Let me set the stage for you,
You are sitting in the library; it’s midterm season. You look around to see a wave of students desperately trying to recall the information from the lectures that they have skipped. You open your textbook for the first time all semester, it is time to get down to business. Chapter on chapter to read, assignments to complete, midterms creeping up and your calendar jam-packed with to-do’s. So, how do you make room for it all?
You overwork, cancel your gym session, stay up late, cut back on socializing, and even skip a few meals. After all, this a normal part of student life. It is just a busy time of year. Everybody around you is doing it, so, why wouldn’t you? How else are you going to fit it all in?
To keep up with the fast pace of student living, many of us don’t think twice before putting self-care on the back burner. More often than not, it takes a wake-up call to notice the toll these decision take on our lives.
The idea of self-care has grown in popularity over the past decade, and for good reason. Unfortunately, many corporations use the idea of self-care as a marketing ploy. They make the idea of self-care sound exclusive and extravagant. They push self-care onto us in the form of expensive bubble baths and reclusive yoga retreats, promising that this will “fix” whatever we are going through.
For many of us, this is unrealistic and misleading. Self-care isn’t something you can buy, it is a consistent effort to be aware of what your body and mind need to be successful. I am not the perfect student by any means, and I still have a ton of learning to do when it comes to meeting my own needs. However, one thing that I believe is seriously under discussed in relation to self-care is boundary setting behaviour.
As students, we are socialized to never say no. We are told to push through, keep our head down, and put in the work. That is what will get you the degree, that is what will land you the good job and this is what will make you happy. The pressure, the stress and the self-doubt are normal. It is a part of the “student experience” and if you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t be here. We have been conditioned to say yes. Yes, I can get that paper to you tomorrow. Yes, I will be at the fundraising event this weekend. Yes, I can pick up that extra shift. We accept what is brought to us, because that is what we are told to do. We are told to meet deadlines with a positive attitude, and if we fail or struggle that is personal problem. We stretch ourselves thin trying to keep up to other people’s timelines.
We are told by educators, that self-care is so important. Yet, we are not given the space or time to make that happen in our lives. This is where boundary setting behaviour comes in. Trust me, I know this is easier said than done and many people (myself included) are not comfortable saying no. Whenever, I take a day off or put my academics aside, I feel guilty. I feel like I don’t deserve to be in this environment or that I am weak compared to those sitting around me. This is not true at all, and has made me realize the power of boundary setting. Learning to say no is so important, it allows you to set healthy boundaries for your time/energy and to put yourself first. This shouldn’t be a negative thing. It is okay to not take on anything new or to make it clear to others what you need. It is okay to hold others to follow your boundaries and I encourage you all to do this. Most importantly, it is okay to feel lost. Validating where you are and what you are going through is the first step. Know that you don’t owe anybody an explanation for how you choose to use your time.
If you are so willing to meet everybody else’s needs, why wouldn’t you do it for yourself? This is not selfish, this is not indulgent, but it is necessary. Changing your mentality is a process and it will take time to figure out what works for you. But I urge you to allow yourself that time to build those healthy habits. Your mental health is way more important than that assignment. At the end of the day you are really only accountable to yourself. Use that time with intention.