Radical Selfcare as the Gateway to Overall Wellbeing — Lionesses of Africa

by Emily Kandanga    

I love that we now live in a world where prioritising your physical, mental & emotional well-being is being celebrated and encouraged because for far too long people who so boldly chose their happiness over others, were labelled as selfish. 

Radical self-care is truly the gateway to your overall well-being. It is the assertion that you have the responsibility to take care of yourself first before even attempting to take care of others. It is so necessary to fill your cup first, put on your oxygen mask first. This is what will give you the capacity and energy to heal, move forward and to be able to hold space for others. It is even more important for women of colour to practice self-care in order to deal with the daily onslaught of racism, sexism, homophobia, and class oppression.

Radical self-care is not about mindlessly taking a bubble bath without actually scrubbing yourself clean. You can’t just light candles to mask bad odours and musty things – you actually have to take the time to really address the root cause of the unpleasantness. True radical self-care is about being honest with yourself and taking care of things at the source rather than just sugar-coating or simply managing the symptoms. 

Myers and Sweeney (2004)* curated a model of wellness that is built around the concept of the indivisible self, this is a holistic approach in which mind, body and spirit are integrated in a purposeful manner with a goal of living life more fully. It includes 5 basic elements of self, the coping self, social self, physical self, essential self, and creative self. These are the aspects of self that we need to protect & care for in order to maintain our wellbeing, peace, and balance in this crazy world. So, what does radical self-love for each of these aspects look like? 

Self-Care for Your Coping Self

In order to deal and thrive through the unpredictability of life, frustrations you face, the hurt people spew at you – you need to have strong and accessible coping tools. This can be found in the way you intellectually respond to these attacks on your well-being and how you balance these opinions in your own behaviours. Make sure that you aren’t simply accepting these messages – challenge them, reject them! Do not let your self-worth be diminished by the influence of negative people who are busy avoiding their own personal development and care. 

Self-Care for Your Social Self

Research shows that having a healthy social system is tethered to having a long and healthy life. As humans we crave connection, a sense of belonging and mattering – whether we find that in romantic love or platonic love. Radical self-care for your social self may require you cutting ties with individuals who no longer support you or diminish your sense of self-worth. Boundaries are an essential part of this aspect – we thrive when we have the space to be in a relationship with and not subsumed by others. 

Self-Care for Your Physical Self

When we get stuck in our heads, we may tend to forget to take care of our bodies. However, we need to take care of our bodies because it is our bodies that in turn take care of our minds. Making time for physical exercise on a regular basis will not only keep our bodies in good shape but also help minimize both depression and anxiety. Nutrition also deserves our attention – by keeping hydrated and eating a healthy diet, we are also showing up & loving on our brains. Nutrition can play a huge role in mood, energy, vigour, stamina, and perspective. Showing up for this aspect can look like blocking out time to meal prep and scheduling and sticking to your workouts for the week. 

Self-Care for Your Essential Self

Your essential part is the part of you that makes you unique, the part of you that reflects your cultural identity, spirituality – it is your innate sense of self. This is the space from which we are driven to our purpose in life. It is the part of us which ‘we come home to’ when we feel battered by life or need to seek a sense of security. It is where we can feel optimism, hope and a connection to something beyond ourselves – through faith, organised religion, spirituality, goodness, and morality.  

Radical self-care is needed most when we feel disconnected from others or despair about our lives or the world. We care for this self through spending time alone when we need it, and spending time with those who truly get us and accept us as we are. 

Bringing a non-judgmental perspective to self-reflection is radical self-care of this aspect of self. Honouring our cultural identity — gender, family, community, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and any other unique aspects of how you see yourself in this world — is healing and nurturing as well. Owning your values, owning where you stand in this world on big issues, and protecting these standpoints when others criticize or condemn them is radical self-care.

Self-Care for Your Creative Self

Our creative self is how we express ourselves in this world. This expression can be through words, images, music, art, poetry, actions, dance, and movement – whatever other way you can let yourself communicate. Our creative self includes our thoughts, feelings, sense of humour, how we exert control over our lives and what type of activities we engage in. 

We create each moment we experience as we move through this world – all of us are co-creators of our own lives. Radical self-care for our creative self includes checking in to make sure that we are living from our own truths and perceptions of the world and not those of others. It can also include honouring our emotions and managing them in a way that is healthy and not detrimental to you or those around you. 

Learning to take radical responsibility for our actions – giving ourselves permission to laugh, cry, hope, dream and finding healthy ways to control our environments is self-care. Giving ourselves space to sort through confusing emotions and clear our heads and refusing to let others tell you what you do or do not feel is self-care.

The Whole Is More Than the Sum of the Parts

We are multidimensional beings; we cannot know ourselves or another if we neglect to know the various components of the indivisible self. Each and every aspect must be nourished and expressed in unique ways – some tangible, some ephemeral. Radical self-care is assertively carving out the space where you can safely heal and grow and make sense of the world around you and the world within you. It is only radical because we live in a world that demands so much from each of us that we feel unable to demand space to feel ourselves.

*Myers, JE & Sweeney, TJ (2004). The Indivisible Self: An Evidence-Based Model of Wellness. Journal of Individual Psychology, 60(3), 234-245

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