We each bring our own beliefs, experiences, and feelings to our anti-racist work – a work that is difficult and demanding. Our ongoing commitment to actively think about and take action against racism, combined with a sense of urgency and deep caring, adds pressure and stress to our daily lives. The emotional impact of this work is real, therefore it is vital that we all practice “self-care” to benefit our overall health and quality of life.
Self-care, at its most basic, refers to a person’s effort to maintain their wellness and health. Initiated and maintained by each individual based on their own needs, self-care requires active engagement and conscious effort to form new, beneficial habits. Caring for ourselves helps to bring balance, focus, and mindfulness to our lives. In turn, this helps us to better navigate the challenging social and political issues related to our anti-racist work.
More About Self-Care
The term “self-care” refers to a wide range of practices and activities we engage in to care for ourselves (most often without the consultation of a medical professional). These practices address the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our lives – at the most basic level. Some define it by the need to balance and maintain the mind, body, and spirit - or thinking, feeling, and behaving. It is often referred to as “wellness,” a “healthy balance,” “resilience,” or simply, mental health. We engage in self-care to balance our lives and to better our health, with the acknowledgment that our mind, body, and spirit are interconnected.
Self-care is not an “emergency response plan” to be activated when stress becomes overwhelming.
Healthy self-care is an intentional way of living where your values, attitudes, and mindful actions become part of your daily routine.
- Self-care is not about doing more or adding more tasks to your already overflowing to-do list.
Healthy self-care is as much about “letting go” as it is about acting.
- Self-care is not the same for everybody.
What works well for someone else might not be the best option for you.
While there is no single formula for self-care, even a deep centering breath can provide a moment of calm. Each self-care plan is unique to the individual and changes over time. When we listen to our bodies, hearts, and minds, and consider input from trusted friends, we can find resiliency and renew our lives and work.
Take care of yourself when taking care of others
Equity work at its core is about humanity and relationships. Relationships take emotional investment and at times, emotional and intellectual labor. And while caring for others can be incredibly fulfilling, the labor and commitment required can result in burnout. Therefore it is important to recognize the importance and benefits of self-care.
Burnout is “a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job - defined by the three dimensions of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.*” There’s a common misconception in equity work that “to accomplish more, you need to sacrifice more.” This view is shortsighted and can lead to burnout. When we prioritize our health - mental, physical, and emotional - we are better equipped to manage life’s demands.
While the term burnout commonly refers to the fatigue experienced by the demands within a professional setting, similar fatigue and anxiety can develop from our daily social and personal interactions. We can help ourselves achieve a more emotionally stable footing by making self-care a routine part of our lives.
*According to the most commonly used definition developed by researchers Maslach, Schaufeli and Leiter.
Stop and Think!
When do you feel you are most mindful?
When do you feel like you lose your presence?
The importance of mindfulness
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them - without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
- Greater Good Magazine: Science Based Insights for a Meaningful Life, UC Berkeley
Mindfulness has been proven to have numerous health benefits including:
- Reduce stress
- Reduce anxiety
- Fight depression
- Reduce confusion
- Improve sleep quality
- Improve memory
- Improve attention skills
People who practice self-care benefit themselves and society by decreasing stress which in turn lowers barriers of communication. By being mindful, looking inward and recognizing any negativity we may have internalized, we can develop compassion and patience for ourselves and others. Being mindful allows us to work toward a more equitable society effectively.