A growing phrase you’ll hear anywhere in the professional world is “self-care.” It’s particularly popular on college campuses, and for good reason! In a high speed capitalist work environment, we’ve normalized, even glamorized, exhaustion. Being a workaholic is considered a virtue in a world characterized by competition and efficiency. We’ve been reduced to machines fueled by prescription medication and caffeine. America does really “run on Dunkin.” The worst part of the whole thing is human toll. We push ourselves past all conceivable limit just for the chance at overtime pay, or arguably worse, more recognition.
This is where the concept of self-care comes in. There are varying perspectives on this from the spiritual to secular, but the defining ethos is that a person cannot reasonably expect themselves to succeed through hard-work alone. Justifiably, the position suggests that in order to function, we need to make time for ourselves, specifically our mental and physical health.
Many people spend time watching Netflix, snacking, taking long showers or doing yoga. For many of us, the little time we spend on ourselves is vital to our sanity. While I thoroughly enjoy company without exception, many people are not like me. For them, social interaction with friends can be just as exhausting as the time they spend on work or studying, if not more so.
For all its obvious worth, I can’t help but question the real value of this notion. Yes, it is important to take care of oneself, but I find that many of the methods people use seem somewhat… unhealthy. What I mean is that while going out with friends to a restaurant or bar can be a fun, relaxing experience, using alcohol or any other escapist strategy is doomed to fail.
By merely covering up the pain of the week with one more shot of liquor or another hour of mindless consumption of Netflix and internet videos you aren’t really doing anything about the underlying stress. Sloth, the vice most commonly associated with laziness, can also be indicative of a perpetual exhaustion state. Is the week long self punishment of non-stop obligation really ameliorated by its opposite extreme, gluttony and listlessness?
I believe self care can be an extremely positive force in our lives, but it must be balanced, lest it become self-indulgence. What we need to focus on is practices and activities that are truly restorative. Silence, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines can aid us in this endeavor. We can pursue art or music. We could develop a skill or even read that book we’ve been meaning to. Think of all the things you keep saying you’re going to do when you have more time, and start doing them now. I’m sure the extra few episodes can wait.
Most troubling is the need for self-care in the first place. If we could balance our lives better, maybe the excessive need to restore wouldn’t be so prevalent. It’s also troubling that this all seems to imply that work is the end, and our personal lives merely serve to “charge our batteries.” We must always remember what it is we are living for, and not let the things we have to do become the things we think are truly meaningful.