I talk about self-care a lot, just not necessarily on this blog. That’s about to change, though, because this past year has been rough, and the next few years will be as well, and it’s time for us all to engage in a lot more self-care.
Let’s start treating our bodies, our minds, and our relationships like they’re important, because they are.
Audrey Lorde once said that self-care could be a radical political act. What she meant was that when the world tells you that you’re not important, and tries to drain you of the energy you need to fight back, taking care of yourself is an act of defiance. I can’t help but think that this is true; in a system that too-often treats people like their value is determined by the labor they produce, a system in which women are expected to take on domestic and household labor with little acknowledgment, thanks, or support, self-care is an act of rebellion. It is your constant reminder to yourself that you are a person and you deserve to be treated with care and respect, and if no one will give that to you, you need to give it to yourself.
Before you start googling self-care ideas, though, let me be very clear: I don’t just mean that you should just start doing yoga and buy some scented candles and call it a day. That isn’t self-care. Self care isn’t just the pretty stuff you see on Pinterest; it’s about actually taking care of yourself, starting with your basic needs. And self-care shouldn’t just be a reaction to feeling stressed or burned out; it needs to be integrated into how you live your life, to give you the energy and the strength to bring your best self to as many days as possible. Let’s get proactive about actually treating ourselves well.
Look at the hierarchy of needs. All the adult coloring books and glasses of wine at the end of a long day won’t solve your problems if you’re not meeting your needs for things like food, having a place to sleep, getting enough sleep, feeling like you have basic personal security-~-so you need to make sure those needs are taken care of. How much sleep are you getting each night? Is it enough? Is it even close? Are you eating enough? Are you eating healthy foods that actually meet your nutritional needs? Are you able to pay your rent and your electric bill? Those things matter, and you need to take care of them too, and treat them like actual self-care. Do your dishes. Do your laundry. Pay your bills. Buy actual groceries instead of just saying “screw it” and ordering pizza again. Go to bed at a reasonable hour. Take care of things so that you have a good foundation to build on.
Once you’ve got your foundation, then let’s get serious about how we take care of our social health, our mental health, etc. Take a self-care assessment and see how you’re doing across different areas of your life-~-not just the ones that seem obvious. I led a self-care workshop and a lot of participants told me they were surprised to see spiritual self-care on their assessment, and that they tended to score poorly on it, because they identified as non-religious; don’t forget that your relationship with the universe shouldn’t be dependent on belief in an organized religion, and is one of the things you might want to pay a little extra attention to. Don’t forget to take care of your relationship with yourself-~-whether it’s taking time to just feel your feelings, or reminding yourself of things you actually like about yourself, that investment can pay off, and not making it can definitely hurt.
Figure out what actually works for you in terms of self-care. A friend and colleague of mine uses what she calls a “boundary night”-~-one night a week where, after she leaves work, no one is allowed to talk to her about work or about sexual violence. She spends time on her hobbies, or with her partner, and it’s an important part of her self-care. I have invested time in learning to cook a wider range of things, because I find cooking comforting, and because I wasn’t eating well enough with only the few things I felt I could cook well. Those are just examples-~-one or two self-care activities alone are not enough. Figure out what calms you down, what gets you pumped up, what makes you feel refreshed, what helps you organize your thoughts. I see stuff about self-care all the time that focuses on things like doing yoga or meditating; personally, I don’t find either of those helpful, and that’s okay. Explore different kinds of self-care ideas and make a self-care plan that actually works for you and your life, and which addresses those different areas of self-care, especially the ones you may have been neglecting a little.
Really integrating self-care into your life can be hard, and people get busy-~-with work, with friends, with family, with activism. But this is worth it. Having balance, making sure that we are getting what we need, from ourselves and from our relationships, is worth it. It’s an investment in ourselves and our ability to engage with what we care about, without losing too much. Especially as we head into a difficult year, the first year of the new Trump administration, there will be days that you want to tear your hair out. There may be all kinds of hate speech, there may be marches and rallies you feel you want to get involved in, there may be frustrating and terrifying articles coming out about the implications of new policies, and every one of those feelings will be valid. The desire to do something is always valid. But you can’t pour from an empty cup; you need to invest in yourself, too, if you’re going to be effective, at anything at all.
Let me end with this: have compassion, not just for others, but for yourself. Forgive yourself for forgetting to go to the store or for not actually cleaning your desk even though you’ve been saying you’re going to do it for the last two months. Forgive yourself for the things you don’t know, for the weeks you’re too busy to think straight, for the times you’ve snapped at someone unintentionally, for the times you feel helpless. All of that is okay. When you feel yourself slipping, that isn’t the time to throw out your self-care plan; that is the time to show yourself some compassion, and adjust your strategy to figure out what you need, and how to get it, because you deserve to take care of you.