Thompson: Self-care should be more of a priority for college students

Laurel Thompson

Selflessness is so often seen as a positive and rare personality trait in a society whose basic functions depend on competition. Since hierarchy exists in almost every aspect of life — such as the workplace, education system and even personal friendships and relationships — humans have been trained to be greedy as a means of survival in a highly-competitive and divisive world. As a natural consequence, those who defy this status quo are often taken advantage of for their selflessness and are used as a stepping stone for others’ personal gain.

This is where the line should be drawn, even though people that exercise selflessness sometimes lose a sense of their own self-worth while elevating others and forget what it means to stand up for themselves. It is important to remember in these moments that we are controlled by what we let control us, and we will continue allowing ourselves be hurt until we choose otherwise. In these moments, it is okay to be selfish.

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For me, this has meant regaining a sense of who I am as separate from anyone else, because it is easy to lose yourself when you have given away all you have to give.

Gordon College recognizes a decline of self-care practices in college students due to heavy workloads, uneven schedules, sleep deprivation and high levels of caffeine intake, among many other detrimental variables. Given the negative psychological and physical affects these unhealthy habits cause — and the recent increase in students seeking mental health counseling — I think self-care should be taken more seriously as it is necessary to maintaining lifestyle balance. 

As obvious as it sounds, taking care of yourself starts with taking care of your body. As a college student, I know how hard it can be to find the time — or motivation — to cook a healthy meal at home when Pizza Casbah is right down the road, but the health and financial benefits are well worth the extra effort. And I can attest to this — since I have made a point to eat healthier food, I not only feel better and have more energy throughout the day, but I also crave junk food less often.  

According to WebMD, “A change to healthier eating includes learning about balance, variety and moderation.” This means doing more than simply substituting whole milk for skim, but rather making sure each food group makes its way into your daily diet — and by appropriate quantities as instructed by the food pyramid or a nutritionist. Processed and fast foods especially lack these essential nutrients, as they are disproportionately high in calories, sodium and saturated fat. On the other hand, eating healthy lowers stress and the risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, type two diabetes and cancer, which ultimately increases energy levels and quality of life.

Exercise is equally important in taking care of your body as eating healthy is, and although it is much easier to be active in the summer-time than in February, the weather should not prevent physical activity from being a priority. I have been guilty of using this as an excuse in the past, but like with eating healthy, I have noticed a shift in my productivity, energy levels and overall happiness since I started going to the gym more often these last few weeks.

In addition to the well-known physical rewards of exercise, such as weight loss and cardiovascular health, the Mayo Clinic links frequent exercise with numerous psychological and emotional benefits. For example, endorphins — or “feel-good brain chemicals” — are released during exercise, causing a decrease in depression and anxiety while elevating mood and motivation. According to a 2013 New York Times article, exercising outdoors, in particular, has shown to produce higher “measures of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem” and lower “tension, depression and fatigue” in people who exercise outdoors as opposed to the gym.

I have found this to be especially true, as many of my most memorable experiences involve hiking, biking, swimming at the reservoir and dancing at outdoor concerts with loved ones in the summer-time. It must be something to do with the sunshine and good company that makes these things not seem like a workout, but the effects are still there. Even being alone — walking the dogs, doing yoga or taking a solo trip to visit a friend miles away — is rejuvenating in the sense that no one can take it away from you, so long as you do not let them. 

Yet, learning to be comfortable alone without feeling lonely is one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in learning to be selfish because it means being alone with your insecurities. It means making something from the leftovers of all that you have given away. But, as hard as this can be, knowing your own worth and being able to love yourself is just as much a survival technique as is the manipulation of others in a society that perpetuates superficiality.

As American author and feminist Bell Hooks once said, “When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”

Collegian Columnist Laurel Thompson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @laurelanne1996.

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