by Emma Gilpin
‘Self-care’ and ‘self-love’ have become everyday terms, a revolt against a society which tells us, constantly, that we are not quite enough. Inevitably, there are those who criticise and mock this self-care movement: the idea that people should spend time looking after and taking time for themselves can seem strange or uncomfortable in a world where we are so acutely aware of other people’s suffering. Sure, it’s possible that we have problems of our own but, compared with other people across the world, they seem miniscule. Perhaps those of us with the opportunity to study at one of the best universities in the world should pipe down, be grateful, and get on with things. In reality, self-care is still important.
During Peer Support training, we were reminded that in the event of an aeroplane crash people are told to put their own masks on before helping others. This is a simple, but important, thing to remember – whether you’re on a flight, supporting friends through fifth week, hoping to get more involved in charity work and activism, or simply trying to develop a decent relationship with a new tutor. It is very hard to be helpful to anybody else when you are struggling and not taking care of yourself. I think this takes a while for many young people to internalise, because when you first leave home you are suddenly left in charge of your own well-being, like a chick fleeing the nest on Springwatch, uncertain and a little bit shaky on the flying front. It may seem selfish, or like a waste of time, but taking time out to look after yourself when you start to feel stressed by work, or the state of global politics, is not only a nice thing to do, it is a form of protest. In a world, and especially an environment like Oxford, that tells us we should be busy all the time, it is an act of political resistance.
‘Self-care’ can be a somewhat awkward phrase. It might seem a bit cheesy to admit that you look after yourself, or need to spend time processing the aspects of your life that are more stressful. It sounds a little like you need to spend an evening a week literally soothing yourself, covering your body in cocoa butter and sitting very still. But self-care can come in any form and under any name. It is simply the bold act of spending time doing things you like, just because you like doing them. ‘Self-care’ is a positive term as it gives meaning to the time we spend on ourselves, whether we spend that time exercising, cooking, drawing, watching sitcoms or indeed covering ourselves in cocoa butter and sitting very still. In an environment where we are encouraged to spend every hour of the day being productive, it is important to schedule this time for ourselves.
The summer before I came to Oxford, one of my favourite songs playing on YouthComm (Worcestershire’s hippest youth radio station) was ‘Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself’ by Jess Glynne. I heard this song most days towards the end of that summer, driving around in my mum’s Golf. But somehow, when I started university, I completely forgot Jess’ words. It’s so easy, when you’re here, when you’re anywhere, to get caught up in life’s difficult parts, exciting parts and stressful parts, and forget that you are a person and you need time to process. We all need time for self-care, whether you cringe at the term or not, and if you need an idea for your next act, I’d personally recommend listening to some Jess Glynne.