Self-care is a radical act







By Amy Gray

2016 was so tumultuous that we almost looked forward to 2017, despite it promising more of the same. 2017 certainly delivered on that promise, becoming a neck-snapping whiplash of woe, raising the stakes and stress levels in just two months.

Thankfully, for every action, there is a reaction and the world won’t disappoint, with massive protest movements, media awareness and activist responses. But it’s going to take a lot of energy to cope with the news, let alone our response as we live in an increasingly aggressive and scary world.

That’s where self-care comes in. We naturally know how to look after our body but often don’t, as well as neglecting other aspects, like our emotional wellbeing in the face of stress, discrimination and information overload.

Self-care is an explicitly feminist act, too, in a world that actively ignores women’s needs. The notion of feminine sacrifice is mythologised: the mother who tends to everyone else’s needs except her own, asking nothing in return for her work. Or black women who endure discrimination while expected to educate others. It’s almost as if conditioning women to ignore their needs is the perfect con – its easier to oppress a group if they’ve never been taught to realise they are important.

Audre Lorde, civil rights and feminist icon, knew the importance of self-care, saying “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”.

Not only is self care going to get you through 2017, it’s going to let everyone know you will not take a back seat in the world.

Self-care may sound soft and fuzzy but can be hard to do – lack of time and money can make it hard to find the time and ability to care for yourself. Make do the best you can: find the cheapest healthy food you can source, find free and safe areas for exercise, encourage others to care for themselves and develop the awareness that your mental and physical health is your first priority.

But what does good-self care look like?

Know yourself

The first step is knowing what you need and making you the first priority in your life.

For women who have been trained to look after everyone but themselves, the ability to listen to your mind and body can be a challenge to develop but is crucial.

  • Rest when your body feels fatigued instead of exhausted,
  • Eat healthily when you’re hungry instead of starving, and
  • Look after yourself daily instead of waiting until you’re overwhelmed.

Knowing what you need will help you realise we have different ways of meeting those needs, and different challenges in making that happen.

Feed your body

Self-care doesn’t get more basic than treating your body well.

  • Eat regularly, sneak in plants, buy as many good ingredients your budget will allow, try new foods and hustle in a treat every now and then.
  • Exercise according to your body’s ability and needs – a little every day (especially as you go about your business) can do wonders.
  • Get as many hours of sleep as your body and schedule needs.
  • Talk with your doctor about your health and make Medicare work for you, including getting a health care card if you qualify.
  • Take sick leave! It’s one of the few times “entitlement” sounds good.
  • Drink water
  • Your body and mind do amazing things so make sure you love them

Rest your mind

In an age of information overload, 2017 is already overwhelming whether it’s everyday life or everyday politics.

Give yourself a time limit when it comes to news and social media to minimise stress. Filter the accounts and replies you see, turn off notifications on your phone and remember social media is a optional conversation, not an obliged performance.

When you feel stressed, take a step back and let your mind rest in quiet or reach out to a friend or medical professional.

Get your affairs in order

As boring as it sounds, yes, taking care of life admin is an act of self-care. That ignored homework or approaching deadline, that bill or tax return are sources for potential stress.

While it’s natural to want to avoid these tasks, the more we avoid the more we bring additional stress into our lives, which can affect our mental and physical health. It’s often spectacularly useless stress too, like avoiding making a difficult phone call only to realise how stress-free the actual conversation could be.

So yes, it may not be the most glamorous of advice but getting your affairs in order on a daily basis will bring you relief and improve your health. Plus, you’ll get stuff done – it’s a win-win.

Give it a break

This is where we get to the fun stuff – do what you love. Nothing refuels us like spending time with the people and hobbies we love. Find beauty in what you watch or read and express yourself free from social obligation.

Maintain your boundaries in relationships with others and the world.

There’s a pressure to be available for everyone – friends, workers, children and random damn strangers on the street – but just because there is pressure doesn’t mean it’s a real need. You’re obliged to look after yourself so you can continue to live and thrive.

While you may feel guilt about this, remember you take up as much space as the next person and need to look after yourself. Once you realise that, things become clearer: you don’t need to justify why you’re not constantly available, start every conversation with an apology or even broadcast it in advance. Just be yourself and look after yourself – that it has to be said shows how important it truly is.

This is why Audre Lorde maintains self care is an act of political warfare: because women looking after themselves is truly radical.

So look after yourself first and then enter the fray as we take on 2017.



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