Written by Sophie Buck.
What does the modern buzzword “self-care” mean and why is it necessary to make time for it in your busy Cambridge schedule?
The concept of “self-care” (caring for oneself) has long historical roots, yet it was black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde that popularised and politicised it in 1988: “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare,” she wrote. While particularly important for those involved in identity politics and/or managing health problems, self-care is relevant for everyone. In a Cambridge context, too often work (among other things) is falsely allowed to trump wellbeing. Even when a deadline is looming, self-care is not indulgent: taking measures to look after yourself and prioritising wellbeing, even if this means taking a day off sick to recharge, is essential for survival, and, by extension, your ability to work.
While it’s been somewhat appropriated as a marketing tool to justify consumption (go on, treat yourself), self-care doesn’t need to be expensive, or even cost anything. In it’s fundamental form, self-care refers to the ordinary things you need to maintain (relative) health: including eating nutritious food, allowing yourself enough time to rest, and taking any medication you need to. It can involve pinpointing particular stressors or needs, and managing these where possible – such as developing relaxation techniques. It can also involve seeking support when you feel you need it (self-care can’t solve or prevent everything). While self-care can be the boring basics, this isn’t to say it can’t include things that are fun and out-of-the-ordinary too: among other ideas, you could try out a new hairstyle, or treat your senses for under a fiver.
While sharing self-care tips with others can be beneficial, self-care is ultimately self-defined. What works as self-care varies from individual to individual, depending on preferences and circumstances: not everyone finds helpful (or has time for) yoga, baths and hot chocolate. Opposite things can be helpful at different times. Sometimes self-care might be going out to see friends; at other times it might be allowing yourself to be alone. Sometimes self-care may be encouraging yourself to exercise; other times it might be allowing yourself to rest. It may be allowing yourself a glass of wine or a dessert, or refusing one. Even allowing yourself to slip from your disciplined self-care routine now and again can be an act of self-care in itself.
While self-care is important, sometimes self-care can be difficult. Time isn’t the only issue: you may not know where to start, have energy to or feel you deserve to self-care. If this is the case, Jace Harr’s interactive self-care flowchart for ‘when you feel like shit’ is a useful prompt, as well as fostering mutual self-care encouragement within your friendship group.
So, yes, immerse yourself in your degree and other activities, and support those around you, but not at the expense of self-care. While not a panacea or a prevent-all, self-care is, to return to Lorde, essential for your self-preservation.