Here’s a reminder that self-care becomes even more important during stressful times. The need for self-care would seem obvious, except that some on the right deride people who ask for it as weak, and a culture that supports it as dysfunctional. That attitude diffuses into the general culture and causes people to feel guilty about wanting or needing self-care.
Some good people also feel guilty for “taking time off” to care for themselves when there’s important social justice work to be done or others in need of serious help. But your disempowering yourself through self-neglect isn’t going to help anyone. (To paraphrase the airlines, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.) Many successful activists (and others, of course) devote hours each day to exercise and other forms of self-care, which helps them maintain not just their health and energy, but motivation and focus.
As the poet and activist Audre Lorde famously wrote: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
I think most people know what self-care consists of: abundant sleep, good nutrition, exercise, recreation, socializing, and being proactive on any physical and mental health needs. But what it really is, is a commitment. If you’re not giving up other activities to care for yourself, you’re probably not really caring for yourself.
How much self-care do you need? The answer is, “as much as you need.” Part of self-care is listening to, and trusting, yourself. If you feel like you need more sleep, or more time off, or to consult a doctor, therapist or other professional, respect that truth and act accordingly. Almost all of us need more self-care than we like to admit, but denying one’s need for it is perfectionist (shortsighted and grandiose), and therefore a dead end.
And never, ever judge your need for self-care, because that’s also a perfectionist dead end.
An under-discussed aspect of self-care is filtering your inputs, both offline and especially online. If your social media feed is currently an ongoing stream of panic, fear, rage, grief, negativity, and other disempowering emotions, it’s not helping either you or the cause. (Or, probably, the people posting.) So filter it (and your offline discussions, if necessary) to let in more information and strategies and empathy and compassion, and (much) less of the discouraging stuff. This probably means removing some people from your feed, which might lead to some social awkwardness. But you should experience a pretty quick rise in your mood.
Please note that I’m not saying that the fear, grief, etc., are unwarranted. I just think there’s a point (different, perhaps, for each of us) where it’s healthier to move on to step #2: resistance. Paraphrasing the famed early 20th century labor organizer Joe Hill, “Don’t mourn. Organize.”
Finally, invest time in taking care of others in your orbit–and not just your loved ones. “Random acts of kindness”–even just a welcoming smile to a stranger–cost little or nothing and make both you and the recipient feel good. And each one strikes a blow, however small, against hate.
If you have thoughts or suggestions on self-care please leave them as a comment!