Self-care in the Struggle
Posted on December 12, 2017
Fight, because people will die if they repeal the Affordable Care Act
Fight, because HUD cuts will mean thousands of more people will experience homelessness
Fight, because we know what tax cuts mean for that kid we care about whose family is currently sleeping in their car
Fight, because we can’t let bigotry take the ground we have gained for our friends in the LGBTQ community
Fight, because racist ideology should never determine policy
Fight, fight, fight, if we lose those we love might die
Our fight did not start last January, our struggle for social justice and human rights are timeless. However, our effort does go through different stages and iterations. Old ways of racist, ignorant, and bigoted ideology do not die with a whimper, instead, it must rise so that we may see its true and ugly nature. It is this exposure that motivates the masses to action creating an “equal and opposite reaction” that moves social justice forward and solidifies our gains.
We fight because history shows that those who construct a wall of compassion against hatred and ignorance change societies for the better. As we fight desperately for fundamental human rights such as healthcare and housing, our well-being seems almost selfish to even consider. Understanding that the most significant challenges of our lives await for us in the coming months, we must breathe, refresh, and plan for how we bring our best selves to the fight for the future of those for which we advocate.
Self-care is not an option my friends! It is as much a part of the fight as our community organizing and advocacy to policymakers. Recovery is when our mind and bodies incorporate our exertion and the knowledge we gained into resiliency and increased strength. Without stopping, taking a breath, and reflecting on lessons learned we lose the opportunity to grow and instead become exhausted and ineffective in our work.
Consider what follows my training protocol for the revolution! I want you to be a rock star change agent, your friends and family deserve your best, and those we serve demand we bring all our mental and physical resiliency for the fight of our lifetime. As we say goodbye to one year and look ahead to the next, it is the perfect time to start a self-care regimen, build strength and resiliency, and create habits that will maintain your health and energy well into your future.
Matt’s training regimen for the revolution (please make sure your doctor clears you to participate!):
- The revolution will require you to get approximately 8 hours of sleep a night! Sleep resets all the bodies systems, and without proper sleep, you are not your best. Stop looking at screens (and the news!) an hour before you go to bed, read a fun fiction book or magazine about something interesting, and if you need some more help practice a little mindfulness before bed (see below).
- The revolution requires you to work up a sweat! We are designed to have a physical reaction to stress as our body releases cortisol. If we don’t exercise, the cortisol stays in our bodies dramatically affecting our mental and physical health. Exercise removes cortisol while releasing endorphins which make us feel great. Try to do something several times a week for about 45 minutes where you a sweating most of the time (this seems to be a sweet spot).
- Buddha started a revolution by meditating under a tree! The emotional anger you feel when you watch the news is your sympathetic nervous system doing it’s emotional, stressful, and reactive best to get doing something. While this response motivates us to action, we want to make sure that anger and stress do not become our permanent state. To achieve balance, we strengthen our parasympathetic nervous system which maximizes our intellectual capacity and brings calm to our work when needed. Revolutionary deep breathing (relaxing the sympathetic, strengthening the parasympathetic):
Before work for 5 minutes (10 if you can manage)
Start by thinking about the energy you want to bring to your work that day
Breath in for a count of 5
Exhale for a count of 10 (feel free to adjust the counts, just keep the 1:2 ratio)
After work for 5 or 10 minutes
Identify three positive things that happened during your day
Do the same breathing exercise
- The revolution will make you hungry! Just remember that everything you put in your body becomes the fuel for your brain.
- Revolutionary figures surround themselves with people who bring them joy. Strategically schedule as much time with them as possible. Try talking about something other than work and politics occasionally.
- A successful revolution challenges you to be better than you are today! What can you do each day (or several times a week) to improve your professional performance? Reading a book each month, taking a class, or joining a group like Toastmasters are examples of things you can do that do not add a ton more work to your plate. Improving yourself is an excellent self-care strategy as it puts our successes and failures in the context of a larger journey.
- Setting down your cell phone will not doom the revolution! Checking e-mail at home or on vacation is shown to increase cortisol levels. We need the time to refresh and recover so we can give our best the next day. Every time you bring work home you bring the associated stress home with you. Disconnect for yourself, your family and friends, and for those you advocate. We all need you at your best. Also, make sure you schedule vacations, research shows that an annual two-week vacation keeps us at our best.
- A strong revolutionary needs therapy on occasion! Get support when you need it. Therapy is fantastic! When you feel your work is adversely affecting other parts of your life it is a good sign that you could benefit from talking to someone. As a mental health professional myself, I assure you that we are excellent people and get a ton of training in helping people deal with stress and other issues that affect mental health.
Remember, you are not alone in your struggle. There are thousands of us working every day to help those struggling in our community. We need you at your best to hold on to the gains we made over the last several years and will need you at your best when the tide turns and opportunities present themselves in the future.