“Take care of yourself.”
We have all heard this phrase repeated time and time again by nearly every individual we have encountered, and we have likely forgotten it just seconds after.
It is a phrase I have heard endlessly by friends, family, professors and even strangers wishing me well. Despite the constant sentiment, I do not think that I truly understood the depth and importance of this phrase until this year, at 21 years old.
Not to harp on what we all know, but the last two years have been unprecedented, stressful and unpredictable, to put it kindly. Taught for our entire lives to prefer interpersonal communication as opposed to online interactions, we were all told to resort to our computers and phones indefinitely. Being told to take care of myself during this time, I did what I thought taking care looked like — exercising daily, eating more nutritious foods and taking time each night to read.
The problem was that even after doing all these things, I still did not feel as if I was taking care of myself. Despite this feeling, I continued my routine up until about two months ago. That feeling did not subside.
Each person differs in how they care for themselves. Some exercise, some meditate and some eat healthier foods. But each person differs in terms of their likes, needs and schedules, and their self-care routines should reflect this.
The talk of constant self-care is accompanied by a pressure to adopt certain activities or rituals that are classified as such. We are surrounded by pressures that intrude on every aspect of our livelihoods — the more observant I become, the more I realize that self-care practices are not immune. I would argue that the pressure to subscribe to quintessential self-care is one of the strongest pressures I feel weighing on me.
Something so relaxing, so individualized, became a burden. Taking care of myself felt more like something to cross off my checklist instead of something I needed or wanted. This realization came pretty late in the game — only about two months ago.
Enduring a stressful patch in my academic and personal life, I tried to keep up with my routine. I tried to do what everyone told me would help. I continued exercising, reading 10 pages before bed, checking nutrition labels and even tried my hand at meditation. While these practices may have added briefly to a feeling of relaxation, the feeling of care was still absent.
On a random Saturday night, while the rest of my roommates were out, I sat down to watch a movie with a pizza and ice cream displayed on the coffee table in front of me. For the next two hours, I diligently watched the movie while munching on two of my favorite foods, seeming as if I did not have a care in the world. As the movie ended and I began cleaning up, there was the feeling. I felt as if I took care of myself.
While my experience will almost definitely directly contradict what any wellness influencer will tell you, eating my comfort food and escaping to another cinematic world made me feel fulfilled and proud in a certain sense. I had successfully achieved the feeling I was striving for.
There is so much pressure to do what others do. And while typical or quintessential practices may work for some, they do not work for all. Try different things, something as simple as watching a TV show or as difficult as running a marathon. It is the feeling, not the practice, that matters.
Taking care of yourself is important. Don’t blindly do what others do — listen to yourself and find something that works for you.