Self-care is a priority for young people, now more than ever

Róisín Phelan

Credit: Chloe Rooney

First thing every morning Louis Maxwell writes in his journal. The Dun Laoghaire Institute Of Art Design and Technology student has made a conscious decision to start everyday with a purposeful to do list.

Aspects of self-care are intertwined effortlessly into his daily routine and as a result, it does not hinder his productivity. For example, even while travelling he is able to make use of his time.

“I cycle everywhere so I use that as a time to deep breathe and set my intentions for the day.”

Maxwell attends weekly yoga classes that have become the “highlight” of his week and he ends every day with a “sleepy meditation” before bed, something that benefits his ability to have a deep, full nights sleep.

New research carried out by Aviva has shown that 57 per cent of 18-24 year olds are targeting looking after their mental health and reducing stress levels amongst their top three priorities.

The research was published online on November 10th of this year.

It interviewed a representative sample of 2,000 adults aged 18 and over, but quantified the final data into age groups.

The data showed that looking after mental health is the top priority for 18-24 year olds.

In comparison, the priority for those ages over 45 was to get more exercise and spending more time with family was the winner for 25-44 years old.

The research also had a series of statistics on physical health, including cancer and heart disease.

Aviva Life & Pension representative Karen Gallagher commented on the research saying, “It is evident that people are conscious of the need to look after their mental health however, it is not always possible to prevent issues arising and a level of protection should be in place”.

It is clear that young people are more conscious of their mental health now than they were decades ago. As a result, more may be practicing self-care or mindfulness.

Psychotherapist Amy Plant told The College View , “I think everyone is becoming more aware of their mental health because it’s becoming less stigmatized and words like mindfulness, self-care, anxiety are used much more frequently.”

“I do think that 18 – 24 year olds are more aware of their mental health than a 35 year old now would have been when they were 18. Mindfulness, yoga and meditation are being introduced into schools and there are innumerable podcasts, apps etc focused on mental health.”

Plant, who practices in the Dublin area said that from her own experience 18-35 year olds are “more comfortable talking about the fact that they are in therapy.”

“I think they are less likely to view it as self-indulgence and more necessity. I think older generations were likely taught that self-care was selfish.”

Self-care for the mind can be compared to exercise for the body. A regular ritual that helps the mind to work better, and feel better.

Mental health affects your wellbeing to the same extent as physical health, and has been proven to impact physical health.

According to Mental Health Ireland, depression has been linked to a 67 per cent increased risk of death from heart disease and a 50 per cent increased risk of death from cancer.

Plant agreed with this link between mental and physical health saying “As for self-care I would say it’s vital for well being. If you don’t practice self-care you’re literally not looking after yourself and that can’t really ever be good.”

Although self-care can often be viewed exclusively as things like massages, baths, journaling, listening to music and exercising, Plant highlighted that “self care also includes things like implementing emotional boundaries, not taking on the emotions and issues of others as if they were our own, being cognizant of how we speak to ourselves and our self esteem and self worth and not constantly putting the needs of others above our own.”

“I think that self care is not only beneficial but vital. You can’t pour from an empty cup as they say,” she said.

Many things have normalised the discussion of mental health in society, one which was not acknowledged as outright in the past. Student Union campaigns, Mental Health Societies, television shows, films, musicians, social media, and education have all helped to open the conversation up to all generations, however, young people for the most part have taken the lead on the discussion.

DCU student Dara Browne agreed with this saying “it’s a big topic nowadays and I think the younger generation are really good for making mental well-being a priority. I think mindfulness has definitely become more normalised.”

Similar to Maxwell, Browne includes mindfulness in her daily routine.

“I always take a few minutes out of my day to practice mindfulness so I can feel in control and clear my mind a bit… I think is so important because we can so easily get caught up in everything we have going on and forget to take a minute to just take a step back and take a break.”

Plant said she is pleased by the uptake in self-care and mindfulness and said “I think the stigma [around mental health and self-care] is certainly lessening and that’s because these topics are much more out in the open. Secrecy has a tendency to breed shame.”

“We could be sitting next to a person who is experiencing the exact same feelings as us but if we’re too afraid to discuss it then we’ll think that we’re completely alone,” she said.

Róisín Phelan

Image Credit: Chloe Rooney