Taking self-care seriously

A call to prioritize mental well-being

Although most people understand that mental health can be serious, too few of us put in the effort to care for our own.
Although most people understand that mental health can be serious, too few of us put in the effort to care for our own.

More people are coming to understand mental health as existing on a spectrum: with debilitating mental illness on one side and mental wellness on the other. 

However, often when people refer to “mental health” — whether they’re talking about support, advocacy, awareness or something else — they only refer to things like anxiety, stress and depression.

Because of how this conversation and topic regularly surfaces, it can feel like the main concern of mental health lies with mental illness. 

While this is vitally important, we ought to be careful and make sure we don’t ignore the importance of being in touch with the current state of our mental health at all times, regardless of where we are on that spectrum.

Of all of the things I’ve learned at university, and the growth I’ve experienced, the increase in my emotional intelligence and awareness has arguably had the most profound effect on my life. 

To be clear, I’m not an expert by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. I’m a student. That being said, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about these issues and can only hope discussing them might help somebody, somewhere, make better sense of their situation.

I’ve had incredibly memorable and transformative experiences in different areas throughout my time at Queen’s, and I sincerely don’t think I would have had access to these experiences without the time I spent learning to understand and deal with my emotions. It’s helped me professionally as well as personally. 

Though not true in all cases, it often seems like mental health is only something that people  who are struggling need to worry about. Consequently, many people tend not to look after their mental health on a daily basis in the same way they do their physical health. 

Taking medication when you have a cold, going to the hospital when you break a bone, brushing your teeth to prevent cavities and eating meals and drinking fluids on a daily basis — these are expectations that pertain to one’s physical health. 

While mental health is being talked about with more frequency, discussing our feelings and emotions openly and honestly — both internally and with others — has yet to become a daily expectation. The commitment we have to our physical health doesn’t seem to be applied with the same consistency and care when it comes to our mental health.  

Things like self-care and concepts like “treating yourself” have become much more prevalent in everyday conversations over the past few years — most notably at different mental health-focused events and discussions. Though this might signal that more people are taking time to look after their mental health, I’m not convinced that everyone who talks about self-care has a comprehensive understanding of how it might manifest itself in their day-to-day thoughts and emotions. 

By saying this, I don’t mean people are throwing out words carelessly without regard for what they mean or imply, but I think it’s important to recognize that to properly commit to self-care on an ongoing basis is a serious commitment that goes beyond merely mentioning its importance. 

Things like mindfulness exercises, physical exercise, taking time to be fully present, creative outlets (e.g. painting, music, etc.) and social breaks (Netflix please) can be great ways of caring for oneself, but not everything will interact with everybody with the same efficacy. 

For me, there’s a discrepancy between days when it comes to what I need. I’ve spent a fair bit of time consciously trying to get to know myself on a personal and emotional level — making sense of what I feel, why I feel it and ,consequently, how I can sustain or stop feeling that way. Because of that, I can usually decipher what type of self-care I need on a particular day. 

When I’m feeling really good, I’m usually (not always) able to isolate what those positive feelings are and where they came from. I’m then able to continue facilitating that happiness. Likewise, when I’m not feeling my best, I can more efficiently deal with those feelings. 

Though this is my experience and won’t apply to everyone, I’m hard-pressed to think of a situation in which emotional literacy wouldn’t come in handy.

The next stage of social discourse surrounding self-care should stress the importance of self-awareness and emotional intelligence, such that everyone can more easily navigate their thoughts and emotions when it comes to assessing and addressing their relative mental wellness in the moment. 

This is a call to us all — myself included — to take the necessary time to raise our own personal expectations when it comes to our mental health. To take time out of each day to check in with ourselves, continually attempting to comprehend what our mental state as a whole might be telling us. Every day, we should aim to know more about ourselves than we did the day before.

We all have mental health. It’s not something that only exists when things like depression and anxiety rear their heads. Let’s try and make Queen’s a more emotionally sensible and literate campus where mental health is treated with respect, no matter how we might be feeling.

It takes time and effort, but if we can do it when it comes to our physical well-being, I believe that we’re more than capable.

Mike Young is a fifth-year gender studies major and Queen’s current student Rector.

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