Self-Care Is (Essential to) Resistance

#SelfcareSunday Series (Post 2)

In the overlapping worlds of social justice, activism, and social work, self-care can often seem like an unattainable goal. There is always more to be done, more injustice to fight, more needs to try to meet. It can feel like there is/are never enough time, resources, and people involved. Non-profit organizations are often notoriously bad at expecting long (and often inconvenient) hours & work weeks from their employees, providing too little compensation & support, and placing generally unrealistic expectations on their staff (high caseloads, wearing too man hats, etc). Granted, many of these issues are a result of larger societal and systemic issues that contribute to a tremendous lack of funding which then impacts these other areas within individual organizations…but that is another topic for another day… The point is that there are many challenges to doing this work in a sustainable way.

Nevertheless, I would argue that self-care is both essential to and an aspect of resistance.

Any advocate, activist, or social worker will tell you that burnout is a common risk when fighting oppression and injustice in the world (regardless of the particular role and way one is doing so). It is difficult to stay engaged for the long haul. People get tired, overwhelmed, and often experience direct or vicarious trauma. Depression, anxiety, and health problems can often develop and/or increase, especially when adequate self-care is not in place. When burnout happens, people typically either walk away from the work or become increasingly counterproductive in the ways they engage in the work (and it’s rather unpleasant to work alongside someone who is dealing with burnout and not addressing it).

In order to stay involved in this work, self-care is essential. It cannot be optional. None of us are super heroes. We must nurture the emotional, physical, spiritual, social aspects of ourselves on a regular basis. Self-care does not mean opting out. Self-care is taking breaks when needed. Tending to one’s personal well-being on a regular basis as part of the rhythms of one’s day, week, month, and year(s). It is burnout prevention.

Self-care is not selfish.

Self-care is survival.

Self-care is resistance.

Self-care is a reminder that resistance is a communal, not an individual struggle. It reminds us that we cannot and should not try to take on more than we can carry. It reminds us that we are not anyone’s savior (and that we risk all sorts of paternalism if we operate otherwise). It reminds us that we need each other and that it is okay to take a break because the community, the people, will persist. Self-care stands in direct oposition to the hyper-individualism that permeates much of the western world. And this hyper-individualism perpetuates oppressive systems because it denies their very existence (placing responsibility for an individual’s struggles solely on the individual rather than considering the impact larger systems have on those struggles).

Self-care is also resistance to empire. It is resistance to a world that often defines our value by what we produce, what we do, what outcomes we achieve. Self-care insists each and every one of us have inherent worth as human beings. It is subversive. Self-care creates space to engage in things empire generally cares little for – nature and a connection to the land, preventative health practices, spirituality, life-giving relationships, art.

For more on self-care as it relates to resistance, check out these articles:

**This is the second post in a series on self-care. You can read the first post (self-care in real life) here. Future posts will include the *privilege of self-care and self-care as a spiritual practice.***

Self-Care in Real Life: 3 Miles and the Good Bacon

#SelfcareSundays Series (Post 1)

Self-care. This term has become rather common place and most people have some idea of the concept of self-care. In my world as a therapist, it can definitely be of a buzz word. Yet if we’re honest, most of us (therapists included) are just not very good at it.
I’m so there. Rather than a consistent, steady practice in my life it feels more like a tug-o-war…a push and pull between self-care and striving/doing/achieving. I’m a doer. An (over-) achiever. A work-before-play, type A, oldest child, perfectionist. Self-care can feel frivolous, like a luxury, unattainable, unrealistic, lazy, or avoidant.

Yet I’ve also grown increasingly fond of self-care. Over the years it has become something I treasure. Something I value. Something I choose to see as none of those things listed above, but as necessary. It is essential to my own well-being. To my engagement in the work of a social worker and therapist. I realized during grad school that I would get sick quite consistently once a semester – at whatever point in the semester that my stress-level and work-load reached a peak and self-care was on the back burner, my body would eventually take matters into its own hands and “force” me to take a break. My general level of anxiety has a strong correlation with my engagement in self-care (or lack thereof).

Here’s the thing about self-care in real life: It’s a fluid, evolving practice. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to caring for ourselves. There may be some patterns and principles we can identify, but what works for me may not work for you and what works today may not work next year. A key to regularly engaging in the nurturing of our whole selves is to set realistic expectations. As much as I’d like to think I would start every day with yoga, run 5 times a week, get a weekly massage, have a wonderful date night each Friday, only eat foods that make me feel good about myself and the planet (and never overindulge), and would leave work on time and at the same time every day…it’s not my reality. And that’s okay.

Self-care is about identifying the things that are good and nurturing and healthy for various aspects of our lives and taking intentional steps to engage in at least some of those things on a regular basis. It is about recognizing our current reality and season of life and operating within that reality. It involves accepting things we cannot change about our circumstances AND being intentional about the things we can control. It both about saying no AND saying yes. 

You can find a LOT of ideas on self-care in the online world and the self-help section of the bookstore (probably because it is something most of us are lacking yet crave). Self-care ideas, plans, quotes; self-care based on your profession; self-care seminars, webinars, and workshops. All of these can be helpful, but it is equally important to approach self-care with curiosity and creativity…and to resist making it another task to check off the list (been there, done that). One tool I find helpful is this self-care wheel which allows you to consider what self-care might look like for various aspects of your life. It also allows you to re-assess (and fill out a new wheel) as life changes. You can find a printable version as well as ideas for each spoke here.

My self-care today meant running 3 miles and eating the good bacon (bacon is DEFINITELY part of my self-care plan). Other important self-care practices in my life at the moment include at least one day free of social media each week, drinking lots of water, giving myself enough time to eat breakfast at home each morning, enjoying good coffee, spending time outside, and watching the Office when I don’t have much mental energy left after a long work day. This month I’m recommitting to getting up & out of bed at a consistent time each day, developing a ritual to connect with my husband each week (in light of schedules that currently do not often match up), setting boundaries at work, and running more frequently. And giving myself grace when the self-care plan does not, in fact, go as planned…

**This is the first post in a series on self-care. Future posts will include self-care as resistance, the *privilege of self-care, and self-care as a spiritual practice. Please comment below if there are other topics you would like to see covered!***