Over the past eight weeks, we’ve begun changing our perspective of self-care, taking it from a purely individual pursuit to one that relies on community, and filling our toolbox with best practices, resources, and practical tips along the way.
Now, for this final installment of the “Self-Care in Politically Charged Times” Series, we’re going to start looking at self-care as a societal movement that we must champion. Take a moment to imagine the power of a self-care movement—a wave of kind care connecting communities, healing our bodies and minds, sustaining our energy and momentum, and helping us all live healthier, happier, and more balanced lives.
That’s pretty awesome.
So how do we make self-care a cornerstone practice, bringing it into our social groups, homes, and offices? Before we embark on this journey, I think it’s important to examine and appreciate the rich history of self-care.
The History of Self-Care
The “radical” concept of self-care was born during the civil rights era, a time when brave individuals were fighting the relentless enemies of prejudice and discrimination. These American heroes created the first real communities of care, standing strong together in the face of seemingly impossible challenges and unspeakable treatment.
It can’t be lost on us that one of the concepts they were fighting for was (and remains) the basic human right to self-care. People of color were often denied medical treatment at hospitals and health care centers. The government had turned its back on them. Self-care, quite literally, became a matter of life and death. They were fighting an exhausting battle and the only support to be found was in each other and within themselves.
The basic idea of being able to care for oneself, of having the time, money and resources necessary to do so, was born out of the civil rights movement.
We don’t just deserve to be alive, we have the right to live our best lives.
In our age of bath bombs, drop-in meditation studios and face masks, self-care may seem like a no-brainer, but for populations that were (and still are) marginalized, it was a bold statement and one that should inspire us all today. We don’t just deserve to be alive, we have the right to live our best lives.
Why Do We Need a Self-Care Movement?
What is a movement anyway? A movement is simply a group of people who share a purpose and create change together. Yes, a successful one requires strong leadership and partnerships, support from stakeholders, well-defined goals, and a solid plan in place to achieve them. However, more than anything else a movement requires passionate members. It demands energy and skin in the game from those who want to move the needle and drive the change.
Sound like anyone you know?
I hope so because the times are ripe for change. Following the 2016 presidential election, a growing uneasiness and undercurrent of anxiety has emerged in this country—regardless of who you voted for and what side of the political spectrum you find yourself in. If you ask me, it’s a genuine national health crisis. But it can also be the impetus for a self-care movement that can have a profound and lasting impact on this country.
We have the opportunity to reclaim the term self-care and make it synonymous again with the late activist Audre Lorde’s statement that self-care is “not self-indulgent, it is self-preservation”.
We need to understand that our self-care impacts the lives of those around us in innumerable positive ways.
In order for self-care to become a national movement, we must be clear about what it is and what it’s for: its intention and purpose. The motivation behind self-care needs to extend beyond our own in-the-moment happiness. We need to understand that our self-care impacts the lives of those around us in innumerable positive ways. We need to realize that from a macro perspective, self-care reaches beyond the individual to impact communities, neighborhoods, our nation, and, ultimately, the world.
How to Build a Self-Care Movement: Bringing Positive Change to the Collective Struggle
So, how do we begin building our self-care movement and incorporating it into our communities and workplaces so that “communities of care” become part of the culture? Here are a few ideas. Some are easy fixes. Others are complex issues. But they’re all areas we need to explore:
1) Let’s Destigmatize Mental Health. As people who have created communities of care around us, we are the leaders of our self-care movement. Let’s commit to bringing positive energy and workable solutions to those struggling with mental health issues. We need to change the way we look at mental health in this country and make sure every person has access to the caregivers, transportation, treatment, and funds needed to properly address mental health.
2) Commit to Sharing Your Self-Care Knowledge. We all have daily routines and personal challenges. But let’s stop trying to go it alone. When we take the time to create space in our schedules for others; when we organize and meet up with our friends and social groups; even when we exchange a few thoughtful emails, we’re building communities of care and, therefore, fueling the self-care revolution — One. person. at. a. time. Let’s become the leaders who create guilt-free and inviting spaces around us. Let’s set the intentions for groups that are making a difference. Let’s make sure that the individuals in our networks enjoy the added support of those in their lives who care.
