#Selfcare is trending on social media, and yet, putting that trend into practice is not as easy as posting a picture on Instagram. Our health can easily become last priority when greater things feel more urgent. It might even feel selfish to do a face mask and turn off the news when the world is changing and our communities need us.
In fact, Rachel Ricketts, an international thought leader, speaker, healer, and author, uses a totally different term. She said, “I prefer to refer to soul-care, which is the act of caring for ourselves in a soulful, nourishing, healing way, so that we can best show up for the collective. It is an act of communal care, which is the opposite of selfish.” In other words, forget about bubble baths and candles (although those things are still enjoyable!). Really caring for yourself means recharging your energy and prioritizing mental health for not only yourself, but for the betterment of the community.
Ricketts explained, “The difference is most notably in the intention: am I partaking in an act or behavior solely to serve myself, or am I doing so to serve the community (which of course includes, but is not simply about, you)? Soul-care focuses on those most oppressed and how we can best heal our own hearts, and get to work creating change to dismantle the systems of oppression causing harm.” Whether you call it soul-care or self-care, think of it the same way: prioritize taking care of yourself so that you’re able to fully take care of others.
Why is caring for ourselves so important when overcoming social injustice?
“Unless and until we have faced our own inner shadows, wounded inner child, and race-based traumas, we cannot create effective or sustainable collective change that prioritizes those most oppressed (and when we try to do so, we wind up causing more, not less, harm),” Ricketts said. “Racial justice work is healing work, and the healing work starts with you and it starts within. It is from this space that we create and cultivate critical collective change.”
Jasmine Marie, founder of black girls breathing who just launched a campaign to make virtual breathwork sessions free for Black womxn, agreed. “I think even for those of us who’ve been immersed in this work beyond just this year, you can feel the shift,” she said. “It’s impossible to keep doing this work without taking care of yourself. I’ve had to relearn what my body, mind, and spirit needs during this time, versus what I needed before. There’s lots of unlearning and learning, so self-care is a must.”
You know the old saying that you can’t pour from an empty cup, so why do we continue to try? Aside from sharing resources, educating yourself, and doing what you can to make changes in your community (go vote!), prioritizing mental health and protecting your energy is essential for making lasting changes in the world. Here are seven ways we can all care for ourselves during a time when it may feel selfish to do so.
7 ways to practice self-care right now:
1. Set boundaries
On a daily basis, Ricketts recommended to, “Acknowledge your privilege, set boundaries, and learn to say no.” Setting boundaries is essential to a healthy life, but it’s a skill that many of us never learn. Sticking to specific limits can help boost self-esteem, force you to routinely check in with your needs, and serve as a reminder to put yourself first. Marie agrees that setting boundaries is crucial. “Create boundaries with how much news you allow into your world on the daily,” she recommended. “Log off. Go on social media breaks. Tune inward and ask yourself what you need.”
Since emotional boundaries are not as obvious as physical limits like road signs or fences (though wouldn’t that be nice?), they can be hard to enforce. Start by considering what you can tolerate, and then what feels draining or overwhelming in order to set limits. Acting on boundaries might look like turning off the news and taking a social media break two hours before bedtime, or it might look like saying no when a family member asks you for a favor that you know will make too stressed. It also looks like taking responsibility for your own emotions, but not taking responsibility for the emotions of other people. No matter what boundaries look like to you, you’ll be conserving emotional energy for much more important things.
Working out for calorie burn is so last year (or like, last decade?). Instead, work out for mental health, and move for the sake of caring for yourself. Exercise, in general, can boost your mental health and help ease stress, so fit in some kind of movement every day that you look forward to, whether it’s a dancing around your living room or going on a hike. For self-care bonus points, try calming activities that focus on relaxing the mind and slowing the breath, like restorative yoga. Ricketts loves yoga with Dionne Elizabeth and Marie counts long walks as one of her go-to self-care practices.
There’s a reason that meditation is one of the most talked-about practices in the wellness world—this sh*t is powerful. Meditation is effective for self-care because it takes our focus off of the world around us, and puts it back on ourselves. Taking a breath (literally) re-energizes you so you can bring your best self to everything you do, whether it’s tackling your work day, chasing after kids, or fighting social injustice. Ricketts recommends breathwork sessions with Maryam Ajayi, or you can check out black girl breathing for virtual classes. And if sitting still isn’t your thing? Try one of these ways to meditate that involve movement, instead.
4. Rest (no, not just sleeping)
“Burnout is an epidemic for everyone, but no one more than Black and Indigenous women and femmes (especially queer and trans women and femmes). Learning how to rest is imperative for our mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being,” Ricketts said. “Rest is more than sleep. Rest includes time offline, a break from feeling like we need to do it all or be helpful, turning phones off, prioritizing our peace, sitting in silence, spending time with people who nourish us (and avoiding those who do not), and doing absolutely nothing.”
Think of yourself like the battery pack on an iPhone. If you just recharge for only small spurts at a time, your battery will always stay in red. In order to get all the way to full-charge, you must regularly turn the iPhone off and give it some time plugged in. Getting six hours of sleep and watching TV while scrolling through Instagram for 30 minutes a day does not count as restoration. Turn off technology, do something enjoyable and creative (like reading or painting), invite your best friend over, and give yourself permission to do less.
5. Check in with yourself frequently
Taking good care of yourself doesn’t have to mean long digital detoxes, consistent yoga flows, or never saying “yes” when you mean “no” (even though those are all good goals). Self-care can sometimes be as simple as feeling intuitive to your individual needs, and checking in with what you really want.
We often look for outside validation for just about anything (does anyone else need to know what everyone is ordering before making a decision on which entree they want?). Instead, ask yourself what do I really want, and how do I really feel, so often that it becomes habit. Marie recommended, “Check in with how you feel. Validate internally before seeking external advice on your specific and particular experience. This practice is life-changing and will help you show up in all areas of your life.”
6. Ask for help
Remember that self-care is not just a buzzword, it’s health. “Therapy” should not be a dirty word, and we should not need to wait until severe symptoms or intense crisis to ask for help. Instead, think of therapy as an investment in your wellbeing. To find a therapist that’s right for you, click here, or check out online mental health resources like Therapy for Black Girls and Sista Afya.
Beyond professional help, also make sure to ask your boss, coworkers, family members, and friends for help. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to depend on and connect with other people. Marie includes seeking help from other practitioners, having good conversations with friends, and allowing her tribe to support her, as some of her go-to self-care practices she does on a regular basis.
7. Seek out resources in a community setting
If you haven’t gotten the gist already, self-care is not just about yourself; feeling a part of a larger community is crucial for optimal self-care. Even though the global pandemic might make it more difficult to feel community in the sense we’re used to (*sigh* does anyone else surprisingly miss crowds?), online resources are stronger than ever. Seek out resources that not only help you heal and take care of yourself, but make you feel like you’re not alone.
For some examples, check out Rickett’s Racial Justice Resources and her Spiritual Activism webinars and workshops, which she said are “rooted in the inner, healing work required for external, collective change.” To hear from more Women of Color on their favorite acts of self-care you can try for yourself, click here.