Musings in the Olive Grove

Self-Care and the Activist


“Caring for myself is not Self-Indulgence; it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” Audre Lorde; radical feminist, civil rights activist and writer. Lorde reminds us that self-care in and of itself is a powerful form of activism. 

How can activists sustain themselves in an era of social and ecological transition? How can those who give of themselves tirelessly to challenge the current dominant paradigm for creating a compassionate ecological society renew and regenerate their energies and not slip into overwhelming despair? In this musing, we will explore the foundational tools for self-care and the steps that activists can take to battle the impact of physical and mental stress and fatigue. 

Understand the Foundations

When it comes to practices that reduce stress and build resilience, remember that one size does not fit all. Be your own experiment, and explore what nurtures and refreshes you; mind, body and spirit. Oh, and more importantly, give yourself permission to care for yourself!

First, we begin by laying solid foundations:

  • Nutritious food
  • Getting a good night’s sleep
  • Incorporating enjoyable movement in our day

It is not unusual for someone to say to me, “yes, well, I know all that”. My question is, “yes, and do you implement these foundations in your life”?

Heed Epicurean Wisdom

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a significant role in our health and overall quality of life. Keeping dopamine levels up will improve our mood and assist us in making good decisions. Our dopamine levels become depleted through neglecting the foundational aspects of self-care and, consequently, become too worn out to prioritise care for ourselves. When dopamine levels are low, we tend to choose the path of least resistance. 

For example, you are feeling stressed, tired, and sleep deprived, and you come home to a fridge filled with ingredients to cook a nutritious meal. Instead, you order pizza and open up a bottle of wine. It is easy to incorporate healthy foods that naturally raise dopamine levels into our diet. 

Some of these foods include:

  • raw chocolate
  • watermelon
  • berries
  • avocados
  • leafy greens
  • bananas
  • nuts and seeds

Find Renewal in Sleep

Are you getting a good night’s sleep? Sleep is restorative and plays a vital role in maintaining good health. During sleep, our body supports healthy brain function and maintains physical health. Working in partnership with our bodily wisdom creates optimal conditions for overall well-being. 

Everyone is different regarding food sensitivities and this also applies to caffeine. Some can drink an expresso at midnight and go straight to sleep afterwards, and those who know they will be wide awake for hours should they attempt such a feat. Know your body and listen to essential cues. If you are under stress or distressed, the last thing your system needs is more agitation. 

Some delicious decaf options available may help, should you be interested in reducing your caffeine consumption. For example, herbal teas, which calm and prepare the mind for sleep, now come in a wide variety. Chamomile and valerian are well known for their sleep-inducing properties.  

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, and melatonin is a hormone. Both support a good night’s sleep. Tryptophan plays a role in the production of serotonin, a mood stabiliser, and melatonin, which helps regulate sleep patterns. The body does not produce tryptophan, and must be obtained through diet. 

Foods that promote sleep include:

  • milk
  • oats
  • cheese
  • almonds
  • salmon
  • honey
  • bananas
  • chocolate

Listen to Your Body

The body picks up stress in our environment long before our conscious mind does. Every organ in our body holds emotional receptor sites. Therefore, the body speaks to us through the language of emotion. So, if you want to know how you feel, the mantra is out of my head and into my body.   

This practice is called cultivating interoceptive awareness. Which is about developing the ability to detect and evaluate the cues that our physiological reactions give us in response to external events and how to regulate our emotions as they arise. Knowing how to do this provides a distinct advantage when life throws challenges our way. 

Recognising our body’s early warning signs for when we are feeling stressed, angry or frightened and having techniques that we know work for us in our tool kit, we can adjust our responses in a resourceful manner. So how do we do that? 

Let’s start with a body scan designed to help us tune into the body and reconnect with our physical selves. We notice without judgement any sensations that surface; this assists us in developing an excellent early warning system for stressors and helps us to be more present in our lives. Whilst relaxation may be a by-product, the ultimate goal of the body scan is physical awareness. After a while, it will become second nature for you to check in with your body and recognise the physical language of fear, anger, frustration, joy and other emotions. It is quite liberating and empowering. 

Where do you hold tension in your body? Neck, shoulders, lower back? Bodywork is essential to get us out of our heads, relieve tension, and move stuck emotional energy. Body work such as massage, acupuncture, reflexology, reiki, and chiropractic support are some examples.  

How do you like to move your body? Do you like walking, running, dancing, going to the gym, practising tai chi or yoga? Find ways to incorporate movement in your life which you enjoy, give you a break from your thoughts and help you to relax. 

Fiercely guard your psyche by limiting trauma inputs. What I mean by this is to choose what information deserves your attention consciously. Do the books, social media, movies and conversations you have uplift you or leave you feeling despondent and drained? Choose what uplifts your heart, thoughts and emotions. Focus on the things that enrich life, inspire, add beauty and offer respite from the work so that you can do the work

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