If you always put yourself last others will follow your example. I sometimes offer this response when I hear another woman talk about giving – time, money, energy – even though it’s clear she feels spent and really wants to ask something for herself instead. This is our common affliction, selflessness turned dangerously against the self.
Caring for myself is not self-indulgence it is an act of political warfare – Audre Lorde.
Choosing self-care requires that we grant ourselves the authority to behave as if we matter. This is daring and courageous because at every turn we have been told we don’t matter – at least not for our own sake, or in relationship to ourselves alone. Women, and women of color especially, are expected to give care and pleasure. We have been told they are not ours to take.
Yet take them (them being deep and abiding care and pleasure in and for ourselves) we must. Now. Starting today.
I’m not just talking about pampering, although a nice massage or pedicure is good. I’m talking about revolutionary self-care, which is more about living with some authenticity. Nurturing the woman within. Abandoning airless hiding places and showing up as our real selves. Listening for our own voices and honoring our honest human needs. Saying yes only when we really mean it. Being bold enough to ask for what we want.
This kind of self-care is about bypassing the busyness badge. There is nothing wrong with a busy schedule, but when we always wear exhaustion – physical, mental or emotional – as a badge of honor, it is definitely time for a time out. How should we use the time? However we want, excuses or guilt not required.
Perhaps you’re thinking…. Are you nuts? We are in crisis mode, there isn’t time for self-care!!!
I’m not suggesting a bubble bath while the house is burning. Only recognition that all resources, including our physical, mental and emotional energy, are finite. Willfully depleting our resources with no plan for restoration eventually leads to a different kind of crisis – feeling bombed out within. Instead, we must learn to take refuge in a regular, committed practice of self-care.
Share the struggle and make the time
We are all in this together; those we are fighting for and with – everyone has something to contribute. Our job is to recognize the agency of our compatriots. Also, to find innate value in ourselves (not based on what we do but just because we are), and stake a claim to identity beyond hero or martyr. It isn’t actually true as often as we’d like to think that doom is the inevitable consequence of our personal failure to ride in on a white horse. Sometimes we can give so much time and effort rescuing that we have nothing left, and we end up losing ourselves – surrendering good health, joy, dream time, clarity and spontaneity.
Of course our work matters. That’s why we do it. What also matters is finding balance. How is that possible when our work isn’t just a job but a life mission? We have to remember that we (each and every one of us) are included in the mission. We are equally as deserving of the freedom, peace, equality, opportunity and power as every other person we are fighting for and with. We must fight just as hard for ourselves.
Here are some simple self-care strategies to try today:
- Pay attention to what you think and how you talk to yourself.
- Notice when your inner voice is not kind or encouraging. Memorize and practice a compassionate response to your inner critic.
- Anchor an awareness activity.
- For example, each time you wash your hands or climb the stairs, slow down and take three to five deep breaths if that feels ok (some people feel unpleasantly activated by deep breathing). Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system and signals the brain that all is well so it is ok to turn off the stress response.
- Alternatively, you can try grounding yourself. Notice the pressure of your feet on the floor as you stand or walk.
- Finally, say something kind to yourself as you bring attention to the moment. For example, may I be at ease, may I feel encouraged, may I connect with the strength and calm I need.
- Check in with your body a few times each day.
- See if you can notice any sensations happening inside. Do you notice shallow or rapid breathing? Do your shoulders feel tense? Does your chest feel tight?
- Take a moment to stretch and soften any places that feel uncomfortable, tight or tense.
- Notice what is going right.
- Most of us have a negativity bias. We are always on the lookout for potential threats or danger (mostly this helps keep us safe). Unfortunately, it can also add to stress or feelings of overwhelm.
- Make a conscious effort to give a little more attention to what is going right. Did you really enjoy your coffee or tea today? Did you exchange a nice smile with a store clerk? Did you see a beautiful tree? Look for big and small feel good moments every day.
- Make time for yourself.
- You deserve your care and attention. If your schedule does not allow room for you, do some trimming to make the space.
- Be patient and gentle with yourself.
- Tolerate your imperfections.
- Remember you are uniquely you, don’t waste time comparing yourself with others.
- Make and honor personal boundaries.
- I have an anonymous quote on my wall that reads, “she who trims herself to suit everybody will soon whittle herself away.” Don’t lose yourself to your own unwillingness to set limits.
- Know what feels good.
- Do it often.
Caring for ourselves is not self-indulgence. Caring for ourselves is self-love. It is what we must do, not only because we are change makers and want to bring our best selves to this work but also, maybe even more so, because good physical, mental and emotional health require that we create space to honor ourselves and our own human needs. When we always put ourselves last others will follow our example…let’s set a better example.