Radical Self-Care

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

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “self-care”? Some of the first things that come to mind might be a face mask, a hot bath, or watching a rom-com. We frequently see these kinds of self-care in movies and TV, on social media, and in advertisements. As the concept of self-care has risen in popularity over the past few years, so too has the idea that a bad day can be turned around with a bath bomb or that trauma can be overcome by a few minutes of yoga. While all of these things can be considered self-care, they’re somewhat superficial solutions for problems that may run much deeper. A more intentional form of self-care may include getting to the root of our issues and learning how to consistently use more profound healing techniques; this practice is called radical self-care.

Radical self-care is a concept that’s been around for decades, first introduced by activist and writer Audre Lorde in the book A Burst of Light. Lorde specifically wrote about self-care for black women and women of color, reflecting on its importance during her own fight against cancer. Lorde’s self-care was about facing adversity and trauma head on, and most importantly, taking care of herself first.

It’s easy to constantly think of others– we like to go out of our way for our friends and family, volunteer to show up early to an event, and say “yes” when we really don’t want to. Sometimes these things feel good and make us happy, but it’s important to check in with yourself regularly. Are you exhausted after a get-together with friends? Do you feel even more stressed after helping a classmate with their homework? Instead of pushing these feelings aside, give them the close attention they deserve. This is how you’ll begin to understand what taking care of you looks like.

It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all mold for self-care. Wellness for Black folks, LGBTQ+ folks, or other oppressed groups will look different than self-care for cis-hetero White folks. Our lived experiences frame our self-care needs and trauma must be addressed in order to work towards radical self-care. That said, there are some tools and techniques that can be helpful for people with different backgrounds, experiences, and identities worth exploring.

Remember that true self-care cannot be bought or sold. Wellness is a personal journey that will almost certainly change over time. The most important thing for you to do is to pay attention. What is your body saying? What is your mind saying? No one knows you better than you, so it’s time to start taking the best possible care of yourself.

How can you be more intentional in your own self-care? Here are a few ideas to consider.

  • Journaling – Writing down your thoughts and feelings is one of the ultimate forms of self-care. Letting yourself journal without restraint or judgment will help you to uncover the roots of your essential self. This can be a difficult process, but getting to know yourself at this level will help you to honor, heal, and nurture yourself.
  • Set boundaries – Saying “no” sometimes feels impossible, but voicing this one little word can be incredibly important to our mental health. Reflect on your own needs before accepting a time-consuming or stressful invitation. You can even practice saying “no” with a friend or family member if it’s difficult for you. Remember, no one can do everything, it’s okay if you can’t either.
  • Eat well and exercise – Making sure you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, drinking water throughout the day, and getting regular exercise are great practices for your body. Exercise can help with both depression and anxiety, while a healthy diet can improve your mood. Make time for your physical health every day.
  • Get some “me” time – Even if you love spending time with your friends, family, and teammates, everyone needs alone time to decompress. Remind yourself of this when all of those social invites tempt you, because a night in can be an opportunity to rest your mind and body and prepare for the busy days to come. Spending time alone also gives you the opportunity to know yourself better and discover your personal needs, hopes, and goals.
  • Affirmations – At first it may feel silly to say affirmations to yourself, but the more you repeat positive messages, the more they will begin to stick. Look for an affirmation to try or come up with one that's unique to you. Over time, affirmations can help improve self-esteem and confidence. Read this closely: you cannot adequately care for yourself if you don’t deeply believe that you are deserving of care.

Getting to know your true self will be a lifelong, and often difficult, process. But remember that you are worthy of love and care and you are the one who can best determine what that looks like.