Before takeoff, on an airplane, you may hear flight attendants repeat the phrase “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” While this might sound harsh at first ‒ who wouldn’t want to help others when possible? ‒ it makes more sense, the longer you think about it. If you’re gasping for air yourself, how are you going to help anyone else? This is the idea behind radical self-care.
What Is Traditional Self-Care?
Traditional self-care is often what comes to mind when we hear the term self-care. Taking a bath, splurging on something you’ve had your eye on, getting a massage, spending time outdoors, and taking a nap are all examples of traditional self-care. They make you feel better for the time being and help you to relax during times of heightened stress and anxiety. While beneficial in the short-term, the effects of traditional self-care can fade relatively quickly, leaving you in the same place you were before and sometimes feeling worse.
What Is Radical Self Care?
Self-care as a concept was first explored by activist and poet Audre Lorde in her collection of essays, A Burst of Light. At the time, Lorde was battling cancer and wrote this poignant line: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” This is a far cry from the version of self-care we see in popular culture, which encourages spending money as a way to solve your problems.
The act of self-care is supposed to be about taking care of the mind, body, and soul in a deep and meaningful capacity. Face masks, bubble baths, and calls to “treat yo’ self!” are enjoyable and feel good, yes, though often do very little to get to the root of where we need to heal our inner selves.
Activist Aimaloghi Eromosele explains this well,: “The problem with what I’ll call ‘new age self-care’ is that it can become too capitalistically driven and centered on luxurious pampering that has very little to do with sustainable nurturing and all to do with spending money, which for the communities that actually need the most care, they cannot access!”
It’s true: self-care as it’s known today simply isn’t accessible for the people who need it most. Besides the fact that self-care trends tend to be expensive, access to mental health services are out of reach for those without insurance, people dealing with houselessness, and a larger percentage of the population than you may think. Radical self-care isn’t about spending money to solve your problems – it's about getting to the root of your issues and healing yourself.
Health Coaches and self-care
Sometimes learning what you need and how to get it is more than you’re either mentally or physically able to handle; that's where Health Coaches come in. They’re part of your community and a tool to use when you need it. Health Coaches can teach you strategies to practice and embody self-care ‒ and some are even referred to as self-care coaches.
Coaches empower clients to discover what their needs are and develop ways they can take care of personal wellness. Health coaching focuses on all aspects of health and wellness, not only physical health but mental, emotional, spiritual, social, financial, and environmental health, too.
Three Ways to Practice Radical Self-Care
Saying no can often feel like an impossible task. Maybe you feel required to agree to something – spending your time, performing a service, taking on extra responsibilities – or you're afraid to let others down. Saying no doesn’t have to mean refusing everything or important things. Start small, with simple things, and work your way up. And it doesn’t have to mean saying no at all: Delegating or offering a compromise are both ways to refuse without refusing.
Advocate for yourself.
Clarify for yourself (and for others) exactly what you need. This will help you be clear to others about what it is that you want and need for yourself. Radical self-care is only radical “because we live in a world that demands so much from each of us that we feel unable to demand space to feel ourselves,” writes Northern Illinois University professor Suzanne Degges-White, PhD.
You know your needs best, so advocate for yourself. This can look like saying no, asking for space to decompress, or seeking physical or mental health assistance. Advocating for yourself can get you the care you’re looking for and, most important, the care you deserve.
Set time for doing nothing.
In her book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, author Jenny Odell questions everything we consider productive and wants us to give ourselves permission to just exist as human beings. We’re all so caught up in the rat race that we forget we weren’t put on this earth to pay bills and lose weight. Schedule 15 minutes per day to just exist – go out into the sunshine, take some deep breaths, and focus on absolutely nothing.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, you know your needs best. Self-care is taking care of your needs first, however that may look. In a broader sense, radical self-care involves healing your heart and soul (metaphorically) and healing your body in order to keep going. It’s about being present in your own care ‒ recognizing that you care for yourself in an intentional way. Radical self-care is not bought, nor is it found in the popularized products on social media. It’s true and sometimes tough inner work that means making decisions that prioritize your own inner peace and well-being.