We’ve seen pics of people at a spa, doing their nails and/or shopping and calling it self-care. For a long time that didn’t sit well with me because why should caring for the self be so damn expensive?! I mean, after splurging like that I’d be so stressed because now I’m broke hence new problems so basically goodbye self-care. Quite a paradox if you ask me.
I have spent time trying to understand what it means to take care of the self because that’s literally what self-care means; taking care of the self. The self is not a one dimensional being. There is the physical, mental and spiritual aspect of the self. They all need equal attention, unfortunately or fortunately depending on where you are on the burnout scale.
I’ll start with the mental aspect because I’m a huge advocate for taking care of one’s mental health. Listen, the system is broken. Corporates and NGOs alike seem to like rewarding a lack of boundaries. You work till 1am, you get a bonus! You put in 18-hour shifts, let’s promote you immediately. Do you see that this is a lack of boundaries being rewarded, basically? You cannot separate your own life from your work so here is a prize. What on earth is wrong with us?!
I am an activist at my core, and I know the value of boundaries. I do not stop being an activist because I’m taking a nap. That’s not how it works. Breaks are very necessary in this line of work. Activism exposes us to gross injustices which are often too hard to carry, but we carry them anyway. I have no hope of the very broken system changing soon so I think now more than ever it is important for all of us to draw personal boundaries as an act of taking care of the self. We do not always have to be the ones to save the world. It’s a very hard thing to sit with if your natural instinct is always to fight for some form of justice at least, but hear me out, there is only one of you. It is your sole responsibility to take care of yourself because the system will not. Do we then give up all fights to save ourselves? No. However ultimately, we will have to save ourselves and that starts with setting personal boundaries. Boundaries are simply lines (not walls) you draw around yourself and tell the world they will not cross those lines. Easy, right?
Society has fed us many lies about what success means. You can find definitions of success in the dictionary however I think success should be one of those things we all have personal definitions of. If you try to keep up with society’s idea of success it could cost you your sanity and at worst, your life. It’s not worth it. Define success for yourself and then work towards your own definition always keeping in mind that very often you will need to be the one giving yourself pats on the back because society generally does not like people who define success for themselves so they withhold acknowledgment as punishment. You are the self, approval from society should be the least of your worries.
The very capitalist society we live in does not allow for rest. Rest is seen as being lazy or not committed to the cause enough. Don’t try to reason it out, it will never make sense. Our brains repair themselves while we sleep. 1-4am are very crucial times to be asleep. Your performance at whatever tasks you have laid out for the next day depends on how much sleep you get and/or how well you sleep. So, I’d say top of the list of caring for the self should be allowing ourselves guilt free rest. Take a sleeping pill if you have to just as long as you get your 8hrs. You will feel the difference. Sleeping pills have a bad rep but as someone who was prescribed sleeping pills by my psychiatrist and had to take them for close to 4yrs I can tell you it’s not true that you’ll need them for the rest of your life. So, pop that pill if that’s what it will take to save you.
One other thing I’ve found very helpful in the act of taking care of the self is psychotherapy. I say this with caution because I know firsthand what an unjust society we live in therefore not everyone can afford a therapist. However as much as talking to someone about the weight of the injustices we are faced with daily helps, it is not the only way to heal. I’ve found journaling therapeutic. Writing is like literally writing on your brain,you believe what you tell yourself repeatedly. I keep a physical journal however some prefer digital ones, so I say whatever works for you. Just as long as you get in the habit of emptying onto paper all the heavy burdens you carry. You will free up space in your mind for more creativity and a better state of mind basically.
Mindfulness. There is a reason you’re forced to focus on your breathing in yoga (that’s if you’ve ever been to a session). Focusing on your breathing centers you. It brings you back to the present moment which is where we should always strive to exist . Our minds are often either stuck in the past or focused on a distant future which does not serve us well. You are here right now. Be here! Worrying about anything has never solved anything in the history of the world. It just means you get to experience the bad twice should what you are worrying about happen. Complete opposite of taking good care of the self.
Life doesn’t always afford us breaks, when it hands you one, ALWAYS take it. Rest. You should not be crucified for ever needing a break. You are human, not a rage machine. Rest. The world will not fall apart. You’ve never been what’s keeping it together anyway. I think sometimes we get lost in our own minds and trick ourselves into believing that we are what is keeping the world together. Collectively? Maybe. Alone? Definitely not. So, prioritize rest. The same way you charge your phone/laptop battery when it’s running low, you need that too. Allow yourself to be human. It’s wild how we’ve reached this level in society where we now need permission to rest but the upside is that only we can give ourselves that permission. So, go ahead, do it.
The physical. Our bodies need some form of exercise to function optimally. Be it taking a walk, going for a jog, running, yoga, you name it. Whatever works for you. We need that. Also watching what we eat is important. I’m telling you, a spa day is just the tip of an iceberg in the grand scheme of taking care of the self. Massages are great, I’m not knocking them but I’m just trying to show you that Instagram does not show the complete picture. Drinking water is an absolute necessity. It is not meant to taste nice! We already do so many other things we don’t enjoy and drink/eat things we don’t like so what’s a little water. Drink your water! Your organs need it.
And the third part of the trinity. Spirituality. Listen, it doesn’t matter who you pray to but at some point we all have to acknowledge that we are indeed spiritual beings having a human experience. Spirituality is a deeply personal thing and there is no one size fits all when it comes to it. Find what works for you. Aren’t you glad freewill is our birthright?! No one gets to dictate to you how you will tend to your spiritual self. You get to decide that for yourself. So much power hey?! However, I’ll tell you one thing, you cannot tend to one thing only and ignore the other and call that taking care of a self. If you are going to preach self-care truly put your back into it! Your version of taking care of yourself does not need to look like the next person’s version.
I cannot emphasize this enough. There is only one of you and there are battles you’ll never win alone. Silence that ego. There is so much work to be done that is why there is so many of us in the world. It sounds noble to sacrifice your own life for justice but is it worth it? I’m drawing back to personal boundaries here. Always determine upfront how far you are willing to go with any fight because all those fights come with hefty prices for the self to pay. And when you pay, you pay alone. You cannot save the world by yourself. Your efforts combined with other people’s efforts can have an impact so do not be the proverbial sacrificial lamb. We are speaking SELF-care remember which is taking care of THE SELF not the world.
I’m not a pessimist about the world. But I’ve seen enough injustice in my short time on this earth to know no one person can fix these systems that are broken at their core. So, we control what we can control, and that is ourselves.
Take care of you. Prioritize rest. You’ll be better for it and that’s all the world needs. A better version of yourself.
I hope we all find healing in whatever shape or form it comes. The battles are bigger than us, so we really have to get serious about prioritizing our well-being.
Take care of yourself. There is only one of you. Silence your ego. Put your phone on silent and sleep. Tomorrow is another day.