Self Care in Strange Times
There can be no doubt about it, the world is a strange place these days.
Putting aside politics, it’s even clear from the weather that our world is changing. And sometimes very quickly. For some of us, politics is heavy on our minds and hearts and we spend a lot of energy trying to make the world better. Sometimes it’s simply the weight of the world that consumes our energy. But, again, I think there can be no doubt that we live in a world that is making itself over.
In these times, it can be very easy to spend all our energy in bursts and fits. Clean up for this hurricane! Send money for those floods! Help at the local Red Cross for boxes to that earthquake site! It feels like an emotional roller coaster and many of us are limping with mental exhaustion at the end of the ride.
This makes it easier to come down with ‘compassion fatigue.’ Compassion fatigue is where we just don’t have any more compassion to give the next time something awful comes around. We become hardened to the difficult and the devastating because we have nothing left inside us to give from.
Which is why self-care is so important. And I know that there has been about 10,000 articles about this topic, but I also think that in this time- a ‘lull’ between catastrophes- we can take a bit of time to assess, adjust, and apply some self-care.
My first introduction to self care was from The Comfort Queen- Jennifer Louden- who wrote several books on taking care of your self and the practice of retreating for self and couples. (She now goes by Jennifer Louden and does some great programs around writing.) There were others who wrote before she did; please check out the writings of Audre Lorde and bell hooks who were talking about self care decades earlier.
These three writers are perfectly clear that self-care is necessary. We cannot burn ourselves out, over and over again, as we live life, care for our people, and try to make the world a better place. (Also, that’s just not great for your adrenal glands! And your adrenals also talk to your ovaries and your thyroid and your brain function and…lack of downtime and restoration is not helping your hormonal systems.)
Jennifer Louden also made two very useful distinctions about self care activities. There are Time Monsters- things that look like self care but actually just chew up our time instead of helping us really relax and restore. Facebook and Etsy and Pinterest would be my personal favorite Time Monsters. I could spend a lot of time there, but it wouldn’t really get me any more relaxed, calmed, or restored (quite the opposite sometimes!).
She also talks about Shadow Comforts- the self care stuff that might feel good but brings guilt or shame later. In this category we might put gossiping- something we do and enjoy but then feel bad about later. Certainly social media, ‘shoulds,’ things that keep us busy but look productive could easily fit in this category.
[BTW, there is a difference between feeling guilty about taking time for self care and feeling guilty about the thing you are doing for self care. With Shadow Comforts there is a negative effect for the thing you did, not the taking time. Guilt for taking time for self care should be eradicated from the Earth. Every time you take care of yourself, you’re dissipating the collective guilt. Go- care for yourself, you rebel!]
So, what do these guidelines leave us with for self care in these strange times?
To be regularly attentive to the needs of our energy and spirit.
To not get depleted so far that we lose compassion.
To not seek comfort in dark or inauthentic places.
But, instead, to do the small things that help us keep going: taking our meds, getting enough sleep, getting off social media, making the bed, washing the dishes, being done with the day even if the To Do List is unfinished.
To breathe- fully and deeply, over and over, until we feel calm.
To seek activities that bring us renewal in body, mind, and spirit. And they are so individual- I can’t give you a list! Start with what you know works (reading, music, walking, screaming, time with friends, nourishing food).
To relax, fully and completely. To demand and carve out space for that.
To be kind and patient with our own minds and limitations and know that the work will get done- at some point, it will get done. And that when we have energy our contributions go much further.
This changing world, and our work in it, is a marathon, not a sprint. We must pace ourselves, know our limits, and get the support we need (friends, water, bathrooms!). That’s how we reach the goal of making our world a better place. We try to move forward a bit each day without hurting ourselves in the process.
Strange times require patience, perseverance, and hope. Self care can be a foundation for building all these things. And with them, we build a better future.