What is Self-Care? What does it look like, what does it mean and what the heck do you do? Self-Care is all the buzz on every social media platform these days. We see it everywhere and everyone is talking about what they do for self-care, but it still seems to be one of those things that, although we are “doing it”, seems so elusive.
The first time I heard this term I was in my first year of my social work graduate program. Aside from the curriculum and practicum, one of the lessons Simmons College’s School of Social Work drilled in their students was the importance of self-care. Oh, I take care of myself, I thought, I bathe, pack my lunch and put myself together to look presentable in public. Here I was training to be a therapist, and I thought I was doing a banging ass job because my curls were popping, my outfit was on point and on the surface I looked like I had my life together. Fast forward a decade or more later and I am seriously doing the *insert facepalm emoji here* to my younger self. Over the years I have come to learn that self-care is beyond surface level.
Self-Care, although fun, isn’t just face masks, soaking in the tub and scenic yoga poses. It isn’t something you do once in a while. Self-care is a choice to do things that speak to your heart and soul in ways that nourish you, pick you up and keep you going to face life again tomorrow. It is that thing you do that makes you feel alive, sustains you and fills you with gratitude. And here’s the thing, for so long, WOC have been told what self-care looks like from perspectives that are not like that of our own. While there is nothing wrong with women of all walks of life spreading all kinds of self-care loving… self-care for the WOC looks a little bit different than that of her counterparts. Okay.. okay… A LOTTA BIT different. Particularly because self-care for us is tied into so much–culturally, racially, politically, spiritually and medically–it will not typically look like green smoothies and lululemon on the beautiful beaches of the Maldives.
See, in my community and my culture of Cape Verdean women, I am used to seeing the brown and black women I know taking care of everyone else’s needs before her own. There is a fear that if we don’t do so then we are labeled as selfish or uncaring by our very own people. I have seen women labeled as selfish because they prioritized the gym and their own therapy over a request a family member asked of them. However, WOC can be so selfless; in fact, due to this we end up not taking good care of ourselves and put ourselves at risk for major health and wellness concerns. WOC have the highest risks of obesity, depression, anxiety and heart disease because we do not take better care of ourselves, and don’t manage our stress appropriately.
Enough is enough. It is okay to help others, but not at the cost of helping ourselves. Self-care for the woman of color is a lifestyle. A daily practice. It is a reset, recharge, re-adjust, restart, refocus, reclaim, re-emerge, release…all of that…AS MANY DAMN TIMES AS YOU WANT! It is putting your whole mind, body and soul into it! Self-care for the woman of color is a radical act that goes against everything we have been taught to be. As Audre Lorde describes
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
When you can be better for you, you can be better for others. But you have to be better physically, mentally and emotionally for you first. And you don’t just pull out your self-care tool kit when things are bad, but also when things are going exceptionally well. By practicing when things are also good, you make self-care a part of your every fiber.
Here are some of my favorite self-care practices:
Goodness, we are so hard on ourselves. The world does enough beating us up, we don’t need to perpetuate it by beating ourselves up on top of it! The next time you catch yourself speaking to or thinking harshly about yourself, STOP! Practice being kind to yourself, and speaking to yourself as you would your best friend. The things we say to ourselves are not typically what we say to our friends when they are down so why do it to yourself. Practice loving kindness by turning understanding, love and acceptance inward. Forgive yourself for what you do not know and recognize that you are imperfectly human! You will make mistakes, and accept the fact that painful experiences will happen and do not reflect failure on your part.
Stop suffering silently! One of the greatest things I did for myself was seek therapy. I just needed someone to talk to that wasn’t a friend or family. As a therapist, I know the importance of therapy and its health benefits so I was not afraid to get one when things got rough. In fact, I still seek out therapy even when things are seemingly well… because, well, I love learning about me and how to be the best me. Too often, we stay mum about what is really going on with us because as little girls we were told to keep our business off the streets. In doing so, we turned our pain inward and let it eat away at us. Emotional pain is killing us slowly. I know therapy can be difficult to obtain; it can be expensive and not many therapists are available that look like us. But with so many resources out there like online therapy and Therapy for Black Girls you are likely to find something that meets your needs. Get that gunk off your chest, otherwise it grows and becomes the heart disease I know you do not want (not really, but kind of).
Set Boundaries and Say No
Oh child, do I still struggle with this one. Hello, my name is Vanessa and I am a recovering people pleaser! Ugh, this is one that is difficult for so many of us because as I mentioned before we have been conditioned to please other people. We put up with way too much toxic crap from people in our lives. Sometimes it is a friend, a family member or a lover… we give them the power to spew toxicity into our energy and totally screw up our lives. Know when someone is draining you and learn to cut the cords where need be. You can let people know the impact they have on you, and love them from a distance. I understand that sometimes, you really cannot distance yourself from certain loved ones, so in those instances, know what situations with them deserve your energy. Not every argument is one that you need to engage in. Simply let them know that you aren’t engaging, and preserve your energy. Surround yourself with people who give you good vibes, and only want to add to your energy, not take away.
Inhabit Your Body
Many WOC have faced traumas and chronic stress that we aren’t even inhabiting our own bodies. All we know is to be on edge. Even when we aren’t aware of it we are anxious and on defense. We have learned how to be outside of ourselves for so long that we have become disconnected, and in some cases, dissociated from our body. How many times do you lay down at the end of the day and notice all the tightness in your body? We hold so much tension that we aren’t even aware that our body has been tense all day long, because we haven’t been with our body. We think that the muscle aches and pains are part of normal aging, or that the headaches we’ve had all day are just a thing that occasionally happens. Before you can do any healing work you have to be inside of your body; this is the first step! Take moments to quietly sit with yourself and notice any sensations in your body. Reflect on what that is, and listen to what is communicated back to you. Later on you’ll be able to give your body exactly what it needs, feel where your health is declining and notice your body’s reaction to certain people, environments and food.
Yeah, I bet you were looking for me to give you some bullshit list with some skincare regimen, meal prep tips or whatever else you may have thought was going to be on here. NOPE, it’s time we really take back what self-care looks like… really be self-reflective and care for you in a way you have not before… Holistically!
If you’re looking for more self-care tips like these, join HY for the August Online Coaching Program, “30-Days of Self Care for the Strong Black Woman” where I will be sharing 30 self-care tips just like these (yes, I will toss in some nutrition, exercise and spiritual stuff in there too) You are important, YOU MATTER and we are redefining what it means to self-care as a Strong Black Woman! Sign up here!