Take the time to self-validate – a letter to students
You read this all the time on my blog: BKTY (be kind to yourself). The idea seems fantastic – being able to self-validate, being able to calm yourself down when things get rough, and being able to love yourself with your flaws instead of despite them. But if you ever get cynical (like I do), it’s hard not to swipe out that nagging voice that’s saying, “That sounds nice, but HOW. HOW do I have time to do that? In high school/college/university, I barely have enough time to eat meals, let alone take the time to self-validate!”
Photo by Bart LaRue
Edit (09/16/19): I start off here talking about my previous phrase of choice, which was BKTY (be kind to yourself). I have since revamped to ARTL (always remember to love) to encapsulate the message of practicing compassion toward others in addition to yourself.
Full disclaimer: I didn’t coin the phrase. The first time I heard “BKTY” was from a professor of mine. Back in second year, I was dealing with a rather traumatic incident and some difficult circumstances outside of school. In my program, some courses involve midterm and final interviews to check in with how the students were doing in the course, in their lives, and anything in between. I unashamedly can say that I cannot recall any interview where my mental health was okay. This professor of mine helped me seek counselling on campus for the first time, walked me to the counsellor’s office (multiple times during or after these interviews), and never failed to remind me to be kind to myself. BKTY is all over her office, in visual formats, in writing formats, and in her email signatures.
For a while, every single time I heard BKTY or saw it, that nagging voice persisted.
But HOW. If I sit around self-validating all day, how can I ever get my butt in gear? How can I measure up to everyone who’s doing just fine and can handle everything just fine? I have no excuse for needing to baby myself. The world isn’t going to wait for someone who can’t even get through a check in interview without venting and bursting into tears.
I want to start off by saying that I’ve gone through all of these thoughts. I have felt the frustration. The pressure to succeed. The pressure to keep going. The pressure to never stop. The fear of what might happen if I slow down. I believe that one of the biggest barriers to students practicing self-validation is the fear of what might happen if self-validation lowers your discipline. Because it is not truly self-validation if you do not also act upon the needs that arise from the practice.
Major hesitations I have experienced:
”I can’t see any immediate effects from self-validation. It’ll take me too much time to get it right.”
We live in a microwave society. We all want things instantaneously with as little effort as possible. This mentality has trained us to see things in terms of the immediate as opposed to long-term. Now, I realize that there are those of us here who do think of their long-term goals. Your dream career, your dream lifestyle, your dream home. But when I speak about long-term here, I am talking about the long-term implications of habits that you can build now, even if the effects are not immediately tangible. We are all told that studying hard and working hard now will lead to success and achieving our dreams later. But even then, we are working towards something directly tangible. Where can we find the motivation to self-validate when it is not clear what its physical effects may be or when you will begin to see these changes?
In the world of mental wellness, there is no “x” leads to “y” which then leads to “z”. So I understand this frustration and have lived through it for years. Believe me, I’ve told myself a near infinite number of times the words, “But that’s such a waste of time”. Is it really a waste of time though?
”Taking time to self-validate will slow me down.”
I have objective evidence that practicing self-validation produces time. I’ve been in the hospital several times for mental health concerns, and every single time, I did not have to dip to as low a state as I found myself in. I have some early signs that I am heading toward a depressive episode. I start reducing the importance I place on basic needs like eating meals, sleeping a healthy number of hours, exercising, and spending time with friends. Instead, I do 500% of the work that I would usually do within a given timespan, and far, far in advance of its deadline.
The kicker about extreme perfectionism is that the more you work without taking care of yourself, the lower your work’s quality, and the more you think that you need to work even harder to compensate. All three times I’ve been hospitalized, I had done a ridiculous amount of work in a short timeframe, while swatting away all my emotions and working like a machine. As a result of neglecting my emotional needs, my mental state was jeopardized. I then criticized myself endlessly for feeling exhausted and overworked (“when other people are doing just fine”), and this negative spiral is what eventually led me to become gone to the world for 2-3 weeks. Now, objectively speaking, is putting yourself through a ridiculous amount of work for 3 days while ignoring your emotions more effective than listening to your own needs, self-validating, and making healthy decisions about work for a week? And, objectively speaking, is losing almost a month of typical levels of productivity better than taking a day or two to rest and reset?
”I don’t have any choice. I have to continue working like this. Dwelling on my emotions won’t help me.”
I invite you to assess how you are working right now. How much you are working, your life balance (or lack thereof), and how much you are aware of your physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental needs. Now I want you to imagine what it is that you are working for. Maybe you want to be a doctor. A CEO. A nurse. An artist. An author. A marine biologist. A detective. Can you conceivably work how you are working now up until you achieve that career goal, and beyond until retirement?
Now, some of us may in fact have a rather healthy life balance. I am not just referring to our time allotment for different tenets of our lives. I am also inviting you to assess how you work. For most of my life, I used to work with the mentality that it’s do-or-die. I yelled at myself internally whenever I wanted to take a break. I came up with the most nonsensical what-if scenarios in my head whenever I thought about not doing an assignment or task way ahead of time. When I was done with one task, it was immediately off to the next one – no time for taking a pause, or to assess where my body is at. I would feel exhausted, anxious, worried and fearful, but I would swipe these all away with some university stress memes and say to myself, “Well I feel crappy. Oh well, I gotta finish this paper”. And then I’d have schedules like the one below because it always became an “oh well, who cares about my emotions. Gotta get this thing done”.
”That definitely won’t happen to me, though. I won’t burn out.”
Human beings always test the limits. I remember sitting in a driving school class and hearing the instructor talk about how Canada was thinking about increasing the maximum speeds on their highways because many people were going 10-20 km/h above the limit anyway. He and I shared the same sentiment in response to that. People will just go 10-20 km/h even faster after the change is implemented. If the goal is to have people slow down for their safety, making the legal speed limit higher would only suggest that it’s okay to be going that fast. There is a ripple effect with highways as well – if you, a law-abiding citizen, want to go at the legal speed limit, you most likely will face some adversity. If you slow down to the speed limit and everyone else around you is going faster, you’ll likely feel pressured to maintain their speed, whether it be through getting honked at or some cars passing you passive-aggressively.
It’s the same thing with work and burnout, especially if you are surrounded by highly competitive students. It’s hard to separate yourself from your peers. You’re all in the same program, or taking similar courses.
Why can’t I just keep sleeping 30 minutes later every night so I can get more work done? Why can’t I skip lunch so that I can finish this essay earlier in the day? If I slow down, no one will wait for me. I gotta keep going fast.
It’s a positive feedback loop. You’re already a hard worker. You compare yourself to your peers. You think you need to work even harder. Your work suffers because you are exhausted and don’t get proper sleep, meals, or exercise. You think you need to work even harder. You see someone posting on their Facebook page that they’ve received so and so award or got into this and that program. You look at your own work and start saying the “why can’t I” statements to yourself. You work even harder.
How long do you think we can repeat this loop before we burn out? Why even get to that point when you can stop the cycle at the very beginning?
Nicole, hold on a second. You’ve been working all weekend long. You’re tired. You’re stressed. You’re anxious. In fact, at this very moment, you’re writing a blog post because you feel like you need to fulfill an obligatory weekly deadline. You think that if you take a break, you are not committed to your cause and are not passionate enough. Is that really effective? It’s okay that you are tired and stressed. Take a breather. You deserve some rest.
Always remember to BKTY (be kind to yourself),