Hellman: Self-care: pandemic edition


Columnist Megan Hellman encourages others to view self-care in a way that is personal and fulfilling. 

Megan Hellman

Social media is saturated in self-care posts lately, which is understandable as COVID-19 has practically extinguished certainty throughout the world. The only answer that seems unchallenged (by most) is to practice social distancing and wash your hands.

It’s only fitting that celebrities and influencers suggest taking time to practice self-care during a time of stress and insecurity. Advocating for self-care doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is the immediate portrayal of self-care as a face mask (for skin care), your favorite TV show or book and a bowl of ice cream.

The purpose of self-care is to express appreciation, love and value to yourself — it should not be limited to a 15-minute moisturizing face mask. In order to practice acts of self-love that go deeper than your skin, self-understanding is required. 

I’m not referring to things of likes and dislikes, but a deeper understanding and acceptance of who you are. What are your values, your beliefs, your aspirations? (Hint: The qualities that undeniably and wholeheartedly compose your identity.)

Unfortunately, self-care in this manner isn’t an easy feat. It is more than the late night thoughts that occupy your mind and the occasional bursts of motivation to start a new side project.

It takes time and vulnerability to understand yourself, years of different experiences and opportunities, trying new things, facing obstacles, opening yourself up to people and making mistakes. You need to put yourself in places that make you vulnerable to others and to yourself, clarifying aspects of your character, which goes otherwise untouched.

It takes courage to dig deeper (cue Mama Odie song) than the surface layer and even more courage to become aware of the pieces that comprise your own identity. Yet, more courage still to accept and act upon these characteristics. 

In many cases, the obstacles in life surmount the opportunities for self-understanding. Financial insecurity, poor health, racism, sexism, corruption, violence, guilt, ignorance and lack of time are common obstacles that stand in people’s way. Currently, COVID-19 is the most widespread challenge of all. It’s effect is global, from death to job loss to fear. 

For some, the pandemic has caused chaos and pain, such as high stress, job loss without pay or the inability to visit loved ones. In that case, a 15-minute face mask may be the most appropriate form of self-care available to you. For others, now is a great time to reflect. With summer plans out the window, the spring semester over and an unemployment paycheck to pay the bills, you may be faced with an influx of time and immense decrease in responsibilities and human interaction, both of which can contribute to a decline in your sense of purpose.

These conditions practically force confrontation with your own identity. Try not to distract yourself from these confrontations by staying busy with idle tasks when you could be making purposeful actions you identify with and receive fulfillment from.

Social media is great for many things, but when it comes to expressing self-love, turn to the person who knows the subject best: you. Don’t resort to pop culture-based self-care tactics that may be meaningless to you. 

Instead, get on the same page with yourself so your self-care practices resonate with your identity. You’ll feel better. 

Megan Hellman, sophomore in biological systems engineering.