The world can be an exhausting place. The heartache, the inequality, the anger, and fear. It can all be too much. The world is an especially exhausting place for those of us who work to fix it, for those of us who strive to live kindly and consciously.
Self-care is this weird, elusive idea to most of us. Everyone preaches the importance of self care, but it seems like few people can really explain what it is. They spout off ideas like healthy eating, exercise, meditation.
As if these were easy things to do for most of us or as if they are enough to undo a day’s worth of stress and heartache.
But here’s the thing – when you give a piece of yourself to someone or something else, you have to replace it with something new.
It’s easy enough to understand intellectually. When you give and give, there will be nothing left if you don’t put something back.
But it’s not so simple to understand emotionally. When we are exhausted to the core, how do we muster the energy to create new life to put inside of us?
The old standards never cut it for me. I can never simply go for a walk and feel refreshed and rejuvenated. I rarely feel repaired after sitting by a candle or by folding myself into some strange pretzel shape, and the typical raindrop meditation music usually makes me anxious.
Finding ways to take care of myself continues to be a struggle, but it is one that is essential to the sustainability of my goal to live authentically.
In order to show up to my life fully, I need to follow a few steps for self care, and my guess is that you do too.
This list does not include the classics. I won’t tell you to eat your vegetables or to get enough sleep, although there is truth to the importance of both. I won’t suggest going for a run before work or turning off the TV an hour before bed, although there is truth to those too.
When we rely on the same 10-15 self care tips and expect that they will work for everyone, we diminish the individuality that we each hold. We ignore that we each have our own unique set of needs, experiences, and expectations.
The point of self care isn’t to try cookie-cutter techniques that your mom found on a pamphlet in the dentist’s office but to really explore what it is that we need and to find ways to provide ourselves with the fuel that we require and deserve in order to do this work of existing.
So, what’s a social justice advocate to do? How can we refuel after a long day, week, month, year? How can we act in meaningful ways to take care of ourselves to make our important work more sustainable?
1. Acknowledge That Things Are Hard
There is incredible power in using your voice to name your experience. Not only is it validating to hear your own voice claim what exists in your bones, it is also important for those around you to be aware of what you’re going through.
We have no way to predict or control another person’s response, but sometimes there is healing power in letting other people hear what is on our minds and hearts.
2. Ask For Help
This relates to number one. When we can identify our needs and ask another person to help us meet these needs, we work to build intentional community around the concept that we are all connected and moving through this work and earth together.
The reality is that a lot of us – most of us, even – struggle to take care of ourselves in this sometimes heartbreaking world. When we find community in that, we may begin to grow and to heal.
Together, we become resilient.
3. Accept Vulnerability
We are quick to view vulnerability as weakness. We learn that vulnerability means that we are inferior to those who we view as strong.
But the reality is that vulnerability is actually a strength – it is a reminder that we are real and authentically ourselves. It reminds us that we are very much alive and that we are doing the work that we need to do to make this world what it should and can be.
We won’t do it perfectly, but rather than chastise ourselves for our imperfections, we must understand and celebrate our humanity – flaws, and all.
4. Cultivate a Routine that Involves Both Rest and Play
Understanding that both rest and play mean different things to different people, I make this suggestion broadly.
For me, rest means guiltlessly reading a fun book every night for 30 minutes before bed, even when I should be reading for school.
For you, rest may mean watching an episode of mindless television each day, or it may mean literally resting – taking a nap on the bus during your commute.
Whatever rest looks like for you, find a way to include it in each day. The same goes for play. Whether you play soccer on a team or a card game with your neighbor, find a way to play.
5. Do What Is True To You
Talk about what matters to you. Write about what you think is most important. Act in ways that feel the most authentic to who you are and who you want to be. When we’ve found a career or hobby or opportunity that makes us come alive, we incorporate self care into our daily lives.
Everyone has days that feel completely and utterly draining. But if we can find work that is rewarding and fulfilling more often than not, we act radically.
When we reject others’ expectations and make choices about our actions (professional, volunteer, recreational, whatever!) that are in accordance with our own deepest values and goals, we make the world and ourselves more whole.
Self care takes time, and it is an art. Like everything else, no one does it perfectly.
We need to find sustainable ways to take care of our minds, bodies, and spirits so that we may continue to do the necessary work of living our fullest lives.
These are just some ways to take care of yourself. What are some other ways that work for you? Please share in the comments!
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Sarah Ogden is a Staff Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a graduate student in Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is focusing on clinical work with survivors of trauma, works at a domestic violence agency as a therapist intern, and volunteers as an abortion and pregnancy loss doula. Previously, she’s worked for a suicide and rape crisis hotline and as an emergency room advocate for survivors of sexual assault. Follow her on Twitter @xsogden.