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Self-care is an act of community care

By DANNA PEÑA Published Jul 16, 2021 6:00 am Updated Jul 16, 2021 5:19 pm

It’s thrown around as a trendy come-on, slapped on labels to drive purchases of products or experiences that calm, heal, or spark joy. Whether you embrace it, deprive yourself of it, or are confused by it, self-care is a prevalent movement in today’s zeitgeist that’s here to stay. 

At its most basic definition, self-care is the practice of preserving or improving one’s own well-being through deliberate individual means. From staying off of social media, to working up a sweat, to religiously practicing a bedtime routine, self-care looks and feels different for everybody. While it’s commonly linked with attractive words like indulge and pamper, the concept has become associated with unglamorous terms like sacrifice and discipline, evolving it into a practice that reflects a holistic view of wellness.

Personally, I view self-care as a means of self-preservation: the crucial refueling that allows me to cope with life’s challenges. It means acting for myself in order to steer clear of any possible regrets I might have in the future — whether that’s in the physical, emotional, social, professional, or even financial aspects of my life.

As I grow older, I keep realizing that the more I take care of and enrich myself, the more I’m able to give back in the long run. No matter how self-serving it seems, self-care does affect the communities around you.

Besides exercising, eating healthy and getting sufficient rest, it also encompasses the nitty-gritty of showing up when I don’t feel like it, paying bills and accomplishing errands on time, and investing time, money, and effort in activities that will provide me security in the future.

In the context of the ongoing pandemic, self-care can even feel like an act of escapism — as we’re stuck in a system of ruthless incompetency, corruption, and deceit, it has become a means of preserving one’s sanity. When you have no control over things that are falling apart outside of you, sometimes there’s nothing left to do but focus on and fend for yourself. 

There are times I feel guilty for prioritizing my well-being instead of extending a hand to those in need. Not only does self-care get flak for being commodified and advertised as self-indulgence, but the pandemic-driven plight of the majority can warp our view of the practice, tricking us into thinking that it’s selfish.

In this pandemic where societal inequalities are exposed daily in the media, being part of the privileged few can lead to feelings of guilt. This guilt tells us that we have no right to celebrate life nor complain because so many people have it worse. There are times I think, “What right do I have to focus on myself when others are suffering?” I have to remind myself that, wherever I may lie in the privilege spectrum, I can only do so much without sacrificing my well-being. This applies to everybody, as each of us has personal limits that must be respected. 

As I grow older, I keep realizing that the more I take care of and enrich myself, the more I’m able to give back in the long run. No matter how self-serving it seems, self-care does affect the communities around you. Taking good care of yourself is more far-reaching than it sounds — when you choose yourself, your healing, and your growth, you become more capable of showing up as your highest self, allowing you to affect and influence your communities in a more positive light.

As someone who grew up in a single-parent household and was surrounded by elders who are stoic about their struggles, I’ve had to unlearn concepts that can be considered the antitheses of self-care. Since my dad passed away when I was 15 years old, I watched my mom raise three kids and send us to college all by herself — gracefully, and with flying colors, if I may so myself.

But despite this massive achievement, I’m certain this entailed several struggles and sacrifices that were unspoken. Don’t get me wrong: my siblings and I grew up comfortably in a loving home, but I believe we could have shared more of our struggles with each other if it weren’t for our stolid environment.

Carrying burdens all by yourself, staying silent and refusing to ask for help during times of difficulties, and exerting yourself to the point of self-neglect and self-sabotage are notions that we can all do without.

Watching my mom work hard without complaining, especially in my impressionable teenage years, molded me to become a somewhat secretive person who always tries to put up a good front. Opening up to each other about our emotions and being vulnerable wasn’t the norm for our family; getting the work done silently was what we all did. Although it fostered grit, this kind of upbringing gave me the inclination to deny my personal struggles. Until now, I still have to remind myself that it’s completely normal and healthy to be vulnerable, to ask for help when needed, and to express when I’m not okay.

Carrying burdens all by yourself, staying silent and refusing to ask for help during times of difficulties, and exerting yourself to the point of self-neglect and self-sabotage are notions that we can all do without. Although there is tremendous value in perseverance and hard work — ideas that older generations value — the concepts of rest, communication and transparency are just as important, too.

Treat yourself the way you treat others, as the old saying goes. By valuing self-care, we are also healing our kin, our social circles, and the communities we are a part of.

Prioritizing self-care doesn’t just heal yourself, but it also heals your lineage. Just as elders can influence the young, children can absorb and internalize what their elders do. If we break the chain of violence we inflict toward ourselves, those who come after us will be exposed to better ways of coping with the stresses and strains of life. In a way, self-care can be viewed as a form of intergenerational healing. If we all learned how to cope healthily with our traumas and struggles, imagine how much better society would be.

Self-care is not an act of weakness, but a revolutionary protest. In a world that glorifies suffering, in a society that has ingrained in us that we must always be toiling, only for our struggles to end up at our own expense, self-care is one of the most rebellious acts we can do. It is saying “I am enough, I will care for myself because it is my right, because I am human, because the world is already going through so much pain and I’m not going to let that pain fester within me.” 

Treat yourself the way you treat others, as the old saying goes. By valuing self-care, we are also healing our kin, our social circles, and the communities we are a part of. By treating self-care as a necessity, our people and future generations won’t feel the need to replicate the self-sabotaging ways we’ve been needlessly imposing on ourselves all this time. 

Ultimately, self-care isn’t only about fostering kindness and respect towards ourselves, but allowing these values to echo in our environment for a more tender world.

Photo Art by Elle Shivers