I’ve worked at nonprofits my entire adult life and most have only given lip service to the mandate for self-care, without creating a system that supports doing it. Navigating this work and the world as someone with intersecting marginalized identities can make it even more challenging, as you deal with constant micro-aggressions day in and day out. Those small acts of violence are so subtle you could almost miss them, but they accumulate and wear people down. I’ve talked with other marginalized folks about how hard it is to give each other the support we desire when some days we can barely keep our heads above water. And if your community views you as a leader, there is unspoken pressure to be an example of strength.
One of the reasons I love working at CCS is that the culture here tends to support bringing our whole selves and engaging self-care practices to resist vicarious trauma. Some days I’m better at self-care than others, it takes constant practice for me to prioritize my own needs. These are some of the strategies I’ve developed:
- I eat breakfast, even if it happens at my desk. I have a nasty habit of forgetting to eat when I work, and then I’d wonder why I’d get so much more stressed out during the day. I sometimes disconnect from my body when I’m over-focused, so I make it a point to always eat something in the morning. Interestingly, doing this also helps me pay better attention to my bodily needs throughout the day.
- I stay off of social media when things get rough. And I definitely don’t read the comments on articles. The siren’s call is strong, but I find that I need to make the conscious choice to disconnect from the echo chamber online. Between politics and my large circle of friends involved in social justice activism, I notice that too much time on Facebook can kick up my heart rate. I especially stay far away from engaging in call-outs, corrections, or debates online. Of course it’s important to not be a passive bystander, to use my privilege to speak up where and when I can, but online these are a guarantee for me becoming overwhelmed. In 2016 I posted cute animal videos to give myself balance.
- I connect in person. Whether it’s about having a serious conversation with someone regarding what they said online, or just refueling by surrounding myself with people who understand me, quality time face-to-face works better. I’m more introverted than not, but I’ve only made it this far because of my close-knit community reminding me that I’m seen and loved. Surrounded by them, I feel like I can breathe freely.
- I prioritize. Seeing the connections between race, immigration status, gender, LGBTIQ identities, disabilities, incarceration, interpersonal violence, and institutional systems of power left me wondering if I was even making a dent. I started to think that unless I was involved in every single movement, I was being a bad activist and causing more harm than good; I felt guilty if I didn’t show up for everyone’s fight. It’s critical for me to be intersectional in my work, and at the same time I’ve had to make choices about where to focus my limited energies. I balance these by focusing the majority of my work in just a few areas, while making sure that I always take an intersectional approach to that work.
- I set healthy boundaries. When others respect my limits, I want to share more of myself and invite them closer. Applying this professionally was a radical change. At a job 10 years ago, my boss would call me after hours and I always answered thinking it was an emergency. It never was and it finally dawned on me that I didn’t have to pick up the phone. I now choose whether or not to respond to something work-related after my day ends. I advocate for my needs on the job. I’ve had to learn to separate the focus of my paid work from my unpaid personal passions. And I’m still working on how to love my community without being everyone’s personal DV/SA hotline during my off-hours.
- I come from a place of hope. When I jumped into social justice activism in college, I was fueled by righteous anger. While that can be powerful, it was not sustainable for me. After more than 20 years in social justice, I’ve found that hope is a more powerful driver. I continue to dream about my ideal vision of the future, the world I want to help create. This leads to a less reactionary, more proactive approach and cultivates my sense of connection to others.
- I practice self-compassion. This is probably the hardest of my self-care strategies. I’ve worked to be as kind to myself as I am to others, to speak lovingly in my own head, and to be patient with my areas of lesser skill. I’ve had to acknowledge my humanity, the one that binds me to everyone else, and in that struggle I have also become more accepting of others. When I notice shame or disgust in myself now, I try to gently thank my heart for bringing a wound to my attention.
None of these are emergency interventions, and that’s the point. Of course I eat mint-chocolate chip ice cream while cuddle-binging Netflix with my dog, take solo camping trips up Palomar mountain, and if I can afford it, I get a massage. But for me self-care is mostly about how I choose to think about myself, my world, and the choices I make daily. And changing those was, in some ways, the most drastic measure of all.
Here are some additional links that I really appreciate on self-care.
By Liat Wexler
Training Specialist, Center for Community Solutions