Self-care isn’t selfish

Relax with a book, bath and boundaries. Photo courtesy of


Imagine this: your friend asks to go get Starbucks after your class because they want to vent. You say yes, even though your to-do list is growing tremendously, because you’re scared you’ll look like a bad friend if you say no. Next thing you know it’s been two hours, and you’re more stressed than your friend who needed to vent. Does this sound like you? Then you may struggle to set boundaries. 

As a retired people pleaser, I’m here to tell you to start setting the boundaries you’re too scared to set. While I still am an empath and love being there for my peers, setting boundaries and taking care of myself has been vastly impactful in every aspect of my life. 

This school year, I have worked very hard to set boundaries with my friends and myself to make life a little more enjoyable. I used to think that setting boundaries with friends would make me a bad friend, but it has allowed me to grow my friendships so much more. 

Senior music performance major Lexi Scida knows boundaries can be essential for both you and your friends. 

“Of course, you want to support your friends,” Scida said. “But you really cannot be there for them in the way you want, unless you’re there for yourself first.” 

Just like they tell you on a plane, you need to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. When we put our own oxygen masks on first, we are able to be there, give advice and be patient with our friends. Setting boundaries is just putting the oxygen mask on yourself first. 

Caroline Gross, a junior early childhood education major, prioritizes caring for herself while in college and working. 

“I really try to make time for myself every single day even if others want me to hang out or do something,” Gross said. 

Self-care often gets deemed as something that can be selfish. Taking time to relax and watch a movie can be viewed as lazy. When making sure you have time to go for a walk or go to the gym, you may get responses from others like “I wish I had time to do that.” 

We are all engrained to think that if we are not rigorously working at all hours of the day, the world is going to collapse around us. Capitalism teaches us that if we are not productive constantly, we are failures. That is simply not the case. All avoiding self-care does is reinforce the awful work-life balance habits that society places on us. 

Society is not the only reason self-care gets deemed as selfish. There are many generational stigmas around mental health and self-care. We all have known people growing up and you may have people in your life who work long exhausting hours and never say no to helping. This might be a reason that you feel guilty or shamed when executing self-care. Having role models who don’t prioritize or practice self-care does not mean you don’t deserve self-care. 

Setting boundaries can be as simple as telling your friends that you need to do homework for 20 minutes before you go hang out, or that you are drained from the day and need to rest. It can also be telling your friends that you love and care about them, but don’t have the emotional capacity to also be their therapist

While I am a big fan of some gossip here and there, I try to refrain from solving my friends’ life problems. I have worked to set the boundary with my friends that I am here for them and I love them tremendously, but I also have things going on in my life that inhibit me from being able to also take on their mental load. 

Gross has many different types of boundaries that she sets in order to keep her peace and not burn out with a college workload.  

“Sometimes [boundaries] mean not hanging out with friends or doing homework at that exact moment, but I try to just remember it will get done,” Gross said. 

Through setting boundaries with others and yourself, you allow yourself the time to be productive and get work done. You also allow yourself the time to take a long shower and go for a walk before starting your homework. 

Setting the boundaries is not always the hard part. Reinforcing and keeping the boundaries can be. While family, friends and peers should honor and support your boundaries because they want the absolute best for you, it might take some explaining. Reinforcing a boundary means knowing and believing that the boundary you are setting is best for you, even when others might be upset. It also means asking for things that might feel selfish but will help you better yourself.

Junior elementary education major Kate Lindsey talked about how she reinforces the boundary of needing some quiet time after a long day of classes while living with multiple people. 

“I’m not afraid to get up and open my door and be like, ‘Hey, I need time to calm down,’” Lindsey said. “‘I’ve had a hectic day. Could you guys be a little more quiet?’” 

Asking for your boundaries to be respected is not being mean. Good friends should understand and respect that you need to take care of yourself. 

Lindsey values friendships where both parties respect one another in every way, but especially friendships where friends respect your boundaries. 

“I need my time, and friends need to respect that,” Lindsey said. 

While I don’t want to tell you who to be friends with, I’ll just suggest that you think about if you want to be friends with people who don’t respect you because of your self-care. 

As an early childhood education major, it’s no secret that I adore helping people. However, I’ve quickly learned that I can help myself too. Pouring everything into everyone except yourself is exhausting and unsustainable. Start prioritizing self-care and help yourself. 

It’s easy to forget that you can’t pour from an empty cup. However, when we take the time to care for ourselves, we realize that we have so much more to give to others.


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