Self Care for Activists
by Sica Schmitz | Posted on November 08 2017
This is an absolutely 100% true story.
The other morning I woke up totally exhausted, emotionally drained, and overwhelmed. As usual.
I've really stepped up my activism lately, and it's...tiring. I've been going to the weekly Pig Vigils with LA Animal Save, launched the Fair Trade Fashion Show as its own independent non-profit project, and am still actively working every day for human rights and animal rights and environmental rights through Bead & Reel. Not to mention just the trauma of the daily news. It definitely takes a toll on a person, and I realized that in order to continue doing this kind of work, I need to step up my self care drastically (or, maybe even just do it at all).
But I was already super booked that day and decided I would figure out what "self care" meant later. I created this blog post called Self Care for Activists and saved it, absolutely blank, to remind myself to think about it... eventually. You know, one day in like six years or so when my schedule calms down a bit.
Then, that same day, completely out of the blue, I received an email from Tomorrow Sleep, a mattress company that is basically dedicated to helping people get a good night's sleep so they can be rested and focused to do all the things they really want to be doing instead of yawning. They asked if they could send me a mattress to test out and write about, and I don't think the Universe could have been any more clear that it was time to take self care seriously, like, now.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ~ Audre Lorde
So, now that I am someone who has actually spent some time getting restful nights of sleep in my new, vegan, Made in USA memory foam hybrid mattress (you don't think I would have accepted it if it didn't meet all the boxes on my conscious consumerism checklists, right?), let's talk about self care, and what actually works for busy, distracted people like me and maybe you.
SET SCHEDULE BOUNDARIES
Trust me, I know how out of control all of our calendars are these days. Mine terrifies me regularly. And beyond the stuff we actually schedule, there's just so much that needs to get done in those like, 2 hours where it looks like you have free time between meetings but let's be honest you probably have 3 hours of email replies to fit in there.
Living this way is simply unsustainable (which isn't great for someone running a sustainable business!) so I decided I needed to do something about it and set up a new self-imposed scheduling system. Two weekdays per week I keep empty: no appointments, meetings, networking coffees, or lunch dates. That allows me two entire weekdays where I can focus on catching up on emails and projects and all the little things that fall beyond when I'm constantly interrupted by outside obligations. Sure, my "on days" can get very full (it's not unheard of to have 10 - 12 hours of back-to-back meetings... yikes), but then my "dark days" give me the chance to actually accomplish things and finish tasks and do the most rewarding thing on this entire planet: check something off my To Do list.
INSIST ON A CREATIVE OUTLET
When you're an entrepreneur or an activist or just a human being these days (or even worse: all of them), taking time to do something frivolous and enjoyable can feel sacrilegious. I start to feel guilty every time I'm not working, and I hear from my friends in all different fields the same sentiment. And so we work and work and work and then crash into bed and start over. But that's not healthy, and it's not bringing a lot of beauty or joy into the world. And, we need both!
We really do need a space to express ourselves honestly and creatively. This can be anything - painting, cooking, even just spending time curating your dream life on Pinterest. For me it's writing, just for fun. Don't get me wrong: I really enjoy writing about sustainable fashion for the various outlets I write for (including this), but when it becomes your job, sometimes it starts to feel like.... you know, a job. So I've started doing other creative writing projects, with no goals or analytics or deadlines, and allowing even a small amount of time to do something just because I enjoy it has really made it easier to bring fresh energy and enthusiasm to the things that I don't enjoy quite so much (like, dealing with the patriarchy).
OBVIOUSLY I WAS GOING TO MENTION SLEEP
Beds are very important to me. First of all, I think in general I am someone who needs a lot of sleep. One of my friends recently told me she functions best at 6 hours of sleep per night. That would probably kill me. But also I'm self employed and looooove to work in bed. I know many people frown upon such behavior (you're supposed to separate your personal life and work life, apparently), but, it's honestly one of my greatest pleasures. It's mid-morning and I'm writing this in bed, and I never got to work in bed at any of my other jobs, so I'm going to enjoy it, darn it.
