Coloured leaves and textured patches in blue and pink on a white background

Basics of self-care

What is self-care?

At its simplest, self-care is understood as looking after oneself and doing things of positive value for oneself. This implies making an effort and taking time out from other activities and concerns. Self-care affirms that the self is important and looking after that self is at least as important as looking after anybody else, or addressing concerns outside of oneself.

Self-care these days has come to imply ideas like pampering, spa, shopping, and so on. While there is nothing wrong in any of these being self-care methods, we want to emphasise that self-care is much more than these.

Self-care is a feminist and human rights issue, because for those of us who do people work self-care comes low in their list of priorities, if at all. For many of those who have made it their life’s purpose and work purpose to care for others, caring for themselves is forgotten, considered selfish, or something they are made to feel guilty for – and that is why, taking time out for themselves is radical. Even if we are not talking specifically about those in people work, there are several kinds of people culturally and socially conditioned to not take time out for themselves. A mother. A person struggling to make ends meet. A caregiver for someone old or someone with a disability.

Check out the Self-care tab of this website for ideas for yourself, and check out Collective care to see how the movements and organisations you are part of can be made safer, less stress-inducing and inclusive while addressing human rights issues.

Self-care sounds like a luxury. How can those from marginalised communities access it?

We are aware that self-care is unfortunately scoffed at by many in our families, personal relationships, and workplaces. And that self-care has been co-opted by neoliberal forces that tie the concept to a purchased product or service. But even ideas of self-care that are not capitalist do assume a certain level of privilege in terms of caste, class, education level, geographic location, or disability status. For instance, taking a walk at the end of the work day depends on being able to find a safe and well-lit space to walk, to be able to take out some time away from care or housework responsibilities, to not have to justify to family or those one lives with. These are all privileges that we know are not accessible to many people, and self-care ends up having a strong savarna feel to it.

But self-care is not a recent innovation.

That said, we know self-care rituals have been part of people’s lives all along – they may just not have been positioned as such. One of our favourite examples is of a woman who remembers her childhood days in a village in northern India, where women would seasonally gather to make papad or pickles, and this was an occasion for them to regularly spend hours together talking about various things without being questioned.

We have done our best to bring in diversity in the resources we have shared on Self-care and Collective Care on this website. And we know we can do more, which is why this is a dynamic resource and we welcome feedback and suggestions for resources at selfcare@tarshi.net. We also want to emphasise that self-care cannot have a “one-size fits all” approach – it can be varied depending on the multiple identities one holds, and the resources they have access to.

But at the end of the day, we reiterate that every individual has the right to self-care and wellbeing.

How is self-care a feminist issue? Does that mean self-care only matters to people who identify as feminist?

Self-care is a feminist and human rights issue, because for those of us who do people work, self-care comes low in the list of priorities, if at all. They handle intimate, pressing and difficult issues of community members. Like listening to or assisting someone who has survived sexual assault from their partner; someone facing obvious or subtle hate for their sexual or gender identity; someone fighting hard against a judicial, political or administrative system that is unmindful of their concerns or violating their rights. Considering self-care a luxury, those of us who do people work are vulnerable to stress and eventually burnout and its damaging impact. Attrition caused by burnout also affects the movements they are a part of, especially those in resource-poor settings that can scarcely afford to lose dedicated members, activists and staff. Which is why, as Audre Lorde said: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

But of course, the right to self-care and wellbeing matters to all individuals, irrespective of their affiliations to any ideology or movement. The right to self-care transcends age, gender, caste, education, disability status, class, race, or location.

Can religious or spiritual activities be part of self-care?

What comprises self-care varies for everyone. If religious or spiritual experiences appeal to one, we see no reason why activities related to those cannot be self-care.

That said, we know that many aspects of religion and spirituality are exclusionary and therefore may not suit or be considered self-care by some of us.

We are aware that there are also people who straddle these multiple worlds, such as a person who is agnostic or an atheist but still practices yoga, which another might see as “belonging”  to one culture or religion.

Since it is difficult to neatly classify people’s preferences on this topic, we have resources that might speak to a particular faith or spiritual affiliation as well as those that do not reflect any preference. We hope all users, irrespective of their thoughts about faith, religion, or spirituality, find resources to suit their needs from this website.

Increase / Decrease
Contrast