3) Help Define the Standards. The slow adoption of self-care in our culture is in big part due to a lack of definition. We don’t know what the standards of self-care are or should be because they’ve never been clearly established. It must be our mission to create a well-defined vision for self-care grounded in real principles and standards. I define self-care as the practice of taking an active role in protecting our own well-being, pursuing happiness, and having the ability, tools, and resources to respond to periods of stress so that they don’t result in imbalance and lead to a health crisis. In my past life, as the President of large service company, when a client would complain about customer service, I would first examine whether or not we, as a company, properly defined the expectations for the client. That’s the idea here. Once we define the standards for self-care, it’ll legitimize our cause by providing a clear roadmap for people to follow. They’ll be able to create a plan, measure their progress, and make changes along the way based on realistic and achievable goals.
I define self-care as the practice of taking an active role in protecting our own well-being, pursuing happiness, and having the ability, tools, and resources to respond to periods of stress so that they don’t result in imbalance and lead to a health crisis.
4) Understand that Exhausted Leadership is Poor Leadership. Exhaustion leads to shorter attention spans, increased emotional volatility, and poor decision making—Not exactly the qualities of a great leader. That’s why it’s vital that our efforts in leading the self-care movement are sustainable. If we burnout, it will be replicated by our staff, volunteers, children, and others in our sphere of influence. To create a culture of self-care we must be willing to model a sustainable work pace. We must communicate to others that social transformation work begins with the self. When we imagine what advocacy work looks like visually, for example, perhaps we can see it as a series of peaks and valleys. The peaks are where advocacy work happens, and the valleys are where we rest, celebrate and reflect, gathering our strength to climb the mountain ahead. If we conduct our lives and model this workflow in our organizations, we can build resiliency and make sure that we keep people engaged and ensure that none of us falls victim to burnout.
5) Ask Reflection Questions to Yourself and Your Team. In the effort to move from reflection to action, and to build momentum to climb that next peak, we should ask ourselves “key questions” that will help us improve our own self-care habits and that of those around us. These questions may include:
- How does the quality of my leadership diminish due to the lack of my own self-care?
- Which habit(s) negatively impact my self-care and what new behavior can I substitute it with?
- Do I have a self-care plan in place to ensure I follow-up on this new behavior and have I shared this plan with others who will hold me accountable?
- How will I track my progress along the way?
- How can I best support my staff/volunteers/friends/family members in their endeavors?
The modern self-care movement needs to start as a practice to avoid burnout, rather than as a response to it. The movement must demand that individuals put their health and wellness first without feeling guilty for doing so. If we all collectively share our plans for self-care, we declare boldly that our needs, our state of mind, our body and our overall health matters. We give permission to others to invest in themselves and take the courageous step to acknowledge that they have needs, that their needs are important, and that those needs deserve to be met.
Since this is the last week of the self-care series (or at least part 1 of the series), I don’t want you to feel like you’ve been left high and dry. I am part of your self-care community. Mindful is part of your self-care community. I hope you’ve been joining me in our private Facebook group every week for our live Q&As and meditations. This week we’re meeting on Saturday (11 am ET) instead of Friday for our final session in this series. It’s my hope that everyone will join me, share where you are in your journey, and help me continue this conversation we’ve started. And then, let’s turn this conversation into a Movement!
Thank you so much for joining me over the last 8 weeks for this self-care journey. In truth, we’ve only just begun.
MORE FROM SHELLY TYGIELSKI:
The Five Rules for Self-Care
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“No” Is A Complete Sentence
“No” is a word most of us use too infrequently. And, what’s worse, when we say “No” we usually add on all sorts of wheedly explanations. But “No” is a complete sentence, and here’s why. Read More