Where is Time For Self-Care in Crisis?

“Self-care feels wrong to me,” I remember telling my therapist on a rainy Wednesday evening. “It just feels selfish and wrong to do when I could be doing other things with my already limited time,” I further stated. It isn’t only my Chinese family that makes self-care and taking time for yourself an unnecessary thing. As first-generation Asian Americans, we’re taught from a young age to always study and work hard. To go above and beyond everyone else when we didn’t need to. To always be two steps ahead of the game, even though others were already more than two steps behind. For most, quarantine has been a much-needed break. It’s only natural for quarantine to be a time of hustle for other first-generation Asians and myself that are taught to relentlessly hustle throughout their lives.

I only recently learned about hustle culture by watching a couple of YouTube videos that were recommended to me by a person I volunteered with. We both are online emotional hotline listeners that help teens with their mental health and lead community projects for the site. I remember avoiding that YouTube video because I didn’t want anything to hinder my productivity. Eventually, I ended up watching the entire video more than twice and taking notes on how I could improve myself. Hustle culture is the never-ending and toxic cycle of overworking yourself to be productive all of the time. In a way, hustle culture is another name for the hardworking values of many first-generation Asian Americans. Online, it’s branded as gaining, achieving, working hard, and getting to the top of the food chain. Isn’t that what I, along with so many of my Asian American friends, were taught from a young age? Very little, if any, part of the hustle culture contains self-care. There’s so much hustling, who has time for it anyway?

I am a product of hustle culture and a representation of all of its toxicity. My friends and peers might look up to my efforts, and I know I sometimes look up to my efforts. But inside, I know the truth about my productivity habits, and I know how much they hurt me as an individual. The truth is, hustle culture is just as bad as procrastination. It’s a spectrum of work habits with two polarized ends, one of which is hustle culture. We hear this at home all the time. Our Asian values put school on one hand and everything else on the other hand, forcing us to choose between the two. We’re taught that you can’t have a relationship and do well in school. You can only choose one. The same thing goes with self-care and hard work. Apparently, we can only choose one.

We often just accept these values and move on with our lives, choosing school. We often don’t ask ourselves why we can’t have both. Why can’t I be successful and also have a successful relationship? Why can’t I take time for myself and also take time to achieve my goals? There’s a middle ground between pushing ourselves to exhaustion and dealing with the exhaustion from not being able to make ourselves do anything at all. Although those lying on the opposite (or near the opposite) end might see my end as an ultimate dream and goal, I know this is a dichotomy that is escapable.

Even in quarantine, a time where others have been slowing down and “taking time to take a break” for themselves, Hustle Culture has pushed a lot of my peers and me forward. This pressure of constantly achieving and working has managed to survive the pandemic crisis that we’re living in.

Through video calls with my therapist, I’m often asked, “where is the time for self-care?” It’s still a question I’m struggling to figure out. Time and time again, we’ve convinced ourselves that the time for self-care doesn’t exist. It’s not hard to. There are endless areas that we could improve. Whether it’s writing or an extracurricular or even some arbitrary skill that we never knew we needed, we’ve all struggled to slow down. I know I struggle to slow myself down even though the world around me has slowed down.

But what happens when we’re forced to slow down? In the middle of these uncertain times, it’s inevitable that unpredictable things happen. From relationship struggles to family stress, things happen that lead us to burnout. We become forced to slow down, and it’s painful. The unproductivity and the sickening side effects of not being able to be “useful” have hit us all at least once in our lives. When it’s in quarantine and combined with other stressors, along with the constant need to be “productive,” it feels so much heavier than it’s meant to be. Slowly, we start to realize truths about ourselves that we might not want to know. Like how productivity is just a distraction from issues we’ve really been avoiding. Or how we’ve cut off half of our friends while trying to frantically get ahead. Whatever it is that we face when we’re in the middle of this rut or burnout stage, we also being to realize the need for self-care.

 We, especially hustlers like me, need the time to step back from our responsibilities and breathe. It’s hard not to want to do everything we can with all the time we have, but I myself have realized the importance of slowing myself down and taking a step back from what I’m doing. I know we’ve all struggled a lot with feeling guilty over practicing self-care and taking breaks. Self-care, as easy as it sounds, is anything but easy for Asian women. Up against their own standards and expectations, self-care often ceases to exist, and it’s saddening to see how under-prioritized it is. We’re all living in a crisis, yet we’re giving ourselves more crises to deal with our own minds and responsibilities.

We all need and deserve the time to ourselves. It was a time when we’re not practicing “productive self-care”, which was what I used to call checking my emails and watching productivity YouTube videos. A time where we enjoy and reward ourselves for all our efforts, for god’s sake. To enjoy and be proud of the accomplishments that we’ve worked so hard for. To be kind to ourselves a bit and binge watch that show on Netflix that has been on our “Watch Later” list for months. We need time for ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying “drop all your responsibilities for a month and stop trying to do your important work”. I recognize and understand the importance of the work that we all do, and I respect the effort that we all put into the things we’re passionate about. But at the projects and activities that we’re all working on aren’t worth sacrificing our mental health and wellbeing over. They’re not. They are simply not, and even if they were, none of us could put in our best effort when we are too stressed and tired. We all need to find a balance between the two ends of that spectrum of work ethic. This goes for everyone, not just hustler Asian American teenagers like myself. Whatever work ethic you may have (or lack of) and whatever culture you grew up in, we all must find the balance of allowing ourselves to step back from our work when we need it and know when we’re ready to jump back in.

Both in quarantine and beyond quarantine, self-care matters. It’s not just self-care that matters, we matter. We matter and deserve time to ourselves. We Asian Americans, who work tirelessly to be enough for our peers, friends, and family, owe ourselves a favor to take it easy for a while and get rid of the toxicity of hustle culture. More than ever, we deserve to show up for ourselves and hustle to care about ourselves more. We deserve self-care.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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