Self Care Struggles and the Path to Enlightenment

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A couple months ago, I stopped into Coffee by Design to get ready for the drive up to University of Maine Orono for a swim meet. In addition to working full-time, for a few months this pastwinter, I was also coaching high school swimming, and we had our final championship meet in Orono. I hadn’t been on top of my podcast game so I queued up one of my favorites for the drive, and it turned out to be an episode about self care.

It’s becoming trendy to talk about self care, but what about actually practicing it? In the social work world, it’s so important to practice self care, especially in chaotic environments where you’re going flat out all. the. time. Self care is something that we do to regulate ourselves – it’s a deliberate and conscious effort to recharge and find balance, and it looks different to each individual. Self care is so necessary to the elimination of stress (which has all kinds of ridiculously unhealthy consequences), but it seems like stress is the name of the game for the young professionals in the nonprofit world.

The workday flies by, you’ve got three to-do lists, all the phone calls are coming in, people need that verification form, clients are yelling everywhere, OH! You forgot about that meeting, it’s already 4:45 (your day ends at 4:30), your desk is buried under a mountain of things for you to come back to tomorrow, and you’re late for a networking happy hour that’ll help you get a better job. Then there are all of the other things young professionals are stressed about – crippling student loan debt, skyrocketing rent prices, affording meals, online dating, etc. Woo! All of this stress can lead to burn out, and self care can be a tool for you to focus on your beautiful self, address the stress, and achieve the best quality of life. Sounds ideal, seems simple?

Back to my trip up to Orono. My favorite podcast is Popaganda (a feminist response to pop culture!), and the episode about self care really hit me hard. The host started out the episode with an anecdote:

Personally, if I’m left to my own devices, I’ll stay at work until 7pm, never exercise, eat meals that consist of only bagels and coffee, and then stay up watching Netflix in bed until 2am until I’m literally too exhausted to function so then on weekends, I collapse into a heap. That’s my normal way of being.

Sound familiar? I was literally spreading cream cheese on a bagel when I heard that line. Hm. There I was, sitting in my car on a vacation day about to travel 2 hours north to go stand on a pool deck for 8 hours and corral a bunch of high schoolers. All of this was in addition to my ridiculous work schedule, up-in-the-air housing status, personal time of transition, over commitment to volunteer activities, and general sleep deprivation. I decided (after that trip) it was time to really hunker down and examine what I needed to take care of myself.

While I’m still figuring out what self care looks like for me, I’m learning that self care is a spectrum and is so necessary to being an advocate. Vu from Nonprofit with Balls discusses in his post about self care, “since the work is so critical, with real people being affected, finding down-time can be challenging, sometimes even guilt-inducing.” The struggle is real, and it can be so easy to sacrifice your own wellbeing and immerse yourself in the advocacy of others. But, here’s the thing: you need to be well in order to continue down the path of advocacy and empowerment. There will always be more stuff that you need to do and more people who need your help, but you gotta make sure you do you and put priority on the number one person in your life from time to time.

I am definitely not an expert in self care. I am a self care infant. I constantly encourage others to care for themselves, while I rarely take time for it. And this is a learned behavior. In high school, I told someone that the only times I took for myself were when I was showering and sleeping. The social pressures of being a young woman and being attractive to colleges, maintaining good grades, being social, playing sports, volunteering, working, and navigating hormones were too much, so self care went out the window. Or rather, was never really introduced. But! I’m on my own path of enlightenment, and with time I’ll understand. We’ll all get there. Self care is key, and you all got this!

For specific self care tips and introspective readings, check out some of these rockin’ resources:

18 Ways to Be More Positive at Work – Bit Rebels
Self Care 101 – Everyday Feminism
Self Care During College – Everyday Feminism
The Radical Politics of Self Love and Self Care – The Feminist Wire
Who Takes Care of the Caretakers? – Black Girl Dangerous

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