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Self-care in times of distress: Create your own “self-care toolbox” (here’s a list of 51 self-care options)

There’s so much talk about self-care these days. It seems like we’re constantly reacting to something terrible happening in the country and across the globe. We are inundated with tragic or disturbing news every day and the intensity seems to be on a steady climb. On top of that, we hold in so much stress and anxiety from our own life experiences.

There is no doubt we need self-care.

So what is (and is not) self-care? Well, well, for all answers about life, we obviously should turn to Audre Lorde:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” 
― Audre Lorde

Here’s what I believe self-care is:

  • It’s about refueling ourselves so we can continue our work
  • It’s about drawing boundaries so we can stay whole
  • It’s about pausing to take a breath so we don’t collapse
  • It’s about acknowledging that we’re running a marathon, not a sprint
  • It’s about being vulnerable and honest with ourselves so we can allow others to be vulnerable
  • It’s about knowing ourselves intimately
  • It’s about honoring our struggles and celebrating our being
  • It’s about choosing to value ourselves when it feels like no one else is
  • It’s about creating space for ourselves so we can create space for others
  • It’s about loving ourselves so we can continue to love others
  • It’s about healing ourselves so we can heal others
  • It’s about giving ourselves permission to feel and pursue joy
  • It’s about knowing we are enough. Always

Here’s what I think self-care is NOT:

  • It’s not checking out completely ← important!
  • It’s not pursuing “guilty pleasures” for the sake of indulging
  • It’s not selfish
  • It’s not a one-time thing or a prescription for burnout
  • It’s not an excuse to become apathetic to others’ suffering
  • It’s not the same for everyone

Self-care should be an ongoing practice. For folks doing social justice work, it’s especially important to know when and how to care for ourselves, so we can continue the work.

It’s important to acknowledge that self-care is closely tied to power and privilege — marginalized people have different self-care needs than privileged people. People of color and women of color, queer and trans people, folks with disability go through life experiencing a much higher level of stress and anxiety than their white, hetero, cis, able-bodied counterparts. Marginalized people also do a lot more emotional labor. So excuse me when I give a little side eye to straight cis white men saying they “don’t read the news because it’s too depressing.” But I digress.

So how can we practice self-care?

  1. Know when you need self-care
    “How do you know when you need self-care?” Sometimes when we realize we need self-care, it’s when we’re already exhausted and beat up. Knowing when you need to turn inward and prioritize yourself is key to actually practicing self-care. This was a great piece of advice from Rich Russo, founder of The Elephant in the Room.
  2. Make a list of your self-care options
    It’s your “self-care toolbox.” Or a box of “self care chocolates.” Ok, it’s just a list of all the things you can do to care for yourself. Having a list of options readily available is hugely helpful because when you really need self-care, you may not have the capacity to think about what you need. I have a list of 51 things I can do when I’m feeling down or nearing burnout, which I’ve shared below so you can get some ideas.
  3. Commit to practicing self-care
    Having a list is useless if you don’t actually do them. Once you’ve decided on a few options, commit to doing them. I like to schedule things on my calendar so I remember to practice them, or tell a friend so they can hold me accountable for actually following through. Text your bestie “I’m going to go for a walk tomorrow morning. Make sure I do it!!”

Need inspiration for your self-care toolbox? Here’s my list of 51 self-care options. I first created this list back in March and have been adding to it.

My “Self-Care Toolbox”: 51 things I can do when I need self-care

  1. Hot shower in the dark with candles lit
  2. Candle-lit yoga at Yoga to the People
  3. Cook a healthy meal
  4. Box
  5. Outdoors run
  6. Walk
  7. Sit at Dolores Park on my favorite bench
  8. Embarcadero happy place
  9. Call friends / family (list out the names)
  10. Hold / play with a baby
  11. Get an ice cream cone and walk around
  12. Cry
  13. Journal
  14. Write a blog post
  15. Breathe
  16. Email Larry
  17. Remember grandparents
  18. Go hiking
  19. Go to Ocean beach
  20. Hug someone for a while
  21. Clean
  22. Meditate
  23. Listen to Ericka Huggins and remember her wisdom
  24. Drink tea
  25. Go to Berkeley
  26. Go to Barry’s
  27. Go out and dance
  28. Go to Kabuki
  29. Hike the Big C
  30. Go see mom
  31. Thank someone
  32. Read mom’s maternity journal
  33. Open up memory box and read some cards
  34. Go to the movie theater
  35. Eat Korean food
  36. Make to-do lists
  37. Read my diary from the past
  38. Remember Ashok
  39. Read my list of gratitudes
  40. Message Steph Lee
  41. Plan a potluck
  42. Listen to music
  43. Go to Stinson beach
  44. Drive somewhere, anywhere
  45. Get away for the weekend
  46. Book a trip to San Diego
  47. Plan a vacation
  48. Watch the video of mom talking about Worry Dolls
  49. Browse old travel photos / videos
  50. Wander the city
  51. Date night with bae
 List of my self care options written in my Evernote

List of my self care options written in my Evernote

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About Michelle Kim

Michelle is an entrepreneur, activist, speaker, and a coach passionate about empowering individuals and organizations to create positive change. She is the co-founder of Awaken and owner of Michelle Kim Consulting.

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