Because of this, I'm pretty excited about this whole new bed situation. When my Tomorrow Sleep mattress arrived (it comes by mail, FYI), I decided to make my own little rest sanctuary: I burned sage over the memory foam for a nice clean start, and I got new sheets (made from 100% US grown Supima cotton, obviously), and I filled my nightstand with inspiring books of activism and poetry. I wanted to create somewhere I would feel just as comfortable unwinding after a difficult night bearing witness at a slaughterhouse as I would would spending a lazy morning reading. And of course, I wanted to be comfortable sleeping in it, too (which, I am!).
I also started using their Sleeptracker Monitor and finally realized what I've doing wrong all these years: I hadn't realized that sleep was a competition. I have always been a straight-A, overachieving personality type, and now that I have sleep goals to beat (from hours to efficiency to a literal nightly sleep score), and can compare mine not only to my previous nights but also to my partner's score and the larger sleep community, I have suddenly gotten very serious about sleep. All these years I had just been sleeping because I was tired, but now I can sleep because I am working towards being the best. I'm currently only in the top 9%, but with dedication and hard work and a strong belief in myself, I think I can be the most rested ever.
By the way, if you want to be bed buddies, you can get $150 off any order over $500 with Tomorrow Sleep using this special code: BR150 (ends 12/31/17).
ISN'T IT SO ANNOYING WHEN PEOPLE TELL YOU TO MEDITATE?
Yes, even you, as a busy activist, have time to meditate. It's basically just sitting, and it doesn't have to be for very long. Plus it's something you can do at home, any time of day, for any length of time, and it costs nothing (I mean, you can spend a lot of money on it if you want, but, it's definitely not necessary).
This year especially has seemed to put everyone on edge (or maybe that's just me?), so if you want to try some feel-good guided mediations to relax or center or calm your (totally justifiable) frustrations at the world, I really love the (free) online meditations by my girl-crush Jessica Snow (her in-person sessions are fabulous too, if you're in LA!). I also recently started putting on guided meditations by The Honest Guys while I'm falling asleep (they have a free Roku app!), because now that I'm like, an adult with a fancy adult bed, I figured I can't just lull myself to sleep with 30 Rock on repeat for the rest of my life and/or this current presidency (or whichever ends first).
And, no matter how rested and zen and woke you are, let's be honest, sometimes this is the meditation that will fix everything.
ISN'T IT SO ANNOYING WHEN PEOPLE TELL YOU TO EXERCISE?
I recently saw a friend who runs a fabulous but strenuous non-profit and she was saying how she keeps being told to fight burnout with exercise, but she's doesn't even have the time or energy to shower most days. And I know the feeling! But, those of us who spend a lot of time at our desks or in our heads need to sometimes you know, move our bodies.
There are so many cool kinds of exercise readily available these days, but as an introvert with traffic anxiety, I figured out the one thing I can actually enjoy: yoga, alone, at home. I've been using YogaGlo for years and love that it doesn't require going anywhere and I can choose any class duration or type of yoga, any time of day. I have all my favorite teachers and never have to talk to anyone and there is no pressure to be cute or flexible. Plus it makes my Sleeptracker Monitor happy when I exercise, and as a people-pleaser-and-apparently-also-now-gadget-pleaser, if it's happy, I'm happy.
But whatever your exercise of choice, please prioritize it, and, maybe even try to fit in a shower. if you're feeling really optimistic.
The world can be a.....bummer. But it can also be an amazingly beautiful place. Don't let the bad news and the hard fights get you down. Watch uplifting videos, hang out with kind people, and read books that keep you feeling refreshed and motivated (need a recommendation? Join our Activist Book Club!).
It's our job as activists to take care of ourselves, and to consistently renew the energy, the courage, and the motivation needed to make the world a better place.
Please note: I love getting your thoughts and feedback in the comments below, but unfortunately this system won't let me reply! If you have a question, feel fee to write me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org