Self-Care: A Form of Activism

Path to Beach“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audrey Lorde

We are in the midst of troubling times and it’s not clear when we will get relief. In my last post I talked about the trauma many of us are experiencing in response to the killing of black and brown people in the US. After I shared my post, many of us witnessed the shooting of 11 people, most of whom were police officers, by a black man who stated that he was angry at police and white people, and seemingly fed up by the frequent and disproportional killings of black people by police. This has heightened already elevated tensions between black people and police. No matter where you fall in the context of this debate, as black people it is essential that we take care of ourselves during these trying times.

I love the Audrey Lorde quote that I put at the beginning of this post. Self-care is an act of activism. As black people who experience frequent microaggressions as well as out-right attacks on our bodies, as we struggle to feel safe in this country, and as we are forced to assert our rights and our humanity time and time again, taking the time to care for our health and well-being and the well being of our community is essential. It is something that mainstream society may not support us in doing; evidenced by the closing of community mental health centers, limited access to affordable health care, and food deserts, among other things.

I am not suggesting that self-care is sufficient as a form of activism that will bring about the major systemic changes that we need in this country. However, whatever forms of activism you engage in, whether it be protesting, legal work, public policy, politics, providing health or mental health care, education, etc. self-care is an important part of you being able to sustain the work that we desperately need. Self-care will enable you to use your gifts more effectively in the service of advocating for the rights of black people. So as you work to figure out what your role is in this ongoing struggle I encourage you to take care of yourself as part of your activism. Below you will find my guide to understanding the importance of self-care and developing your own self-care plan.

What is self-care?

Self-care is made up of the things that we do to keep our bodies functioning well, stay healthy, and feel better overall. Self-care involves all of the following:

Getting enough sleep – check out this video to learn about what happens to our bodies when we don’t get enough sleep.

Eating well – Making sure that you get enough nutrients (fruits, vegetables, and protein) is essential for your health an well being. Be mindful of how your eating changes when you are stressed; some people stop eating enough and some people over eat (emotional eating). Try to keep your eating regular and as healthy as possible.

Exercise –  Regular exercise can help boost immunity, your mood, and promote long-term physical health. Taking walks and the stairs when possible can be an easy way to start incorporating exercise in your daily routine.

Time for yourself – This is something that introverts usually make time for and us extroverts forget about. Taking time for yourself is an important part of being a well-balanced person.

Social time – Spending time with people that you love and care about, whether that be friends or family is an important aspect of being human. While talking on the phone and chatting on the internet can be useful ways to do this, they are not as effective as actually spending time with people in-person. Sometimes hanging out and being silly with friends and family can be truly restorative.

Time for fun –  Making time to have fun and doing things that you enjoy on a regular basis is necessary for mental well being. Some of us may feel guilty about having fun while there is so much turmoil in the world, however, laughing, dancing, singing, and enjoying ourselves when we can is healing and part of claiming our humanity.

Why is Self-Care Important?

When we are busy and stressed self-care is often the first thing that we let go of. During times of emotional trauma and social unrest it can be more challenging to prioritize taking care of ourselves. There are lots of things that can get in the way of us engaging in self-care including long work hours, school, and volunteer activities. For black women in particular, we can feel unable to prioritize ourselves in the midst of taking care of children and family and we can feel guilty when we do make time for self-care.

When we don’t take time for self-care our system starts to break down. We are more prone to getting sick, we get irritable, and we have difficulty concentrating and processing new information, difficulty making decisions, and are more likely to feel overwhelmed. Overall, when we don’t take care of ourselves we are much less effective and can’t help care for those around us.

I strongly encourage you all to develop your own self-care plan. You can download a template for creating your self-care plan here. Or you can write down your answers to the following questions in order to developing your self-care plan

  • How much sleep do you need to function well?
    • What happens when you don’t get enough sleep?
  • Eating (Our brain uses 25% of the energy we consume)
    • How and where are you eating?
    • What would you like to be eating?
    • Do you need to bring snacks to eat during the day?
  • What would you like to do for exercise?
    • Walk, run, go to the gym, dance, yoga, rock climb, bike, play sports
    • How many times a week can you realistically exercise?
  • How much time do you need for yourself?
    • What would you like to do during this time?
      • Read for pleasure, meditate, pray, listen to music, watch tv
    • How much time would you like to spend with your friends?
      • What do you like to do with your friends?
    • What do you like to do for fun?
      • How often would you like to try to do that?

Implementing a Self-Care Plan

  • Choose two of the things that you just identified to start doing every week
    • Start slowly and gradually incorporate more self-care activities into your routine
  • Hold yourself accountable
    • Schedule time to do the things that you have chosen
    • Tell someone you will do those things and ask for their support
  • Reward yourself
    • Consider treating yourself to something (tv show, special snack, video game, etc.) when you follow through with your self-care plan

6 thoughts on “Self-Care: A Form of Activism

  1. This is a great post! I often find myself struggling between staying informed of recent events in the news and self-preservation. Recently, it’s become really hard to do both and it’s even harder to maintain self-care when it seems as though things just keep getting out of control.

  2. This article was written in 2016. It ring so true today during this pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Thank you Dr. Shani

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