Zafar: Self-Care is not selfish

I sat in the lobby of the counseling center at the end of spring term with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. The past year, I was the happiest I had been in a long time, but there was still a heavy weight pressing on my heart. I didn’t know what it was that was so unsettling to me in that moment; because after years of depression, I was finally seeking help. I should have been relieved, but I later realized that what I had been feeling was guilt.

For most of my life I had played the role of the listener. I was a person who people went to with their emotional distress, because they knew I would support them.

The past year had been no different. I was content with this role as long as it meant I would be able to help someone I cared about.

But when it came time to focus on my own mental health, I was never as kind to myself as I was to my friends.

I felt guilty whenever I had to say goodnight after late conversations because I needed to get some sleep. I cried for an hour because I felt bad I didn’t pick up my friend’s phone call in the middle of the night. I never forgave myself for leaving for college during a time when my mother needed me the most, even though it was in the best interest of my well-being.

Whenever I prioritized improving my own mental health rather than trying to fix someone else’s, I felt as if I was letting people down. I felt selfish. So I didn’t ask for any help, and instead exhausted myself until I couldn’t function.

I know I am not alone in doing this.

More than 75 percent of all mental health conditions develop before the age of 24, which means it is critical for college students to take care of themselves.

Unfortunately, there is a misconception among some students that focusing on their well-being is selfish. They generally prioritize classes, jobs, clubs and social lives over self-care.

It took me a while to understand that paying attention to my mental health is not selfish. Being selfish means not caring about other people, and only attending to one’s own needs and desires. Self-care is acknowledging that while everything else is important as well, people need to take time of out their day to make sure they are happy and healthy.

Seeking professional help is one of the best ways to care for oneself. Fifty percent of college students with mental health issues who did not seek help ended up dropping out.

Professional help can be hard to attain, especially since there is a stigma against mental illnesses that sometimes discourages people from seeing a therapist. This is when having a close group of friends comes in handy.

It is difficult to ask for help from friends without seeming like a burden, but in my experience, it was always worth it.

One of the purposes of having friends is to have a trustworthy support system. If I am constantly there for my friends, I should know that they will be more than happy to help me out. Asking for help from friends is not an unreasonable request.

I also need to make peace with the fact that it is okay to take time out of my busy day to set aside my responsibilities and focus on being content. My deadlines can be pushed back, and I can finish my work then, but if I run myself into the ground, I won’t be able to get anything done.

The most important thing to consider is the effect my lack of self-care might have on the people who are close to me. If something serious were to happen to me, they would be heartbroken.

College is an important time in people’s lives because it presents a new level of finding oneself. Therefore, it is critical to practice self-care. It is not selfish for people to want to save their own life, especially when it is a life that is dear to others.

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