How To Prioritize Self-Care When There Are So Many Barriers To Putting Yourself First

A Black woman is not a machine. She is a living, breathing being in need of nourishment and rest. When you first read this statement you might think, “duh, I know that!” However, are you truly living, breathing, and consciously replenishing your being? If your answer is no, you are not alone.

Many Black women, myself included, have been socially engineered to carry it all, endure it all, and take care of it all, and if there’s a little bit of time and energy left after doing so, we then consider tending to our own needs.

Historically, African-American women have been revered by their communities. When it comes to healing, conflict resolution, and leadership, the Black woman has always been the glue that holds a complex patchwork of the community together. This role played throughout history, while a great honor, becomes problematic when it becomes our sole identity. We are well aware that we are much more than what we do for others. However, some of us guilt ourselves into believing that our community will not function without our constant presence and involvement. This is false. You need a break, sis.

The benefit of taking a break is twofold: You will not only model to your community the value of caring for self, but you will also be more productive after your pause. We have to let go of the idea that others need us before we need ourselves, as it’s the only way that we can truly take care of us. This false belief is one of the greatest barriers that stand between the Black woman and her care for self. Doing this can obviously be easier said than done because we have been socially conditioned to believe that the only way we can be seen and valued is if we are doing for others or we’re constantly keeping busy. And yet, this belief system can have great psychological effects on us, negative ones, if we are not intentional about truly slowing down and looking after ourselves.

As a trained mental health professional, I have worked with countless Black women and have seen their mental state deteriorate when they do not take care of themselves. This descent can manifest itself through mental breakdowns, physical illnesses and the inability to maintain responsibilities due to being stretched too thin. I have found that if we do not incorporate intentional self-care throughout our busy lives, we are quick to take to “quick fixes” and maladaptive coping mechanisms that can do more harm than good (i.e., consuming unhealthy substances, compulsive behaviors), all in an effort to escape hurt and frustration. Research suggests that there is a correlation between income and accessibility to self-care activities for 49 percent of Black women, but the practice does not necessarily have to cost any money.

So how do we truly show ourselves some love?

When you hear “self-care,” a variety of images come to your mind. You probably think of getting your nails done or taking a long bath. These are invaluable tasks that aide in one’s ability to unwind and relax. But what if I were to ask you, what does self-care look like for you in particular? Once you have immersed yourself in these tasks, do you feel replenished and recharged? Did you choose an activity that you saw work for others?

If you’re seeking some direction to figure out how to put your well-being first, you can practice self-care by keeping in mind a few important things. For one, you need to learn what truly replenishes you. Once you figure that out, whether it be going for a walk or zoning out in a bath, carve out time to incorporate it into your lifestyle. Setting aside that time should not be optional, but rather, required. If you believe that taking care of yourself is arbitrary, that is another idea that needs to be unlearned. It’s also important to mention that while going to get your nails done or traveling as a form of self-care can be a source of great joy for some, again, taking care of yourself doesn’t have to cost money. It’s about doing something that makes you happy, and it can be an easier than we realize.

Most importantly, in the effort to look after self, make sure you’re holding yourself accountable to that need, but that you’re also giving yourself grace. It is crucial to note that there is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to caring for yourself. If whatever you choose to do brings you peace, without disrupting the peace of others, then it’s the perfect path to a healthier you. And a healthier you can be the best you — for yourself and others.

Nyanda Sam-King, MSW

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