What if I told you self-care was the most important thing you could do for others?
What if I told you self-care actually made you a more compassionate person?
You might have trouble believing that. Many people think of self-care and assume it means being selfish, self-absorbed, or self-indulgent.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Self-care is actually crucial if we want to make the world a better place. We are struggling every day with the stressors of our own lives- work, school, relationship problems- and then we turn on the news or look at social media and we feel powerless, hopeless, and uncertain about what to do with all the pain surrounding us.
By engaging in self-care, you can take a stance of resistance in the face of so much suffering.
You can regain a sense of control over your life and subsequently engage in society in a more productive and effective way.
What Does Self-Care Look Like?
I don't have to go too far back to think of a personal example.
As an immigrant, as a Latin American, as a woman, and as a mental health professional, let’s just say this past week has been pretty rough for me, as well as for many people I care about. After the election results came in, I looked around and felt like a majority of the people around me signed off on all of the things Donald Trump has said...all of the ugliness directed towards our most vulnerable communities was accepted and validated.
It hurt. And it made me fearful of the future.
But what hurt the most was the bullying that followed on articles and posts on social media:
“stop whining. get over it. don’t be a sore loser.”
It was as if these feelings of sadness, anger, and disappointment were being dismissed and perceived as a response to losing some kind of competition, rather than concerns about humanity as a whole. It was frustrating.
At that point I had an intense desire to defend myself, to try to make people understand, to receive validation. And I started to do so. Until I realized something:
I am not okay right now.
Which is fine, but I can’t be what I expect others to be (understanding, empathic, compassionate, etc.) or be of service to my clients who really need me right now if I don’t stop and take care of myself first.
So that’s what I did. Even though I felt drained and miserable, I knew it was what I had to do.
So I accepted my feelings. I allowed myself to feel the grief without trying to fix it, despite feeling external pressure to do so.
Then I disconnected from social media and any news.
I watched a lot of stand-up comedy.
I took my dogs to the dog park.
I cleaned the house.
I talked with people who I know always make me me feel understood, appreciated, and supported.
I treated myself to take-out and frozen yogurt.
I wasn't too hard on myself and I took stock of everything I'm grateful for.
As a therapist, I already knew the benefits of regular self-care. But this experience allowed me to understand its relationship to the bigger picture, how my own self-care is the one thing I have control over and can affect those I interact with and ultimately, in however small of a way, affect the world I live in. I realized I wasn't completely powerless.
Self-Care is Our Responsibility
Almost a week has gone by, and I’m gradually feeling stronger, more inspired, and best of all, more compassionate and giving. By dedicating time to blogging I feel like I'm sharing something with others and hopefully offering something to the community.
I want to commit to sharing resources with others as much as I can.
I want to practice random acts of kindness.
I want to be a source of support to others in my personal and professional life.
For reasons beyond my own health, I want to continue making self-care a priority, something that often comes with a lot of guilt for women (which is a whole other topic I'll save for another blog post).
If you're reading this, I hope you'll commit to the same. We can't forget that we are all connected. If by investing in ourselves, we are more likely to invest in others, self-care is not just a necessity, but a responsibility. Now more than ever. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr:
“In a real sense all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...
This is the inter-related structure of reality.”