Another negative stereotype of self-care is that it involves putting your own needs before those of other people. For example, if you have to do extra work at work, you feel overworked, so you say you can't do it and leave it to one of your colleagues, who are also overworked. It's a constant challenge to dedicate time to self-care (relaxation, sleep, time with family and friends) in graduate school, because often there aren't enough hours to do everything we need or would like to do. The truth is, if you're really spending enough time on self-care, you might not be performing up to scratch in at least one of the areas mentioned above.
Extracurricular activities can create stress and guilt because of the work you could or should do instead. Not only does this make students feel bad about stress, exhaustion, and fatigue, but they also feel bad about their apparent failure in self-care. Unfortunately, self-care risks losing more meaning than ever. It has been co-opted by market forces and consumed.
The coronavirus pandemic has offered academics and individuals an opportunity to reconsider the meaning of self-care and the culture that has emerged around it. Shayonee Dasgupta, whom I follow on Twitter for her concise ideas on how to deal with mental health issues, told me that the pressure to follow acceptable self-care practices leaves her “fatigued at times.” For American poet and civil rights activist Audre Lorde, taking care of herself wasn't self-complacent. I highly recommend this New York article on personal care policy. Kelsey Latimer, from the Center for Discovery in Florida, points out that “self-care is most likely not associated with posting on social networks unless it is a spontaneous publication, since self-care focuses on being in the moment and ignoring social pressures.
British cultural theorist Mark Fisher states that the hijacking of personal care is the logical result of capitalism. Here is Fisher's full article, brilliantly titled The Privatization of Stress, on Void Network. And at the end of the first week, I found myself sitting in the bathroom crying, shaking and hyperventilating, having a total anxiety attack because the time had come to “take care of myself radically”. Today, as their critics point out, many of the practices and products promoted as “personal care” by the wellness industry have little to do with the radical approaches to wellness described by Peña, Picot and Scott.
In fact, if you type in Google: “Personal Care Blogs”, you'll be bombarded with countless bloggers talking about taking hot baths and pampering yourself to feel better. When I was researching methods that have helped other people, I found a lot of “self-care blogs” that claimed to have all the answers for relieving anxiety and depression. For those of us protected by socioeconomic privileges, internal migration justified as “personal care” is becoming increasingly tempting. Of course, your idea of self-care may be different from mine because everyone's circumstances are different.
The idea of “personal care” has become so fashionable that it can almost be added to anything to make that thing more marketable in the world of wellness. Scott and other researchers attribute the popularization of the phrase to the activist and writer Audre Lorde, whose 1988 collection of essays entitled “A Burst of Light” described self-care as a way of coping with the personal journey of cancer, but also the structural trauma of racism.
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