Self Care is Not Selfish: How Self Care Can Lengthen the Life of Your Cause

Yellow Conference Blog: Self Care is not Selfish

A few days ago, I sat in Los Angeles traffic behind a Subaru with a license plate frame that read, _“If I knew the way, I would take you home.” _Having just been at work at a service provider for homeless women in LA’s Skid Row, I had that line from The Grateful Dead’s song stuck in my head for the rest of my drive.

The nonprofit I work for in downtown LA is on a mission to end homelessness—a pretty tall order that calls for huge amounts of effort and heart. What’s more, so many of the women I get to see every day have experienced unimaginable trauma. On occasion, when I hear their stories, all I want to tell them is that, if I could, I would rescue them.

If I knew the way, I would take them home.

I wish someone had told me that self-care is first and foremost learning to live a balanced life.

As activists, we spend a lot of time fighting for others. We are hyperaware that we are all connected, and we want to make a difference—any difference, no matter how long it takes. And sometimes, we want to change the world so badly that we forget about ourselves.


I’ll tell you what self-care isn’t: It is not giving up. _It’s not throwing all your feelings into a box and shoving it under your bed, pretending your work doesn’t exist for a few hours. And it is not selfish**.

I had a hard time with that idea for months after I first started working. I thought that in order to prove I was completely dedicated to this cause, I could never “turn off.” Then I learned about the very real compassion fatigue (also known as secondary traumatic stress, resulting from wanting to help someone who’s suffering).

I wish someone had told me that self-care is first and foremost learning to live a balanced life.


Self-care can be difficult to talk about, especially among the activist community, because we’re all pretty prone to “I got this” syndrome. So let’s break self-care down into a few, equally important categories…

Yellow Conference Blog: Self Care is not Selfish

For the body:

Usually the first category people think of. It includes things like getting 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep (though if you’re like me, then you’re already laughing), exercising when possible, and not eating pizza for dinner…every night.

But did you know physical self-care also includes having “me” time—meaning turning off your cell phone and stepping away from the laptop? Being good to yourself also means respecting that your body needs time when it’s not stimulated by technology and social media to recharge.

For the mind:

This is the next form of self-care people tend to know about, largely because of one word: therapy.

There’s this bizarre stigma in American culture that going to therapy or a support group makes you “weak,” when in truth it takes strength beyond measure to say, “I can’t do this alone.” Much of my psychological self-care takes the form of attending a weekly gathering of women who walk through life with me.

Beyond therapy, psychological self-care is opening up to people who understand what you’re going through. It’s self-reflection, journaling, and practicing asking for (and receiving) help—especially when we’re used to being on the other side.

For the heart:

Confession: emotional self-care was once something I didn’t think was a real thing. This is because I’m a crier. Also a laugher. I just feel things. Help being more emotional…I’m good, thanks.

But honestly, sometimes there are days at work when we think we’ve tried everything we can do and things are still bad. Suddenly, it’s like the fire is gone.

In those seasons, emotional self-care is remembering how to find the little joys again. It also means learning how to grieve, and letting ourselves feel frustrated and even angry. And then, letting go.

For the soul:

Spiritual self-care feels the most personal of all the categories. For me, this form actually overflows into the rest of my life, because my faith is central to who I am. For you, spiritual self-care might mean prayer, spending time in nature or with a community, practicing yoga, or meditating. It might mean creating art, singing, take a dance class, or playing with your kids.

Spiritual self-care is finding that place where your soul is truly full.

For your work self:

Did you know that there’s such thing as self-care at work? Surprise…

So, guys, let’s take a lunch break. Also, I know it’s hard, but when you do leave, leave work at work. Turn off your email notifications on your phone. Boomerang email scheduling has helped me a ton in this.

Most importantly, remember that it’s okay to say no once in a while.

(Yes, this counts as self-care. And yes, I’m still working on that.)

Self-care (n.)—The best choice you can make to stay passionate about your cause.

* Self-care categories adapted from trauma professional Olga Phoenix’s “__Self-Care Wheel

Photos by Emma Fineman

Actress-Model Felicia Miracle Cipolla

IG: @feliciamiraclecipolla

Twitter: @feliciamiracle

Samantha Chaffin

Founder at Her Inklings