I'm Making One Major Change Next Semester -- And You Can Too

There are some students across the nation pitching tents in libraries in order to cope. While we can't control the amount of exams and homework our professors assign us, what we can control, is our personal choice to take care of our bodies first.
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detail of woman lying in bed showing feet in woollen socks
detail of woman lying in bed showing feet in woollen socks

After quite the semester, I'm finally on winter break. This means: Full access to my parents' Amazon Prime account, guilt-free Netflixing, Mom's home-cooked meals, and my favorite thing -- sleep.

As college students, we sacrifice our mental and physical wellness in exchange for bragging rights to the "I just pulled an all-nighter!" accolade. I mean, I get it. I just emerged from what felt like the longest period of my life: finals week. I saw my peers posting raccoon-eyed selfies and pictures of sunrise from the windows of our campus libraries. I saw friends look at their Starbucks lattes as if they were their significant others and students slumped over masses of papers and illegible handwritten study guides.

But it wasn't just finals week where I saw this pattern. Throughout the semester, answers to my questions of "How are you?" typically ranged from "Busy!" to "Surviving!" to "Just holding up!"

Unfortunately, we equate this fast-paced routine with success, but this go-go-go mentality is plaguing us. Success and wellness aren't mutually exclusive. At least, they shouldn't be. They should coexist, and the more we take care of our wellness, the more successful we can be.

The World Health Organization defines self-care as:

"Activities individuals, families, and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health."

Self-care can encompass everything from making yourself a hot cup of tea to shutting off your phone to enjoy an hour of your favorite television show. It's seeing your therapist or taking a hot bath after a stressful day.

During this past semester, I found myself resisting self-care entirely. I would start my days at 7 a.m., get back to my apartment just before midnight, only to half-heartedly finish eating a microwaved tray of processed food while answering more emails and eventually getting to my homework. I was so "busy" some weeks I would forget to call my family and answer texts from my best friends. Looking back on this semester, I don't know if I truly lived. Yes, I breathed, I laughed, I even took a memorable trip with my best friend. But, how many of these moments are a daze?

By prioritizing my work above myself, I could feel my body deteriorating. I often had a hard time stomaching food, and an even harder time getting out of bed in the morning. If I applied this no-sleep, anxiety-ridden formula to my life consistently, in some circles, people may still view me as a successful individual. After all, in college, we sometimes compete on the basis of how many all-nighters we pull in comparison to our best friend or classmate. But, there is nothing wrong in valuing our own mental and physical wellness. In fact, the more opportunities we create for us to talk openly about these experiences, the better.

At USC, we have more to do to improve student wellness, such as increase the number of counselors at our health center to reduce wait times, and provide counselors in more accessible spaces such as our cultural resource centers and residence halls. Still, we do have some great resources aimed to improve student wellness. Our Office of Health and Wellness, Promotion, for example, brings therapy puppies to campus, offers massage chairs, and trains wellness advocates to host meditation sessions.

There are some students across the nation pitching tents in libraries in order to cope. While we can't control the amount of exams and homework our professors assign us -- for now -- what we can control, is our personal choice to take care of our bodies first.

In 2010, Huffington Post co-founder and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington gave a talk at TEDWomen where she opened with this: "My big idea is a very, very small idea that can unlock billions of big ideas that are at the moment dormant inside us."

The audience listened, captivated.

"And my little idea that will do that is: sleep."

The audience erupted in applause. Sadly, we live in a world where the idea of sleeping is revolutionary. Some of the most successful women in the world have had terrifying episodes where a lack of sleep has affected them negatively -- even Arianna Huffington recounts an episode where she fainted from exhaustion and broke her cheekbone.

I've had my own terrifying experience: My sophomore year, while riding my bike home in a sleep-deprived state, I had a terrible accident which left me with stitches in my head and a serious concussion, from which I am still recovering to this day.

But, these are not the things we share on social media. Instead, our curated social resumes populate friends' newsfeeds with posed pictures brunching in Santa Monica or snagging that coveted internship. In reality, much of what we share online is a fraction of who we are. With a distorted reality, I notice many of my peers pushing themselves to live false lives so they too, can appear as successful and happy as their peers. Going to the beach only for an Instagram photo or attending a concert to get the perfect selfie isn't making us happier.

So, I want to remind everyone it's okay to not be busy. It's okay to spend time alone, kicking it with a cup of cocoa and "Full House" reruns. It's okay to practice self-care. It doesn't make you any less important -- in fact, it can only contribute and help you with your personal success. So today, I'm going to make a pledge. No more: "I pulled an all-nighter!" humble brags. No more "I'm so busy!" responses when people ask me how I'm doing. I pledge self-care to help me feel alive. I hope you will join me.

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