In light of growing popularity of self-care, students, counselor evaluate proposed benefits, shortcomings of trends


Ray Mo

As part of her skincare routine, Senior Hannah Liu applies Blanc De La Mer cream, a facial hydrating mask used to moisturize and brighten the skin. Liu said skincare is an important part of her self care routine. Another thing that she chooses to incorporate in her life for self care is exercise, specifically dancing.

Michelle Lu

Glossy Twitter threads. Instagram accounts boasting skincare products. Podcasts sharing stress relievers. Vlogs recording daily routines. These are all facets of the “self-care” movement that has taken the country by storm in recent years. These actions lead to the same question: “How do you practice self-care?” But a question like “Why do you practice self-care?” remains, for the most part, unanswered.

According to the International Self-Care Foundation (ISF), the term “self-care” has been around since the 1950s, originally coined as any activity that is deliberately done to improve mental, emotional and physical well-being. Yet, as recent as 2016, “self-care” officially made its way into mainstream media and became a far-reaching push in social media platforms and educational systems alike to promote a conversation about bringing mental health into perspective. 

Self-care today is in fact largely elusive, with self-care accounts advertising hacks and trends propelled by social media platforms. For example, the newest trend, dubbed “dopamine fasting” (where people fast from stimulants such as electronics, music and books), is one of many attempts at promoting clearer, more focused thinking. 

Given the rising popularity of self-care and self-care hacks and trends, many have questioned whether or not it holds benefits. According to VICE, the image of self-care converged on the conflict between the promise of mental health given by physical products as opposed to a group of behaviors. Many say that the current self-care movement has turned into a marketing tactic to sell beauty products; claims like these have prompted many people like junior Nishita Prasad to reconsider the actual benefits of this so-called “self-care.”

“Especially like on Instagram, like on social media, there’s a very romanticized idea of self-care,” Prasad said. “I think a lot of the time self-care can literally just be like putting all of the stuff in a to-do list and making sure you know what’s going on in your life so you can start planning it out. I don’t think doing physical self-care is as helpful as mental self-care and I don’t really think the media covers that as much.” 

It was this debate on the integrity of self-care that prompted Prasad to create her own account on Instagram and take matters into her own hands.

 “At the time they were really popular, but I noticed a lot of the self-care pages would post the same things and they wouldn’t have any scientific accuracy or they just wouldn’t be accurate at all. Or they’d just be shallow and I kind of wanted to combat that a little and try to actually make good threads that have a scientific basis,” Prasad said.

This is because Prasad believes the original premise of self-care preaches more well-intentioned, tailored methods, and can be a springboard to improved health. Although she does actively use skincare products and periodically does other self-care, she believes that is just the first step in the journey to mental well-being.

“It’s the easiest way for some people to start healthy habits (like) exercise and actually trying to maybe go to a therapist – just something like that – for more mental things,” Prasad said. “It’s a little more effort involved…but just to start out just doing skincare or actually about thinking what you have to do is a great way to start working on the mental and physical aspects of your health.”

Director of counseling Rachel Cole said that the ideals of self-care are especially relevant to current society, just because of how overlooked the theory is in light of how people choose to sacrifice certain aspects for their duties.

“Sometimes we need to be reminded – and I know I do – because we get so caught up in our academics or even social (life) and working that we kind of let that go to the wayside. Not intentionally, (but) it just happens,” Cole said.

Self-care, according to Verywell Mind, can not only boost physical health by combating exhaustion but also emotional health by fostering relaxation. Senior Hannah Liu said that based on personal experience, those benefits of self-care are evident. 

“I’m not an expert in mental health, but personally I do believe that self-care can lead to dramatic changes in mental health,” Liu said. “Compared to periods of time when I’m not taking care of myself, there’s definitely a huge difference in my own mental health and happiness.”

Likewise, Cole mentioned how just taking the time for oneself provides a wide range of benefits that aren’t limited to just physical improvements. 

Cole said, “I think it (self-care) helps in relationships. I think it does in your work, I think it does in academic performance … if you do something you enjoy that is not work related then I think it affects everyone around you and can (help) you physically as well.”

Cole said that there is not one thing that fixes all, and that people, especially students, should be proactive in their journey of finding what best works for them. 

“Each person has to find out what that (self-care) looks like for them,” Cole said. “I know a lot of people may jog… afterward they definitely feel rejuvenated, more energetic and just at a better place. I think that you have to find what works for you and isn’t (actually) work.”

Liu agreed, adding that it is important to know there is a fine line between what constitutes as self-care and what doesn’t. She implied how it was easy for people to strip it of its inherent value and make it into a more “self-indulgence” centered idea.

“Personally, I know people who do this and I’m guilty of doing it too… in reality, I know I should be working hard as a student. I think it’s really important to know how much slack you need to give yourself and strike a balance between self-care and being lazy,” Liu said.

However, Prasad still emphasized that there is a limit to how much one can really do on the basis of issues that require the attention of professionals and how people shouldn’t mistake real problems for ones that only require self-care.

“I think if you actually have something that a therapist would be good at dealing with, like mental health issues that are more in-depth than just ‘Oh, I’m stressed at this moment,’ then it’s definitely a better idea to actually go see a therapist because there’s only so much you can do for yourself,” Prasad said. 

Accordingly, Cole mentioned that the benefits of self-care and its availability compared to more intense treatments, such as seeing a psychiatrist, make it an option that enables people to ensure their health more consistently.

“I don’t think everyone needs to go to a therapist,” she said. “I think…if we took time to take care of ourselves with balance then a lot of people wouldn’t have to go there, but there are also things that happen that (for them) it is something beneficial.”

There was one thing that Cole stressed was the most important thing for everyone, even if they don’t practice self-care.

“One thing I want them to know is that it’s important to find whatever it is that gives you a break, even if it’s for four or six minutes a day,” she said. “And then balance. Balance with your classes, with your activities, just keeping a healthy balance is really important.”