Self Care for Black Women Activists

Check out these five self care tips featuring Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen author of Like a Tree

To the Black women reading this, I know your exhaustion intimately. We bear the brunt of so many systems of oppression while also expected to keep smiling and not be too angry and still over-perform. What’s worse is that we rarely feel worthy of rest because we are so used to being valued based on how much we give to and do for others. 

This past Tuesday was my first day off in weeks. I don’t purely mean off from work but rather off from the need to be constantly plugged in, constantly doing, constantly educating, constantly constantly constantly. Last week, I wasn’t sleeping or eating. My nerves seemed to always be jittery and I couldn’t look away from my social media feeds which were keeping me up-to-date and informed on what was happening around the world. I knew I wasn’t well but I continued to push through ignoring the advice I so often give to others about the importance of self-care as an activist. 

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” —Audre Lorde

Last weekend, my anxiety and emotions came to a head after a protest when I just sobbed and released everything I’d been holding in. I was reminded that my first battleground as an activist should always be myself which is to say that when I fight for a better world, don’t I deserve that too? Shouldn’t I deliver this vision to myself before I can give it to anyone else? I knew I needed a solid 24 hours of taking care of myself and I had the excuse of my birthday to do so.

“The most powerful relationship you will ever have is the relationship with yourself.” —Steve Maraboli

Here’s what I did to restore myself and get back up swinging:

1. Take time off

Whether you’re a student, an intern, a part-time employee, or a salaried professional, you deserve time off. Chances are if you’re someone who needs self-care, you’ve been putting it off as something you’ll do this weekend. And then the weekend comes and goes and you’re still exhausted. That’s because the weekend is your standard system of checks and balances to ensure you’re not overworked but when you need extra care you need extra time.

“To experience peace does not mean that your life is always blissful. It means that you are capable of tapping into a blissful state of mind amidst the normal chaos of a hectic life.” —Jill Bolte Taylor

2. Unplug

Social media and the devices we use to stay connected can be powerful tools but we need time away from our screens and the media cycle to truly rest. To ensure you have an intentional day of rest not clouded with messages, notifications, and people pulling on you turn off notifications and set up auto-responders. Email is a known space too set that OOO on but Apple users can also do so with text messages! Head to settings → do not disturb → and scroll all the way down to customize the auto-reply. Now you can seamlessly look away from your phone without worrying about messages going “ignored.”

“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” —Jean Shinoda Bolen

3. Customize

Now that you’ve set up the prime conditions for your day off, you can curate a day that fits you perfectly. Need a bit more stillness? Do a puzzleadult coloring books, or catch up on some reading! Need a bit more indulgence? Do all your favorite things: take a bubble bath, grab a glass of wine, or do a little retail therapy. Need a release? Take a midday nap, write in your journal, meditate, or cry to a sad playlist. Need more community? Have a social distancing date with loved ones, write handwritten letters to a friend you haven’t seen in a while, or have a Zoom call with fun games planned.

4. Spend time in nature

 There’s nothing more grounding than being surrounded by life, greenery, and fresh air. Depending on where you live this may be harder to accomplish, but it’s possible to intentionally build in time outdoors where you can soak up some sun rays, stand barefoot in the grass, and recenter! Bonus points if you craft the perfect playlist too set the mood and bring out your inner tree-hugger.

“The love and attention you always thought you wanted from someone else, is the love and attention you first need to give to yourself.” —Bryant McGillns

5. Say no

How do you ensure that when you come out of your magical day, you don’t run back into old habits? Say no. Recognize that you can’t do it all and certainly not well. Decide where you can make the biggest difference and release the need to do anything outside of that lane. By saying no more, you free yourself up to contribute in ways that match your passion and gifts. Additionally, you offer up a better you to the movement instead of feeling split in a million directions. This has also allowed me to give my friends concrete ideas of how to support me by passing on requests or work to allies who have more capacity! 

The bottom line? Put yourself at the top of your to-do list every single day and the rest will fall into place. 

Like a Tree

How Trees, Women, and Tree People Can Save the Planet

Of trees and women. This book on the importance of trees grew out of Bolen’s experience mourning the loss of a Monterey pine that was cut down in her neighborhood. That, combined with her practice of walking among tall trees, led to her deep connection with trees and an understanding of their many complexities. From their anatomy and physiology, to trees as archetypal and sacred symbols, Bolen expertly explores the dynamics of ecological activism spiritual activism and sacred feminism. And, she invites us to join the movement to save trees.

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