Self-care for people who don’t want to practice yoga or eat more vegetables.

A green cactus in a terra-cotta pot sits on a table. Title text above the cactus reads: Self-care for people who don't want to practice yoga or eat more vegetables.

-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

For the past three years, I’ve attended and facilitated professional learning events about trauma-informed practice. Each event included a section on self-care. Sometimes I would share a breathing activity, or a list of inexpensive ways participants might treat themselves or their staff. More recently, I’ve participated in Zoom-yoga, and have run across two or three invitations to online meditation groups.

To be clear:

  • I like yoga.
  • If you want me to love a gift, make it a gift card to a coffee shop with a drive through.
  • I meditate every day after lunch.

And none of those things really have much to do with the kind of self-care that will protect caring professionals from moral injury and trauma.

For someone wondering why their organization’s wellness initiative isn’t working, why productivity is declining, or why employees are resigning, it’s not for lack of supervisors telling employees to ‘take care of yourselves.’ Rather, it’s that most nonprofits and school systems are marketing a commercialized approach to self-care that rarely considers the “self” that needs care. 

Offering yoga classes are great for people who have the time and want to do them. Telling people to treat themselves to a latte is nice for people who can afford it. And for many people, lack of yoga and lattes isn’t really the issue. Leaders who want to support their team by making self-care a priority throughout the organization must understand that self-care happens from the inside out, and it happens person by person.

When I lead workshops on self-care, I always begin by saying that this workshop is not about mindfulness or about eating more vegetables. Instead, I use the Eight Dimensions of Wellness as a way of helping each participant consider as many or as few opportunities to practice self-care as they wish. Sometimes, people connect with a mindfulness practice. Often, people take a moment to schedule a neglected visit to the dentist. Once, someone even decided not to donate to their cousin’s nonprofit, and later described how their guilt evaporated when they were able to contribute to something that mattered to them.

“Self-care is saying yes to what I want, and no to what I don’t want. And “I want to” or “I don’t want to” is all the reason I need.”

Dr. Sharla horton-Williams, School Leadership for Social Justice

Dr. Sharla Horton-Williams explained self-care to me succinctly: “Self-care is saying yes to what I want, and no to what I don’t want. And “I want to” or “I don’t want to” is all the reason I need.” The next time I’m thinking about signing up for a yoga class, downloading a meditation app, or visiting the coffee shop drive-though, I’m going to listen to Dr. Horton-Williams and consider whether I’m saying yes to what I want, or instead saying yes to something I’m supposed to or am expected to want. And, the next time someone asks me to be on a committee, help them move, or sign up for something I don’t want to do, maybe I’ll be at least a little braver about saying, “Thanks for thinking of me, but not this time.”

Self-care is important, and it is my belief that self-care is a professional responsibility for caring professionals. And, sometimes, a latte—no matter how delicious—isn’t what my body, mind, and heart wants or needs. If you want to practice self-care, but don’t want to practice yoga or eat more vegetables, start with something you want to do. Leave the rest for someone who likes that kind of stuff.

Coming in 2021: Self-care and identity: Self-care happens from the inside out. Join us for a powerful and supportive opportunity to reflect on how race, ethnicity, family values, gender identity, and sexual orientation inform and affect our approach to self-care. 

Workshops will be online on 27-28 January 2021, 10:00am-11:30am and 3:30pm-5:00pm MT. Click here to register.

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