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The Carletonian

Conversations of self-care: “Let’s talk about self-care scripts”

On Monday, Oct. 23, the Office of Health Promotion (OHP) held an event, “Let’s Talk about Challenging Self-Care Scripts,” in the Weitz, catered by Desi Diner. At the event, participants examined and deconstructed popular self-care methods.

“I was really happy to have such a good turnout… We had 26 attendees,” remarked Margret Tiennot ’26, who is a Student Wellness Advocate (SWA). “Self-care is important no matter the setting. However, in an [academically] rigorous setting such as Carleton, it is even more important to emphasize it. Self-care doesn’t get talked about enough.”

The co-hosts, Ori Kim ’24 and Dylann Cullinane ’26, addressed common misconceptions about self-care, such as the difference between self-care and coping mechanisms. Self-care is a long-term effort to improve your quality of life, while a coping mechanism is reactionary and often does more harm than good; an example they brought up is binge-eating.

Kim and Cullinane also noted that popular self-care methods are often overly general and difficult to achieve. They cited how the advice to “exercise more” is often hard for some individuals to tackle, the advice to “eat out” is often inaccessible to those without the funds to go to a restaurant. The idea to have spa days for the sake of self-care can end up feeling performative and finally, companies are increasingly marketing “self-care” products, associating the concept with consumerism.

Discussion groups categorized self-care advice in four areas: sleep, physical health, sexual health and mental wellness. Participants discussed how these general categories fit their needs. Those who shared their insights won prizes such as dumpling-shaped stress balls, raspberries, blackberries and adorable cat lamps.

Common themes in personalized self-care methods include peer support, attainable goals and setting clear boundaries. Finding a peer to accompany you when trying new things can make it feel less intimidating. Making attainable goals for eating healthy and getting enough sleep can go a long way to prevent stress and feelings of inadequacy. Setting clear boundaries for yourself, such as knowing when to decline late-night guest visits, helps prevent burnout and allows one to take better care of oneself and others in the long run, said Kim and Cullinane.

Kim and Cullinane invited everyone to craft their own personalized self-care scripts, taking the narrative of their wellness journey into their own hands. Participants each left with an ornate feather pen in their hands and, for some, a stack of warm leftover naan.

With regard to how the event went, Cullinane replied, “I was so happy with how many people participated. I liked how a lot of them were giving suggestions to the other people in their group when someone brought up an issue or concern. And I thought that was super cool. It was peer education, people educating each other. […] I love seeing that.”

Kim further explained how they decided on the theme of self-care: “[For t]he other two events we did last spring, we did ‘Emotional Metamorphosis,’ which was about self-efficacy, and then the other dinner discussion event we had was, ‘Let’s Talk About Burnout.’”

“That was during [2023] Winter Term, which is very relevant,” Kim said. “Everyone was burnt out. So we usually tried to pick topics that are fairly sensitive during Week Seven or Week Eight. This topic felt like a continuation of last spring’s topic. It started off challenging a lot of the recommendations that are on campus, because we know that hearing about self-care all the time can get really exhausting. And these are different ways of how we can approach it to still get [across] what we want to recommend to people.”

They further noted, “In our roles as SWAs, we constantly discussed self-care. To some people, especially new students, talking about self-care [and coping mechanisms] can feel really new…. I feel like this event was helpful to older students as well [as to] us… [We challenged] what [we] already know and how [to] approach it in a new way as well, especially setting a clear stance at the beginning of the year.”

Cullinane added, “During our period of orientation, I went to this really interesting presentation the SHAC therapists held, and they were talking about self-care and holding boundaries within self-care, because in college, especially when you’re a first-year or maybe getting to know a new group of people, it can be really hard to be setting very firm boundaries when they don’t really align with what you think the interests of the group are. So I really liked how they talked about [how] breaking a boundary, even if it’s a boundary you set for yourself, is not a form of self-care, even if you’re like, ‘Oh, but people will like me more if I do this thing that I’m not comfortable with.’”

“Along with that, self-care is especially difficult for freshmen who are coming to the space because they’re getting a schedule, having a walkable community [and dealing with] so many other factors,” Kim said. “Especially when you’re trying to establish your social circle and who are going to be your friends, trying to build those connections and everyone’s staying up super late, when it comes to sleep and wellness. Sometimes you feel yourself being pushed into certain areas that you don’t want to be pushed towards, like trying to figure out what you want, but you’re willing to try sometimes. It’s hard to distinguish between those.”

Kim said that going outside your comfort zone might help build stronger relationships, “but then […] [asking] ‘What about yourself?’ and trying to figure out how to balance what you’re willing to sacrifice can sometimes be difficult.”

When asked about boundaries with real-life applications, Cullinane cited a personal experience: “I actually brought up that example because this year, I am living with one of my really close friends. And before we roomed together, we talked about, ‘Do we want to host social events in our room [and] bring bigger groups of friends over?’ We both decided that that’s not really for us. We love spending time with our friends, but having them in our room, especially if it’s on a school night, can be really tough if we are feeling tired or our social battery’s feeling drained, and we just want to go to bed. So we’ve been trying to host our social events outside of the room,” Kim said.

When asked how the OHP decides on events, Kim answered, “I think for this specific programming, we tried to plan this event around relevant campus conversations that we hear. So if people have health-centered concerns, or also ideas, they’re free to stop by our office and talk to any of the SWAs if they just want to have a conversation or bring up a concern that they’ve been seeing around.” Kim noted the OHP’s role in campus conversations surrounding wellness, and that people could feel free to stop by the office in Sayles. “Our roles are as SWAs [are] not just to help advocate and support other students on campus [but] also to present and put out information to other students as well.”

Cullinane also noted the knowledge and experience they gained with SWA training and recapped their experiences being a SWA: “There was so much I’ve learned just from my training as a SWA, and there are lots of resources on campus that I learned through peer leader training. I would love for other people to know that even if you’re not a peer leader… we are here for you as a resource. If there’s something that you’re unsure about that’s related to well-being, we’d love to help you navigate that concern.”

The event provided a platform for reevaluating conventional self-care practices. By exploring personalized approaches to wellness and discussing peer support, attainable goals and clear boundaries, it not only highlighted the Office of Health Promotion and SWAs as a resource within the community, but also how a well-rounded college experience goes beyond academics. This experience includes community support, self-care awareness and personal growth. The OHP organizes a talk on relevant issues every term, so stay tuned for future events.

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