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Staff Editorial: Why self-care is like the mathematical constant e

Face masks and candles can be fun, but many people crave a deeper, longer-lasting practice of self-care in their lives. Commercialized self-care and benders of unrealistic expectations can help as a quick fix, but for some, they feel ultimately unfulfilling. It is a fundamental human need to feel cared for and respected, not only by others but by oneself.

This is where e comes into the picture. Lovable and rounded with a curlicue tail, e recurs throughout mathematics, echoing across the cosmos and cropping up in the contexts of statistics, biology and physics. Known as the “natural language of growth,” pi’s less-famous sibling describes growth and change, which is what caring for ourselves asks us to embrace.

Although “care” is often seen as a flurry of activity orchestrated to lessen our pains and troubles, “care,” like e, is actually a constant: a simple concept that can be applied to nearly everything, with reverberations that border on the spiritual. Self-care does not have to be expensive or complicated to be a true constant in our lives.

A deeper self-care can mean embarking on new endeavors. Caring for ourselves can look like voicing our needs, even if this brings us some discomfort. As a tool for growth, self-care can lead us toward things that are healthy yet temporarily unsettling in their newness.

Prioritizing oneself and being aware of how much one can handle are examples of this process of change. Along the way, one may encounter challenges, like the decision to address needs that may be unpleasant or difficult at first. The natural, human pull toward doing things that feel good in the moment may lead to regret later.

The self-care juggernaut of our culture capitalizes on this desire for a quick and superficial solution, peddling a never-ending supply of quick remedies that may deplete one financially without actually solving the underlying problems that need to be addressed. Depictions of self-care in the media are often modeled around beautification and “transformations,” but self-care is not just skin-deep.

In some cases, “doing the work” requires rewiring ourselves in a sense and questioning internalized messaging about how to go about caring for ourselves. Some common flawed beliefs that need challenging include the notion that simply working harder and having more self-discipline are enough to solve one’s problems, and that taking care of one’s mental health is a weakness. By embracing alternative methods of self-care, we can better acknowledge and respect our own needs and desires to the fullest extent.

Caring for ourselves can require us to take on new beliefs that can better serve us. It can be challenging to see ourselves as worthy of the time, energy and love that this process requires. Self-care can mean self-advocacy, whether that manifests as pushing doctors to take our health concerns more seriously, letting family know when they have hurt our feelings, or voicing our opinions more often in classes.

Expressing kindness and gratitude for ourselves and our bodies are ways that we can counteract the perceived need to “transform” physically in the name of self-care and self-improvement.

Small positive changes can be subtle yet significant. Sometimes, we might tell ourselves that it is okay to put down our work and come back to it at another time. Other times, we might use therapy to hold ourselves accountable for checking in with ourselves.

The simple but profound act of loving oneself is elusive for many, but it is one of the goals that true self-care works toward. And while self-care can help us expand our self-love and self-compassion, sometimes we still face barriers to feeling deserving of care from others.

It is important to acknowledge that the “fad” dimension of self-care can isolate people when they genuinely need outside support. An individualist attitude can minimize the obligations that individuals have to care for loved ones and community members, distorting our identities and posing as a barrier to full self-actualization.

Furthermore, this notion of self-care props up the idea that individual actions can effectively counter the effects of systemic problems. For example, one might meditate or say affirmations to try to counteract burnout induced by overwork or facing discrimination, but this is likely not enough to address the root cause of that burnout. Community activism and mutual aid are needed to truly address a systemic problem.

Self-care is simply not the quick fix that is promised when it is packaged for consumption. Rather, its true meaning is to serve as a vehicle for change deep within us. Living authentically and understanding our wants, needs, joys and hurts are the unspoken goals of caring for ourselves, and this requires a different approach than the surface-level Band-Aids hawked in the name of self-improvement.

Effective self-care is, in the end, a tool for growth and acceptance and a barometer for the ways in which we are changing for the better, much like our favorite constant e. So remember that you can carry e in your back pocket as a metaphorical reminder of how much growth lies ahead.