Yes, Self-Care is Okay Even in a Time of Revolution

Our turbulent 2020 has made it tough to hold steady. Catapulted from shelter-in-place to marching for justice overnight, I experience both urgency and anxiety in a way that, as a Black vegan woman, manifests as nagging guilt over not doing more. And I feel it all the time.

I struggle to quiet my mind, rest my body, and soothe my heart. And if I vibrate at too high a level of anxiety for too many continuous days and nights, what follows is a near collapse and, if I’m lucky, a deep sleep. 

And then the cycle begins again.

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

But a week ago, as I was consoling a friend who was also feeling stretched and sad, I actually listened to the guidance passing my lips as I offered it to her, “We are in a marathon, not a sprint.” 

We will be in the anti-racist fight for full racial equity for a long time … Black lives matter. The Coronavirus and the ravages of COVID-19 will be with us for a long time, too. And our fight to end the suffering and slaughter of our fellow animal earthlings will not end anytime soon. 

So how do we go the distance? And is it okay to take a break when there is so much to be done?

Yes. In fact, I would say it is essential.

My favorite spiritual concept is that each of us serves our highest good when we fill our own cups and give generously from the overflow.

In order to show up as our best advocate, activist, and citizen selves, it is imperative that we maintain our mental focus, physical strength, and overall emotional well-being. The world is counting on us to do work that is hard and often painful in the most effective ways possible. Here are some ideas that should help.  

1. Maintain Mental Focus. In other words, get some sleep!

Science has established that our brains need solid sleep to maintain peak function. Deep sleep heals and refreshes our minds. You know that feeling when you awaken from a solid night’s sleep feeling invincible, maybe even noticing that colors look more vibrant? If you are neurotypical, that’s a rested brain. On the other hand, sleep deprivation is an effective torture technique, remarkably powerful in breaking down free will and the sense of autonomy.

Getting sleep has been an ongoing issue for me. Here’s how I suggest you nip this one in the bud: 

>> Disconnect your electronics one hour before bedtime. Light from your phones and screens interrupt melatonin production, and melatonin is one of the key chemicals that your brain produces to regulate sleep.

>> Stay away from caffeine in the afternoon. Instead, add soothing herbal teas to the time before bed.

>> Pick a bedtime and stick to it.

>> Dab a little lavender essential oil on your wrists and behind your ears.

And as you figure out what works to get you ready to rest, practice each step in the same way, night after night. Creating a bedtime ritual signals your body that it is time to go to sleep.

2. Keep up your physical movement. In other words, stay as nimble as you can!

If your activism necessitates a great deal of physical movement—marching, running around, or standing at vigils—make sure you are consistently stretching and doing self-massage. Use a roller type massager, if you can, to work out the knots. Relaxed muscles are far less prone to injury than tight ones.

And if your activism means you’re sitting a lot—writing letters to the editor, creating and signing petitions, Zooming into workshops and organizing meetings—then keeping it moving on your own time is essential for heart health.

Chair aerobics, going out for a roll, vigorous walks, running, and dancing will all do. I dance at least once a day. It’s great for my body, but perhaps even better for my heart—and it always uplifts my mood.

3. Nurture your emotional well-being. In other words, do things that make you feel happy.

These days, we seem to be bombarded by horror. And for those of us who are Black, antiracist, and vegan, there are always more than a few reasons to have a good cry. Too often, feelings of defeat are justified.

Our job for ourselves is to do the best we can to make those feelings transient. We don’t need pain to keep us motivated; we’re activists. Instead, we deserve the breaks when we can find them—or better yet, when we can create them.

Finding moments of happiness requires practice. Here’s how I recommend you get started:

>> Meditate. Different kinds of meditation are effective for different people. I practice Transcendental Meditation, which involves training and a specific mantra. Other popular methods involve using breathwork, and there are apps that guide users through their meditation practice.

>> Pamper yourself. Deep conditioning, facials, masks, oils, things that smell and feel nice. Treat yo’self when you can.

>> Laugh. With friends, online and off, comrades, Netflix, podcasts, whenever and wherever you find good humor.

In other words, grab onto joy whenever and wherever you find it. It is the antidote to the slog.

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Carmen Dixon is an antiracist vegan, writer, and entrepreneur, who believes we are here to help each other.