We lift each other up when we care for our community.
Self-care has become a buzzword, a mantra, and a commodity over the past few years. The upside is that people are learning to take responsibility for their own well-being in a variety of ways.
Self-care is work, and it puts the onus on the individual to ensure their own health and well-being are prioritized.
Unfortunately, it’s often oversimplified.
Self-care can be reduced to a feel-good activity that can be part of the work, but as a one-off activity, it can never be enough to sustain people. Self-care can even become a burden.
On top of that, the people with the greatest need often don’t have the support necessary for true self-care.
Many are busy caring for others. People experiencing poverty may not have the resources to participate in self-care rituals. Those working multiple jobs don’t have the time for anything “extra.” And Black people are inundated with work, news, trauma, and activism.
A shift to community care is necessary.
It’s the only way to ensure the needs of the most marginalized people are met, and it can help to redistribute resources to those who need them most.
Neoliberalism has taught us to function as individuals, with our attention on our own success and well-being. It convinces us that we are, or should be, totally independent.
In this “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” way of thinking, it’s assumed that individuals already have the resources necessary for self-care.
Community care recognizes that we don’t all have equal access to time and money, which are the main resources required for care.
It reminds us that we as human beings are interdependent.
The third level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is “a sense of belonging and love.” We have a psychological need for intimate relationships and, for many of us, we depend on those relationships to meet our physiological needs.
If you’re able to practice self-care, that’s great. Just don’t forget about the people around you. No matter how privileged we are, we still need human connection. We still need to give and receive love.
Here are six ways to shift your thinking to community care, considering the needs of your family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, group members, and others you interact with on a regular basis.
In many cultures, it’s a norm to open conversations and even transactions with “How are you?” It’s a question asked quickly and automatically, often without waiting for an answer.
Instead of asking people how they’re doing, clearly state that you’re checking in with them.
One way to do this is by saying, “Hi, I wanted to check in with you. How are you feeling?”
If you know the person is particularly overwhelmed or having a difficult time, you may want to be specific.
You can say: “Hey, I know you’re working from home and taking care of your grandmother. How are you managing?”
You can also ask people if they’re finding time to do anything other than work. If you can’t help, you can show moral support. If you’re able to help, you can make an offer.
Sometimes we experience similar circumstances. While socioeconomic status and demographics change the way we navigate these circumstances, there are universal elements to every challenge.
Working with the same difficult co-worker, having no help with childcare, or being in quarantine are all frustrating issues you may not be able to change — but you can talk about it.
Empathy is not the same as dwelling on an issue, and it’s not about feeling bad for someone.
Empathy is understanding and feeling what someone else is feeling. It’s a way to validate someone’s thoughts and feelings and let them know they’re seen.
Part of being in a community is acknowledging difficulties as much as we celebrate achievements. This makes it OK to experience both the ups and downs of being human.
Make a specific offer
We can often intuit when other people are having a difficult time. When we’re able, most of us like to help.
One of the failings of self-care is that it’s difficult to pinpoint what you need when you need it the most.
When someone says, “Let me know how I can help,” we understand it as a kind gesture. Still, it often ends there because we’re burdened with the self-assessment and solution-building process.
A part of community care is assessing what others may need, offering to provide it, and following through when the offer is accepted.
Instead of vaguely telling someone you’re willing to help, anticipate their needs and make an offer.
Ask if you can deliver a meal for their family, do their grocery shopping, fix the leaking sink, draft the email they’re struggling to send, or create a playlist with feel-good music.
If you’re checking in regularly, or you’ve spent time empathizing, you’ll know what to do.
It’s easy to glorify busyness and celebrate accomplishments, but this often leads to imbalance.
We need to be able to balance work with the rest of our lives and not use work as a distraction or escape from the challenges we face.
Some stressed individuals may shift their attention to work, try to increase productivity, and seek a higher sense of self-worth through endless to-do lists.
But communities can help prioritize well-being.
Productivity, whether at work, in volunteerism, or at home, is often valued more than health and well-being. We unintentionally communicate that productivity is better than and in competition with rest.
People need permission to take time off. That permission comes from their community.
If you know someone is working 60 hours per week and they’re showing up to volunteer for 10 hours, remind them that rest is not only possible — but necessary.
Appreciate their commitment, but prioritize their well-being. You just might help prevent burnout.
Employers can encourage staff to use personal time off, offer mental health days, and implement company-wide days of rest.
Take a cue from the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. In response to the impact of COVID-19, they instigated a 15-day organization-wide pause. Similarly, the Equality Fund took two months of rest.
Socialize, for real
With so much going on in the world, we forget to just relax and enjoy each other’s company. This is separate from checking in, empathizing, or doing acts of service for each other.
It’s important to have time together free from thoughts and conversations about the things that aren’t going well.
Watch great movies, check out the new restaurant in the neighborhood, choreograph a dance to the latest hip hop hit, play a raucous game of Taboo, or take a class together. Much of this can be done virtually, too.
Use this time to be together as a community that’s not bound together only by the struggles you share, but by your common humanity. Connection itself is reason enough.
Step up when you witness harassment or discrimination. If you have it, use your privilege to stand up for those who do not.
If you see a white person attempt to touch a Black person’s hair, stop them. Firmly state that it’s racist behavior, and ask them to apologize and do better. Then, check in with the wronged person to see how they’re feeling and if they need further support.
After a microaggression, some may want support in escalating, perhaps reporting to human resources if this happens at work.
Your intervention puts you between the person being violated and the perpetrator, which can immediately defuse the situation.
The pressure is taken off the person who would’ve had to decide how to respond in the moment, and deflects the perpetrator’s attention to you.
Easing the burden other people carry and speaking up so they don’t have to is an important part of community care.
Even as we become more attuned to the needs of people in our communities and try to respond to them, self-care will continue to be necessary.
We will still need to clean, feed, and clothe ourselves, make dental appointments, organize our kitchen pantries, see therapists, drink water, and try to move our bodies more.
Doing these things together and for each other creates a sense of belonging and builds the intimacy that’s one of our basic needs.
It reminds us that we weren’t meant to walk these paths alone, but to learn from and care for one another as we find better ways to live together.
The challenges will keep coming, but our communities have the resources to get us all through.
Alicia A. Wallace is a queer Black feminist, women’s human rights defender, and writer. She’s passionate about social justice and community building. She enjoys cooking, baking, gardening, traveling, and talking to everyone and no one at the same time on Twitter.