Indulging in “self-care” is a reasonable response to both the current political climate and the increased risk for mental health issues that many millennials face. Self-care isn’t just a millennial obsession, of course; in Audre Lorde’s 1988 book of essays, “A Burst of Light,” she writes that “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Lorde’s ideas are meant for and are especially revolutionary for queer women of color, who suffer at the hands of the current system.
But in the era of Trump, this idea seems to have been co-opted as a trend, and it makes sense. It is, of course, important to take care of yourself; to say no to overworking yourself and expecting perfection, which contributes largely to the millennial mental health epidemic. It is especially important for marginalized groups of people to recognize when they are being exploited by the system and by other people, and when they’re allowed to take a break. During the special election in Alabama this past December, black women turned out in large numbers to vote for Democrat Doug Jones over accused pedophile Roy Moore, and were celebrated for “saving America” on social media, which shows how much labor this group of people puts forth and how much Lorde’s ideas about self-care are necessary. This idea was extrapolated on by singer Solange in an interview with W Magazine: “Even in the midst of this last week with the multiple murders of young black men that occurred, I chose this time not to watch. Just for the sake of being able to exist in that day, to exist without rage, and exist without heartbreak. To be able to get up and tell my child to have a wonderful day and know that he’ll be protected and nurtured and loved and treated like an equal contributor to society, I sometimes have to choose to not look.” One does not always have to participate in the tumultuous world, especially if one is part of a largely marginalized group of people, and it is clear that Solange and Lorde’s ideas of caring for yourself are in the least selfish vein possible.
It’s also necessary for everyone, no matter their privilege and experience, to take care of themselves before helping other people. Increased awareness of the importance of this, especially regarding mental health issues, has blown up over social media, and it’s been helpful. In an interview with NPR, Hyepin Im, an expert on mental health and digital advocacy, said that “…the introduction of social media throughout the millennial generation has increased understanding of mental illnesses and decreased the stigma.” And it’s especially important for people with mental health issues to take time to care for themselves, through therapy or exercise, for example.
But self-care culture can prove to be destructive and selfish, especially for people with a lot of privilege who aren’t doing it the right way. An example of self-care leading to self-destruction happens within “wine mom culture”, which is now known as a Facebook meme. It’s middle-aged women using alcohol as a reward and can lead to them drinking far more than they should, impacting not only their own health but the safety of their children. Self-care needs to be responsible, and not done at the whims of others – and Audre Lorde shouldn’t be quoted to make up for irresponsible behavior.
Treating yourself can cause more problems for yourself when it’s short sighted, focusing only on what you want in the moment. This includes eating a bunch of junk food or staying in bed to watch Netflix all night, or skipping something that might prove to be more beneficial to you in the long run, like spending time with family or friends. “When you have a craving for chocolate, do you tend to tell yourself that you need chocolate? Instead of automatically giving in to a craving, first consider what you might really need,” said Carrie Dennet in an article for the Seattle Times. Chocolate can be replaced with any quick fix here – it’s not that you can never give in and satisfy that immediate craving, but if you do it all the time, it’s just going to cause more damage.
While it is certainly okay and healthy to occasionally remove yourself from social situations to work on your own mental health, it’s also important to be a good friend and parent. And while it’s sometimes necessary to retreat from the world of politics, it’s not okay to become complacent, especially if you have a lot of privilege. Go to the friend’s party you promised them you’d go to. Do your best to educate people on issues you feel they could benefit from. And don’t stay inside and watch Netflix every day. It will benefit your mental health and help the people around you.
Ideas for Healthy Self-Care:
-Turn off news notifications on your phone. It’s damaging for one’s psyche to be constantly receiving updates about nuclear war. (I’m speaking for my anxious self here).
-Don’t back out on too many promises. Sometimes you might be having a terrible night, and you don’t have to go to every party. But you should try your best to maintain your commitments, especially to the people close to you.
-Treat yourself when it’s okay to do so. You don’t always have to beat yourself up about splurging a little, but do it in a way that will ultimately help you. Maybe buying a new pair of sneakers would encourage you to run more, or a scented candle could help you relax.
-Ask for help when you need it. You don’t have to be perfect all the time! In fact, you certainly won’t be! Give yourself a break. You’re probably doing things pretty well.