by Beth Wynkoop, Senior Trainer
When I write the words “self-care,” what kind of images come to your mind? Expensive spa days? Unreasonably relaxed women in complicated yoga poses? People who have the time, money, and privilege to pour resources into pampering and luxury?
The concept of “self-care” has become an overused buzzword in the last few years, liberally injected into any talk of self-help, crammed into advertisements, and touted as a value of countless businesses and nonprofits. It’s an easy, digestible phrase that’s simple to talk about, but much trickier to put into practice. As a result, “self-care” has often been relegated to the background — a word tossed around without any meat or meaning behind it. It’s something that sounds nice and warm and fuzzy, but not necessarily realistic or relevant to our lives. Sure, a spa day sounds great, but who has time or money for that?
This is especially true for those of us who spend our days working for social change. As we fight to make the world better, we feel constantly locked in an uphill battle. We put so much of ourselves into our work: our hearts, our souls, our bodies. In these circumstances, it seems even more unrealistic, perhaps selfish, to take time to care for ourselves. At Alteristic, we recognize the urgency of our work, the idea that what we do has the power of stopping the next act of power-based personal violence. And with that thought in our minds, isn’t it self-indulgent to take time out to focus on ourselves?
This type of logic ultimately doesn’t check out. In social justice, even if our ideals are unfaltering, our bodies are not. We are human, and if we drain ourselves to the point where we physically can’t push any harder or continue the work, we’re not doing any favors to the movement. On the contrary, self-care can be a powerful tool in priming ourselves to excel in our mission. Really checking in with ourselves, assessing what we need and will need in the future, and consciously practicing self-care are essential, as vital as regularly filling up the tank of your car on a long-distance drive. As Audre Lorde put it, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
So how do we actually practice self-care? It’s a deceptively simple concept, but it’s something we can succeed in by gradually introducing small, incremental changes into our daily routines. It’s critical to remember that self-care does not just mean the fun stuff (although that’s important too!). It’s all the choices we make every day to make sure we’re physically safe, mentally healthy, and emotionally and spiritually fulfilled. They are the choices we make to manage our lives and make sure we’re prepared for next week, or next month, or next year. Self-care can be as simple as remembering to fill our prescriptions, going to a grocery store, or creating a budget. It can be watching a funny movie, having a night out with friends, or taking a social media break to decompress.
To get you started on your self-care adventure, I recommend a popular tool that offers a comprehensive look at self-care: the “Self-Care Wheel,” created by Olga Phoenix Project: Healing for Social Change. It breaks down self-care into six major categories: physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, personal, and professional, and offers dozens of examples of how people can be fulfilled in each area. The suggestions go from simple to involved, brief to time-consuming, so that no matter who you are, there are options that will be realistic and manageable in each category as you begin to create your self-care game plan.
So do something kind for yourself and think about some easy ways to add more self-care into your routine — for today, for this week, for this month. And as you continue in your fight to impact social change and make the world a better place, remember to turn some of that compassion and kindness inward and care for yourself too.