“Self-care” is such a buzzword these days; everyone from NPR and The Atlantic to Oprah has something to say on the subject. But what does this term really mean? What’s it all about? Ultimately, self-care comes from self-respect. This is particularly true for members of marginalized or oppressed communities, including LGBTQ people. In the words of the lesbian theorist and poet Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Valuing yourself in a society that questions your value is a profound act of resistance, one that will pay off marvelously in the years to come.
What does self-care encompass?
Simply put, self-care is anything you initiate or manage in order to take care of yourself. Some basic examples include having good hygiene, getting adequate sleep, eating reasonably healthy foods, staying hydrated, and taking any necessary medications. These are all things that contribute to your health and well-being.
People often use the term “self-care” to talk about behaviors that go above and beyond those basics, behaviors that are purely optional but greatly improve your mental and emotional state. This kind of self-care can take many forms. It can be going for a hike or staying home under the covers with a book and a bowl of cookie dough. It can be taking a day off of work. It can be throwing yourself into a new project that feeds your soul. It can be getting a massage, playing with your nieces and nephews, dancing in your kitchen, painting your nails, or trying a new class at your local gym. It can be organizing your closet, having a heart-to-heart conversation with your partner, or going for a long walk with your headphones on. It can be watching a favorite movie in your sweats. It can be browsing the shelves of your local library. It can be petting your cat for three hours (or until it jumps away and hides under the bed—whichever comes first).
Can self-care ever go too far, where problematic behaviors masquerade as self-care?
Absolutely. Take stock of how you feel not only in the process of your self-care activities but also in the hours and days afterward. Adjust as needed, and don’t forget about those most basic self-care behaviors; if you’re not tending to the essentials, then all the extras won’t do you much good.
Is self-care just a form of selfishness and self-absorption and an excuse people use to retreat from the hard work of activism?
Certainly there’s a danger in any worthwhile idea being taken to a destructive extreme, and we each have the responsibility to find the right balance. However, caring for yourself and prioritizing your own health and well-being is not a sign of laziness or selfishness. In fact, these habits are what allow you to continue valuable work in the world.
Self-care doesn’t have to be purely about improving yourself; working for causes you believe in can also be a terrific benefit to your mental and emotional health. Serving others in your community or offering your talents to local organizations can be deeply rewarding, giving you a sense of purpose and connection to the world around you.
A certain activity that others find restful or fun might be unappealing to you, and something you deeply enjoy may seem boring or stressful to someone else. That’s all okay. The point is to know what works for you. Whatever self-care habits you prefer, the important thing is that they be nourishing and restorative for you.
How do you make self-care a regular part of your life? What obstacles do you have to overcome in the process? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter (@EqualityUtah) or Facebook (facebook.com/EqualityUtah/).
If you’d like to make activism and service a part of your self-care toolkit, Equality Utah is always looking for volunteers to promote LGBTQ-friendly policies and events around the state. Visit equalityutah.org and click “Volunteer” to get started.