OPINION: When it comes to self-care vs. academics, you can have both

Two small figures walk a path. One is surrounded by images of self-care (a plant, tea, a moon, and headphones). The other is surrounded by images of academics (a book, a calendar, a graph, a computer).
(Sarah Flemming • The Student Life)

Confession time: I feel guilty about making time for myself. I look at a calendar filled with colored boxes, squint at the tiny gaps, and feel sheepish for choosing to dance or read or write for fun instead of making headway on pending deadlines. I realize now that I need to reframe my mindset: to not think of self-care as a sacrifice for better grades, or lower grades as a sacrifice for better mental health. It’s not one or the other — the point is to understand that they can coexist.

I’ll set up a scenario for you: Imagine you’ve just finished a class and you have thirty minutes until the next one. With the time on your hands, you wonder whether you should watch a bit of that show or go on that walk or maybe just get started on that upcoming assignment. I’ve fallen prey to the self-condemnation that results from setting time aside for self-care and then immediately feeling remorse due to knowing that time could be replaced with work. 

It’s easy to own the attitude of “hey, if we work hard these four years, we can later enjoy the fruits of our labor.” But this philosophy indicates that we’ve resigned ourselves to some belief that prioritizing mental health in the present negatively correlates with poorer academic performance. Mental and emotional stability should be the solid foundation for academic and career motivation. It turns out we can have our cake and eat it too.

One lesson I’ve learned from my own journey is that self-care has an image on social media that doesn’t necessarily manifest itself well in real life. Self-care isn’t only cucumber eye pads and face masks. It shouldn’t even have to detract from your productivity; rather, it should be a mindful practice that flourishes into positive and rewarding changes in your behavior and lifestyle. 

For me, self-care is tending to the garden of my mind and being thoughtful of my mental health and its paramount presence in my life. Self-care is asking my roommate to go on a walk around campus, earbuds in, our silence emphasizing our need to disengage from our work for a bit. Self-care is queuing happy songs and letting myself dance liberally in my space. Self-care is reading for pleasure and escaping reality. Self-care is everything and anything that services our wants and needs.

The question of how to make time for self-care without feeling a threat to our academics has a plethora of solutions. A common and practical tool for students is organization apps like Google Calendar, Calendly, or Notion. Calendar organization apps are greatly beneficial to students in maintaining balance. In your own calendar, you can block out times for everything; this includes classes, homework, alone time or hangouts. It may seem overwhelming at first, but seeing the day’s activities collectively in one place gives me a sense of peace and assurance. Looking at my calendar, I know that an academic day can be a leisurely one as well. 

From deep breathing exercises that I do before starting my homework to finding easy reads, I continue to find ways to balance my mental wellness with my grades. For the sake of convenience, I spend most of my meals with my closest friends or reach out to those I haven’t seen in a while to meet up for dinner. That way, the uniformity of our days still allows for the flexibility of quality time with friends. Intrinsically, cultivating meaningful relationships with people willing to put in the effort is deeply gratifying and enables a true support system. 

Another option is working outside — we have beautiful campuses and generally temperate weather, so it’s nice to switch up the work environment and indulge in the fresh air. Whenever I work outside, I bring something with me — like a book or card deck — so I intersperse my studying with recreational distractions. Self-care can also consist of self-reflection, in which case apps like Calm are ideal for those who are new to mindfulness and are seeking guided meditation to either start the day or unwind after a long one.

At its core, a robust sense of self-awareness, self-worth and self-love is what keeps my motivation consistent and my aspirations attainable. We all must remember our performance thrives most when our personal needs are actualized and fulfilled.

Shay Suresh CM ’24 is from San Jose, California. She loves literary fiction, indie music, and making Pinterest boards.

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