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Beatrice Lintner / Staff Illustrator

Whether in avocado toast or the guacamole at Chipotle, avocados demand high prices at restaurants. The reason those restaurants often charge extra for avocados is that they require a lot of maintenance in comparison to other foods: They require a lot of water to grow, are in high demand and limited supply, and spoil very quickly.

However, like salsa, beans, and lettuce, guacamole plays an integral role in our modern dining experience. Not only do we pay that extra $3 (despite what our bank account looks like) but we also do it with purpose because we know how good it is for our health, tastebuds, and soul. Guac often seems expensive and unnecessary, but we still value the non-monetary benefits of it. We prioritize it because we understand what our meal would taste like without it.

The guacamole equivalent of my well-being requires extra effort for me to maintain because I have had to learn to treat it as a priority, instead of as optional. I have learned that it also pays to give up other “toppings” I may not necessarily desire or need despite the fact that they do not cost anything. Sometimes, I just don’t want to join another club or add another class to my schedule because it takes up too much space, not allowing me enough time for myself.

Long before starting college here, many of us were trained to protect, nurture, and fight tooth and nail for our GPAs like a mother bear and her cubs. We cry when we get a B+ on paper (if we are in Columbia College—I guess SEAS students cry regardless?) and we get anxious when the line to get that frickin’ omelet is taking longer than expected, taking precious minutes away from our love affair with *insert your favorite library.* We throw tantrums to push for a percentage point of a percentage point, and we argue for grades we know we don’t deserve (read: mediocre papers written the night they’re due that are honestly pretty good considering the little time we spent on them).

Academic brilliance and vigor are not exceptional at Columbia; they’re normal and treated as such. However, when it comes to topics regarding mental health, physical health, and platonic or romantic relationships, we do not give them the same attention or energy that we do our grades and internship searches. But if we are willing to pay the extra cost for guacamole at Chipotle, why are we often unwilling to “pay extra” in regard to our own well-being? Should it even be regarded as “paying extra?” Why do we treat self-care like an extra topping rather than the main entree of our lives in the first place?

I have been lucky to have a strong foundation that allows my well-being to flourish: a strong sense of optimism, purpose, tenacity, self-awareness, and self-confidence. However, between different moments throughout high school and my first year of college, as my academic and career-oriented responsibilities continued to pile up, I often did not make enough room for it.

Despite going through unpredictable moments of exhaustion, sadness, disappointment, and chaos during my time at Columbia, I now feel more balanced because I practice self-care both when I have extra time and during times of inconvenience. My sense of contentment comes from careful consideration of my limit; understanding how to motivate myself; and compartmentalizing what I am doing for my family, my career, my academics, and myself. This semester, I have been setting aside time in the morning for myself, going to the gym for my physical health, and practicing the trumpet for my mental well-being.

With this consistent schedule, I have a solid foundation that allows me to face the chaos of my academics, extracurriculars, and relentless networking opportunities. Last year, when I did not prioritize my health or happiness, I experienced constant burnout and relied on unhealthy ways to be productive, such as fueling my anxiety instead of trying to reduce it. However, this semester, I have a heavier academic and extracurricular load because I have also budgeted time to spend on my own well-being. I am more engaged, produce higher quality work, and do better academically because of it.

At Columbia, the guacamole of our health is often treated as an optional topping for special occasions, such as celebrating an accomplishment or conquering a hardship. However, our well-being requires constant maintenance, despite the circumstance we are in—similar to the cultivation of the avocado plant.

Guac should not be extra. And neither should our happiness.

Guac often seems expensive and unnecessary, but we still value the non-monetary benefits of it. We prioritize it because we understand what our meal would taste like without it. Let’s do the same for our health.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

mental health self-care food stress happiness
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