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  • Writer's pictureLeisel Whitlock Petersen

Self-Care: The Unsung Hero of Sustainable Social Change Efforts

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

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Engaging in Social Change work is a deeply meaningful pursuit. Yet, it comes with its own set of challenges. Exposure to increased levels of stress can leave those in the movement depleted. As you dive deeper into social change work, you may constantly put others' needs before yours. While this level of self-sacrifice is normalized, it can quickly lead to an unhealthy type of exhaustion. Usually, this is where self-care comes in, but self-care is a prophylactic that needs to be an ongoing priority for sustaining long-term social change work. When you prioritize your well-being, you're better equipped to show up fully for the causes you care about and the people you serve.

Self-care is taking intentional steps to prioritize your health. Health, in this sense, is not limited to physical well-being only but encompasses emotional, spiritual, and mental health. It involves setting boundaries, taking breaks when needed, and engaging in enjoyable activities. Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is a priority. Whether taking a walk in nature, practicing meditation, or simply saying "nope" to an activity that doesn't align with your values or goals, taking care of yourself is a necessary component of social change work.

I get it; it's easy to forget about self-care when consumed by the passion to effect change in society or when the more you sacrifice, the more you are rewarded by an unhealthy social culture that glorifies the grind. However, it's important to remember that self-care is necessary (yes, I am repeating myself) since the demands of social change work can be fugging exhausting if not adequately managed. As I once told someone, your body will stop unless you do.


Self-care is not selfish; it is self-preservation

Taking care of oneself is not a luxury; it's essential, especially crucial for those negatively affected by social stressors—such as racism and discrimination—as they affect our bodies at a cellular level. Big Mama is big for many reasons. Big Mama probably also has diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Burnout is a real risk

Social change work can be emotionally draining, and it's easy to get caught up in the urgency of the cause. However, this can lead to burnout, which can be detrimental to both ourselves and our work. It's important to set boundaries and take breaks when necessary. In the words of Tricia Hersey, the celebrated founder of the Nap Ministry, Rest is Resistance!

CO Burnout is also a risk

Burnout caused by excessive workload and stress is a potential risk for individuals working in the field. Taking steps to manage your workload and prioritize self-care can help prevent burnout and ensure you can continue performing at your best. However, managing workload can be challenging for people working in grass-roots organizations due to understaffing. If you are in such a situation, it may be time to prioritize yourself and consider leaving the job because if you drop dead tomorrow, the work will continue without you.

Self-care varies in form and approach

What works for one person works for one person. We need to personalize the activities or practices that help us recharge. This could be anything from exercise to meditation to spending time with loved ones. One of my self-care practices has been improving my living environment. I need a calm, uncluttered, and beautiful living space. So, I invest in the design of my home. I want every room to be a sanctuary or at least have a door I can close, like my kids' stress-inducing messy rooms.

Support systems are crucial

No one can do this work alone. Get a support system of friends, family, and colleagues who understand the challenges of social change work and can provide emotional support when needed. If you can't find a community of care, don't hesitate to create one. Remember, you don't have to go through this alone.

This is how we win

"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."- Audre Lorde. Need I say more?

Self-care is a continuous process

Taking care of oneself is a process that requires consistent effort and daily practice; it can't be achieved in a single instance. It is crucial to check in with yourself regularly and make necessary adjustments to your self-care routine to ensure that you can maintain the energy and motivation needed to make a positive impact on society.

Remember, taking care of yourself is not selfish; it's necessary. You can create a sustainable and long-lasting approach to social change by prioritizing your well-being. So, make sure to take time for yourself and practice self-care regularly. Your body will thank you for it. Your movement will thank you, too. Now, take a nap or whatever.


Resources: Links, Tools and Interesting Articles

Note about the resources and tools: Some I've used and others shared with me by trusted sources. Check back for updates and additions to this list.

Established in 2018, BLHF honors the legacy of Boris Lawrence Henson, the late father of founder Taraji P. Henson, who faced mental health challenges unsupported upon his return from the Vietnam War. Their vision was and is to empower individuals to embrace history and collective healing.

Greater Good Magazine: Science Based Insights for a Meaningful Life.

The Greater Good Science Center of at the University of California, Berkeley studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.


Includes The Professional Quality of Life Measure (ProQOL) a free 30 question self-assessment test that was designed by Dr. Beth Stamm to assist helping professionals in evaluating their current levels of burnout, compassion fatigue, and compassion satisfaction.

10/20 Working Well Panel Discussion- definitions

Panel Slides Working Well The Importance of Self-Nurturing in Creating Lasting Societal Ch
Download • 555KB

Kokko Wellness * I can personally say that John Kokko, L.Ac. is a wonderful practitioner that has helped me tremendously. He is spins great vinyl at the office and holds community tea service. I usually arrive early for my appointment and hang-out.

Lymphatic Massage


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Nahla Love (Jenny Jam Fitness)

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