Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare. – Audre Lorde
Self-care is important—you know it, we know it, every mental healthcare professional on the planet knows it.
The valuable, emotionally-intensive process of self-care is much more than a bubble bath or buying a new outfit.
The first way you can practice better self-care is by calling it what it is: self-preservation. It’s self-preservation because the process is a much more laborious endeavor than some of us may perceive. It’s an undertaking that can, and should, span the entirety of your life. Adapting as you do.
Self-Preservation is Intentional
Splurging on a couple indulgent items or experiences can be immediately gratifying. But it’s not an effective, long term way to cope with the stressors of your daily life. It can actually worsen your quality of life by tying your ability to take care of yourself to your income and connecting your finances to your emotional wellbeing past a reasonable point.
Common recommendations—exercise, sleep, and time to unplug—are sound advice, but don’t give many directives and leave the hard work of learning self-preservation on your already strained shoulders.
All these activities mentioned are indirect examples of how to be compassionate to ourselves. By breaking down what they actually entail, we can better understand just what it means to take care of ourselves.
Where to Start
The first and most important aspect of self-preservation is taking what you need.
It’s the message at the center of all the aforementioned recommendations. Taking anything for yourself that doesn’t seem immediately productive can bring up feelings of guilt, especially if you are in a high powered environment, city, or workplace.
Don’t let it.
When you’re slowing down or falling behind, the solution isn’t to pump the gas. It’s to step back and examine your basic needs and how to care for yourself like you would any other person you value. Your skill sets, your intellect, and your experiences are nothing without the energy and mental steadiness to use them.
Be intentional with the time you take.
Just as you would structure an approach to any other part of your life, your mental maintenance deserves the same attention. What that means for your individual healing will be just that: individual.
To start off, a common method is to track of your moods by keeping a journal. Try to pinpoint what causes stress and what reduces it. Then, you can build your self-preservation by minimizing your stressors and focusing on what brings you joy.
Self-Preservation is Messy
The most common misunderstanding when it comes to self-preservation is that it is supposed to be a comfortable process. Growth is rarely comfortable, and at the end of the day, working on your emotional and mental health is a growing process.
The best thing you can do for yourself is lean into the discomfort. Self-preservation is an exercise, and to get to the gain, you have to work through the pain. Don’t be afraid to stumble and fall in the process. At the end of the day, you’re taking a more sustainable, comprehensive approach to preserving yourself and your wellbeing.
Featured photography by Pablo Rya