Burnout Is Not Beautiful
"Something I often forget to say, and it’s so important, is the significance of self care and how that has to be incorporated in all of our efforts. And this is something new. This is something that I have learned from younger generations. This means exercising the body. This means finding a space for spiritual expression. This holistic approach to organizing is, I think, what is going to eventually move us along the trajectory that may lead to some victories."
These words are taken from part of a speech that Angela Davis gave at Pacific University, Oregon in 2014. As a political activist since the 1960s, this is a woman who can truly testify as to how crucial it is to make social change sustainable.
Self care has become a phrase that we use often, especially in recent years. But this is more than a buzzword, much more than a spa session. Self care is the very foundation of the sustenance needed to navigate these challenging times.
Burnout is not beautiful, and we are juggling and absorbing more than ever.
But what does self care actually look like on a day to day basis? And how do we determine how much time we dedicate to activism vs. the time we spend on our own spiritual, emotional and physical sustenance?
The answers may be different for each of us. There are so many intersections that come into play. Some of us have dependents or time constraints. Some of us have chronic pain or disability or financial stress. Some of us are living with more oppression than others.
We are not all having the same experience.
However, it may be true to say that none of us benefit from continually running ourselves into the ground and then hoping that a twenty minute Epsom salt bath is going to magically restore us.
I’ve learned, over time, that the quick fixes don’t lend themselves well to the long term living. They are too fleeting, too momentary.
For me, it is a matter of taking the thread of self care and weaving it in to everything I do. And this does not mean that I take myself off to get manicures or go on shopping trips or long expensive lunches. My self care has never looked like that.
It's more of an awareness. A way of keeping close to the core of me. Checking in with myself to see how I'm feeling that day, that hour, that moment.
It's noticing what the symptoms of overwhelm look like. Asking myself if I can lighten the load. If I can ask for help. If I can take some long breaths or a short break.
And, because much of our living is now online, it's also being honest with ourselves about which interactions are meaningful or useful, and which are depleting and pointless.
My social media self care often looks like taking breaks away from scrolling or posting. It helps me to get much clearer about my own voice and my own message. We often absorb (and echo) so much of what is around us. It’s hard to get clarity if we can’t catch some of our own silence and sit with it for a while.
I also have a renewed sense of hope and direction when I'm not overloading my brain with excess information. It is possible to stay connected to the issues that so many of us are dealing with globally, without reading countless opinion pieces.
This discernment allows me to remember my No. (No, I don’t have to read every single article I’m tagged in. No, I cannot reply to ten messages and still do the work I need to do. No, I will not post something that feels inauthentic, even if I know I will be “liked” more because of it).
I choose news sources and mentors mindfully. I am more deliberate about the change that I can influence in the world. I am clearer about what I personally need to incorporate into my life in order for me to thrive in the world.
This translates to our offline living, too. We don't have to accept every invitation. We don't have to attend every event. We don't have to carve ourselves into a thousand pieces so we can be all things to all people.
I believe that in a time of global uncertainty and overwhelm, it is creativity that offers us sustainability. We cannot take away every tragedy we witness, but we can create something from it. Always.
And there, in the creating, is the beautiful exhale that comes with self expression.
This is self care. This is sustenance.
I also believe in movement as medicine. I am blessed with an able body, and flowing through a series of sun salutations on my yoga mat can help to shift the inner heaviness and stagnant energy.
But, simply noticing movement is also medicinal. I like to watch leaves blow in the wind. I like to watch waves ripple. I like to watch birds in flight. I like the reminders that fluidity and freedom are feelings.
I seek out beauty and joy daily. This is part of my self care thread. On different days, for different reasons, I may seek out different things. Nature. Movies. Fiction. Naps. Poetry. Animals. Art. There are so very many things that help me to reset. All of them have one thing in common: they are rooted in simplicity.
I am always looking for bridges to the next breath.
Shaping a lasting revolution means letting go of the endless fighting hours and ineffective quick fixes. When we honor our own needs, when we stay connected to the thread of who we are, we bring that same intention and awareness to our collective fabric. And that's how a movement becomes sustainable and victorious.