Why is self care considered a luxury?

It seems that today, the less you take care of yourself, the more successful you are.

Alarm clock (Loren Chavez/Lariat)

School has always been riddled with competitive attitudes; students were trying to achieve the highest GPAs, the least amount of absences, the most amount of AP class, etc. However, some take this competition to the extreme when they virtually brag about how little they take care of themselves. It seems as if students are trying to one-up each other on how little they sleep, how badly they eat, or how serotonin deficient they are.

At first glance, this could be seen as just a kind of self-deprecating humor, but from someone who used to engage in this damaging behavior looking back, it feels like more of a way of one-upping another. If someone says ‘I only got 5 hours of sleep last night,’ then another’s response is usually how many fewer hours they slept. This concept is not new, and has had health professionals concerned about the effect of sleep deprivation, such as researches Killgore WD, Balkin T.J., and Westensen N.J., all of who worked on the study of “Impaired decision making following 49 hours of sleep deprivation.”

“Sleep deprivation reduces regional cerebral metabolism within the prefrontal cortex, the brain region most responsible for higher-order cognitive processes, including judgment and decision making,” said Killgore, Balkin, and Westenson. “Accordingly, we hypothesized that two nights of sleep loss would impair decision making quality and lead to increased risk-taking behavior on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), which mimics real-world decision making under conditions of uncertainty.”

Also, especially among women, the feeling of needing to eat less and diet more seems to be another dimension of needing to be better at the cost of one’s health. Abra Fortune Chernik expands on this in her article “The Body Politic.”

“A perversion of nature by society has resulted in a phenomenon whereby women feel safer when starving than when eating,” Chernik says. “Losing our weight boosts self-esteem while nourishing our bodies evokes feelings of self-doubt and self-loathing.”

This competitive attitude may come from the desire to be above physical need to accomplish more, no matter the cost. Chernik states in her article how this kind of attitude led her to developing anorexia and making it difficult to recover from the disorder that affects thousands of women.

Another facet of this problem is people not expressing the need for help. More people are going to mental health professionals, but those who still don’t feel comfortable bottle their feelings up inside, which may lead to self-destructing behaviors. Sometimes those who do need help do subtly ask for it when they “joke” about being depressed or anxious.

Of course, not everyone who jokes about these issues is depressed, but personally, when I was going through a difficult time, I used humor as a mechanism to let out my problems without committing to finding out a solution, therefore leaving me stuck in this dark place.

Brittany Huynh, a student from IVC, said that she thought that they are most apparent in high school.                          

“In high school, there is a looming pressure of the future; everyone always say that college is a lot more difficult than high school. This expectation to prepare for college then encourages everyone to stress out,” Huynh said.

Another student, Morgan Jones from Indiana University, said how even from across the nation, it is apparent that bragging about self-destructing behavior was more common in high school.

“Kids, and or their parents, encourage this sometimes toxic idea that success equates to punishing yourself to the limit. How little a high school kid takes care of themselves is kind of a twisted badge of honor of how hard they’re working,” Jones said.

When asked why about the difference between the two, she said, “In college, sleeping patterns are a bit wacky. But it’s by no means encouraged. It happens, but no one sees it as a badge of honor. I think that’s because college culture is a lot more individual than high school culture, and college is focused on functioning in the adult world, which, unsurprisingly, requires sleep.”

Some disagreed with this, though. Delaney Toler, a student at CSF, thought that self-destructing behavior was more common in college, but that is related to more practical than social reasons.

“You have more freedom, especially if you live in the dorms, so your parents aren’t there to tell you what to do,” Toler said. “Also, if you are a college student on your own, you don’t have a lot of money, so eating healthy isn’t a priority.”

Celinea Jackson, a student at Saddleback College, had a similar sentiment but thought that this behavior was more prevalent in college.

“I think it happens more in college because there’s more pressure to do well, and I think that adds a lot of stress onto a person,” Jackson said. “I think that people believe, or try to convince themselves, that more stress equates to ‘I’m doing a better job,’ and they want others to think they do well. I also think that people think going a certain number of hours without sleep or eating is impressive.”

Many still believe that to achieve success, they must put their work before their well-being. That caring for oneself is considered a luxury and is not available to those who are hardworking. This attitude is extremely dangerous physically and mentally as well, for pushing these views onto another may lead them into the same rabbit hole of justifying self-destruction.