Demystifying Self-Care


The first time I heard the phrase “self-care” was in a workshop for first-year students at my divinity school. I had no idea what it meant, much less how to practice it, but I was too embarrassed to say anything.

This week I visited Duke Divinity School to deliver the Jill Raitt workshop for their annual Women’s Week. The theme was “Women Flourishing,” and together we unpacked the language of “self-care” and strategized ways to create more space for it in our lives.

From the beginning I confessed to the group that while I advocate strongly for the well-being of women and girls, I often deprioritize my own needs. I knew from the nods in the room that this is a common experience for graduate students, ministers, activists and other justice-seekers striving for a better world.


In 1988 Audre Lorde wrote, “Self-care is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” How do we best preserve ourselves in these challenging political times, so that we can continue our work of compassion and justice?

I did a lot of research on best self-care practices for my presentation at Duke, and now I want to share with you my top three resources for activists in search of more self-care.

  • Healers of Color on Why Self-Care is Not Self-Indulgence. Miriam Zoila Pérez, gender columnist for Colorlines, interviews self-care advocates from different traditions on how we can apply Lorde’s words to today’s struggles. I love this quote from La Sarminento: “Know that in any given moment, our comrades are working for causes that matter. For one of us to take a break for a few minutes or a few days is totally OK.”
  • Write a Wellness Prescription. Rosie Molinary, a radical self-acceptance champion, leads us through assessing the different aspects of our personal wellness–spiritual, mental, physical, emotional–and developing strategies and practices to meet our specific needs. Since I work from home one of the elements of my prescription is making social plans with a friend or colleague once a week. Instead of grabbing lunch or coffee I’ve started inviting people to do “walk and talks” when the weather is nice.
  • A Deep Breathing Exercise to Do Anytime. This simple visualization can help us slow down and deepen our breathing. When I practice this I like to repeat to myself the mantra “I am enough” on in the inhale and on the exhale say “I am not all things.” I encouraged the students at Duke to try this next time they are in a group setting and tensions are high. Pausing business for a moment to take some communal deep breaths can help reset the energy in the room.

And here’s one last BONUS TIP from me Try making a “not-to-do” list of things that you won’t spend time on that day or week. For me so much of self-care is about creating space for less effort. Having a “not-to-do” list helps .

What are your most important self-care practices?

7 thoughts on “Demystifying Self-Care

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