself.”

Many students are reluctant to find help or are even unaware of the wellness resources Cornell has on campus. It is important that we encourage our friends to seek help from our college’s programs as well. The wait time or lack of diversity — despite the universities best efforts — at Cornell Health are oftentimes discouraging for students. But alternatives like EARS, Let’s TALK, and group therapy are here for a reason. A Cornell’s 2017 PULSE survey revealed that nearly 43 percent of undergraduate students felt like they were “unable to function academically for at least a week due to depression, stress or anxiety” (this was 58.9 percent for Black students and 48.9 percent for Hispanic students). This shows that mental health challenges are not problems we should ignore on this campus. There are so many things that could affect how we feel, from academic burnout to social media, to simply the fear of failure. Even last years’ incidents on campus left students feeling mentally fatigued.

Recognizing when we are not feeling as best as we should, or if a friend is displaying unusual behavior, is the first step in creating a more healthy campus.

I am not saying here that we should not indulge in self-care — I am saying the exact opposite. Self-care and mental health days are crucial in circumventing mental health challenges, which means we have to take it more seriously. It is not an end all be all, some students may need additional assistance. But you may find that taking time to self-reflect on our own wellbeing and catering to ourselves correctly, could help lift our spirits.

Self-care should look like things that make you happy from working out, hanging with friends, or having some me-time. As long as those actions will not negatively impact you in the short or long term.
This new year we have so much to look forward to, so let’s stop justifying unhealthy healthy conduct by labeling it as self-care. We go to college to become better versions of ourselves, and being at a school like this is to do so is a privilege, even though it can feel like a burden sometimes. But alas, I am still a college student; if I want to pull an all-nighter watching the next season of Game of Thrones, I’ll just put it on my mental health tab.

Aminah Taariq is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. I Spy runs every other Wednesday this semester. She can be reached at ataariq@cornellsun.com