Prioritizing my health and wellbeing has been a lifelong struggle. In my work with eco and socially conscious souls, activists, and social entrepreneurs I’ve realized that it’s not just me. Many of us tend to put our needs last. This can have devastating consequences for ourselves and those around us. That’s why I created the free guide “Self-Care for Changemakers: Be an Agent of Change Without Sacrificing Your Health.”
In this article, I’m diving into WHY we often find it so difficult to take time out for rest and self-care.
Why do we view basic self-preservation as selfish? Why do we so often feel guilty and lazy when we’re not working or serving others? Basically, why is self-care so hard for changemakers in particular?
Hint: It’s not your fault.
Then, I’ll share a little excerpt from the Self-care for Changemakers guide including four important self-care truths every changemaker needs to hear.
We can be agents of change in the world and have a whole lot of fun while doing it.
But living this out is a lot easier said than done.
I’ve personally burnt out too many times to count. Most recently towards the end of last year’s COP26 conference in Glasgow. I completely exhausted myself marching in the streets, demanding change, and creating space for delegates from underappreciated countries to have their voices heard.
Luckily, I bounced back quickly by practicing what I preach as a Life & Ayurvedic Wellness Coach.
But back in 2015, I wasn’t at all prepared for the intense physical, emotional, and mental rock bottom that I experienced. I had regular migraines and panic attacks that often interfered with my career and volunteer work. I was exhausted and suffering from adrenal fatigue and nutrient deficiencies. Years of very little sleep, fast-paced corporate life, and tirelessly fighting for environmental accountability with little success had ruined my health and extinguished my passion for my work and life.
I felt guilty for not taking better care of myself, and this guilt caused me more stress!
But slowing down felt impossible. I didn’t want to let anyone down, and I felt that the work I was doing was too important to let go of.
If only I could go back and tell little 29-year-old Eva what I know now.
The system is rigged.
Learning HOW the system is rigged and why has radically shifted my approach to self-care. It has helped me to understand that prioritizing my wellbeing is a form of activism.
So in the next section, I’ll share a brief summary of the cultural and systemic hurdles that we’re all up against in hopes that it will be helpful to you too.
You can dive deeper into any of the topics that I mention by checking out the links I’ve included to some of my favorite books and other resources.
Before we move on I want to note that I am a white, American, cis-gender, heterosexual, middle-class woman. My perspective is colored by my limited experience despite my persistent anti-racism practice. If (when) you notice that I’ve said something offensive or incorrect I would love to hear from you – email@example.com.
Let’s dive in.
Why is self-care for changemakers so hard?
As compassionate, curious people changemakers are more attuned than most to the suffering that’s going on in the world. For many of us, our knowledge of the many injustices in the world spurs us to action.
That’s awesome. It’s not awesome when we sacrifice our own health because we’re so focused on the cause.
We live in a society where the needs and desires of some are perceived as more important than others. In her powerful book, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny moral philosopher Kate Manne discusses these cultural roles. She refers to human beings and human givers.
Human beings have a moral obligation to reach their full potential. They have a duty to be competitive, assertive, and consuming in order to maximize their human potential.
On the other hand, human givers have a duty to give themselves – their time, attention, patience, bodies, rest, dreams, sometimes even their lives – in the name of serving others.
Human givers sacrifice their humanity so that human beings can fulfill their potential.
Human givers are considered selfish if they ask for help or admit that they have needs.
According to Manne and other gender studies experts, the human giver role is traditionally played by a specific part of the population: women.
You probably saw that one coming from a mile away.
Even those of us who were raised by parents that bucked the gender norms can not escape the pervasive messaging present in our patriarchal society.
Researchers and authors Dr. Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski dive into the cultural impacts of what they call the Human Giver Syndrom in-depth.
Now let’s take this a step further.
In her book, White Fragility: Why it’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism author Robin DiAngelo discusses how people who identify as BIPOC experience this cultural pressure to sacrifice their humanity and not express their needs on an even deeper level.
DiAngelo points out that “white” is considered the norm to which everyone else is compared in the United States and many European countries.
