Self-care is more than just a buzz word.
It is the bedrock of persistent activism.
Being an activist is rarely a short-term commitment. To create meaningful change, activism requires an investment of time and energy over days, weeks, months, or even years. That reality often sets the stage for burn out, or mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. To sustain the necessary momentum in our movement, we must sustain ourselves and that is where self-care comes into play.
Self-care is what keeps activists going when the going gets tough. It is the all-encompassing term for anything and everything that revitalizes us for the fight that lays ahead. It is the active practice of showing yourself the love and grace you so easily provide others. With so much at stake, this isn’t easy. We must make space for ourselves to re-invigorate our activism. Here are three crucial actions to take to rest, show yourself some love, and build energy for the fights ahead.
1. Establish and maintain boundaries.
‘Boundaries’ may seem like just another buzz word, but they are the foundation for building a sustainable self-care routine. Creating boundaries is about deciding when, where, how, and why you will spend your energy. Create a contract with yourself to remain focused on the work that matters most to you in a way that you know will allow you to stay healthy. While boundaries do not need to be rigid, your well-being can be at risk every time you let that line be breached. Activists have their boundaries tested frequently—you are entitled to protect your energy and well-being. Do not feel guilty for saying no. It is absolutely not an act of cruelty but an acknowledgement that you must take care of yourself before you can tend to others.
2. Find something you enjoy and make space for it
Many hear self-care and think bubble baths, face masks, and fancy candles, but this is just one very superficial portrayal of self-care. The reality is that there is no “one size fits all” approach to self-care, it is about pursuing the things that bring you joy and rest. What brings you peace will be different from other activists and that is okay. Trying to squeeze ourselves into a particular routine or activity that someone else defines as the ‘perfect version’ of self-care is counterproductive. In fitting yourself into their description, you are doing the very opposite of what self-care is supposed to be. You are doing something for someone else, not for you.
Watch mindless and unrealistic reality television. Read a sci-fiction book or a smutty romance novel. Ride a bike while listening to your favorite song from your favorite childhood popstar. What you do for self-care does not matter. It’s about you and only you. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else.
Whatever you choose to turn to for rest and joy, that activity should not be centered in your activism. Disguising more work as self-care only hurts you. Engaging in real self-care means making space for yourself and making space for things that aren’t directly related to your work on the issues.
3. Rest, really rest. Shut off all the noise.
Our always connected world makes disconnecting more difficult than it has ever been before. We are constantly inundated with notifications from the news, apps, and social media. It is exhausting. Being an informed activist and advocating for your issues online is a good thing, but that also means it can contribute to burn out. Show yourself love by scheduling time in your routine where you completely unplug. Turn off your notifications, or even better, turn off your phone entirely for a few hours. Relish in the quiet and let that time off rejuvenate what drives your passion. That is what the movement needs from you, your fully charged activism.
If you aren’t convinced already, loving and caring for yourself is essential. And while it is so easy to cancel on yourself and the time you designated to rest and re-energize, self-care and self-love will sustain you and every person in the movement. Together, we will move mountains because our rest fuels our resistance.
Finally, the next time you doubt the necessity of your rest, remember this quote from Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”