“The United States was founded on the principle that all people are created equal. Yet the nation began with the attempted genocide of Indigenous people and the theft of their land. American wealth was built on the labor of kidnapped and enslaved Africans and their descendants. Women were denied the right to vote until 1920, and black women were denied access to that right until 1964.”Robin DiAngelo
Black men weren’t granted the right to vote until 1870, almost 100 years after the United States was founded in 1776.
And what about those that don’t fit into the very narrow gender and sexuality categories our society has constructed?
These groups have been systematically dehumanized and repeatedly denied the ability to make choices about their lives, their communities, and their bodies.
We’ve been programmed to think that we’re not worthy of asking for basic human needs, let alone taking time for self-care.
It’s no wonder that so many of us feel unworthy.
And what about the white men? There are so many big-hearted male climate and social justice activists out there fighting the good fight. Hopefully, some are reading this right now.
Of course, white men also experience negative impacts from this human being/giver situation. Men are also judged when they step out of their socially acceptable roles. A man who isn’t climbing the corporate ladder is seen as not reaching his full potential. If he’s not the primary provider for his family he’s written off as lazy and weak.
Our society is set up to prevent each of us from taking the rest and self-care time that we need.
We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that stepping outside of our culturally prescribed roles in order to reclaim our health and actually enjoy life is selfish.
Self-preservation is not selfish. It’s a biological necessity.
So, let’s turn some of the lies that we’ve been told on their heads.
The next time that you find yourself skipping out on rest and self-care revisit these self-care truths.
Four Powerful Self-Care Truths
Excerpt from the free guide: “Self-Care for Changemakers: Be an Agent of Change Without Sacrificing Your Health.”
Truth #1: NOT prioritizing self-care is selfish
We greatly limit our ability to contribute to the world when we don’t make time for rest and self-care. Our impact work can be a flash-in-the-pan that quickly burns out, or we can set ourselves up for a lifetime of meaningful contribution.
You’re not going to do anyone any good if you’re sick and exhausted. Not taking good care of yourself is doing the world a great disservice. We need your unique voice, perspective, and talent!
Truth #2: Self-care is a revolutionary act.
Self-care and rest are powerful forms of activism, especially for members of oppressed groups such as those who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ, and women. Our patriarchal, capitalist society is fueled by the incredibly hard work of oppressed groups.
In a system where productivity is considered king, we’ve been taught to wear our workaholic attitudes and self-sacrifice as badges of honor.
But we can take our power back by slowing down and taking care of ourselves! Furthermore, as we set this example for our communities and younger generations we’re contributing to a much-needed cultural shift.
Truth #3: What’s best for me is best for my community is best for the planet.
We are each an integral part of this planet. We are nature. Taking care of ourselves is the first step in taking care of our families, communities, and the earth.
If you believe in creating a sustainable, healthy, equitable, and safe world for all then you can start by caring for and healing yourself.
Research professor and author Brene Brown drives this point home at the end of her amazing book, Braving the Wilderness:
As eco and socially conscious souls we, “are showing up to ensure that people’s basic needs are met and their civil rights are upheld. But we’re also working to make sure that everyone gets to experience what brings meaning to life: love, belonging, and joy. These are essential, irreducible needs for all of us. And we can’t give people what we don’t have. We can’t fight for what’s not in our hearts.”Brene Brown
Healing starts with you. Joy starts with you. And joy matters.
Truth #4: You are your best healer.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to solve your life and health problems. Many coaches and self-help “gurus” will tell you that they have THE answer. If you see someone promise this please run as fast as you can in the other direction.
Ayurveda is different. In a nutshell, Ayurveda is the science of life and longevity. It is a 5000-year-old nature-based holistic wellness system that evolved in the Indian subcontinent. It is a science based on the individual, not an average of the collective. This is the wellness system that I personally practice and teach.
True self-care will, and should, look different for everyone.
May these truths help you to stay grounded, healthy, and happy while pursuing your change-making and culture-shaping work!
I’ve created a one-page graphic of these self-care truths that you can download and refer back to when prioritizing self-care gets hard. It’s included in the Self-care for Changemakers guide.
In this guide, I give examples of self-care practices for changemakers and I walk you through a process to developing your own practices.
Eva Peterson | Ayurvedic Life Coach