Capitalism and Self-Care

Capitalism and Self-Care


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I know that practicing self-care is important for my well-being. But…self-care is hard.

Before I began my MSW program, I was working as a case manager with youth experiencing homelessness. It was an emotionally draining and demanding job, but I loved it. There was one period of time where I was working non-stop. I took my work home with me and continued to work off the clock. Even if I didn’t bring work home, my mind always seemed to wander back to all the work I needed to do for the job.

There was one moment when I was sitting on the couch in my apartment with my dog at my feet. I was doing absolutely nothing productive, and it felt…weird. I began to notice my body’s strain. I was physically and mentally exhausted. I hadn’t slept much. I was stress eating. I stopped going to my yoga classes. I wasn’t taking care of myself.

I was burned out.

The next day I made the decision to ask my then-supervisor for a day off to recuperate. He gave me three days off and told me how important it is to take care of myself.

I took the three days off. It was so hard for me to not be working, to not be productive. It made me feel like I was lazy.

What does it mean to be productive?

As a person who struggles with anxiety, one of the ways I’ve shamed myself is when I believe I haven’t been productive enough. If I’m not being productive, then I start to feel like I’m not good enough.

Productivity is rooted in capitalist ideas about an individual’s value. Our value as people–as human beings–is defined by our level of productivity. The capitalist narrative asserts that we must be productive at all times and in all areas of our lives.

I come from an Italian family. Before I was morn, both sides of my family immigrated to the United States from Italy. Both sides had humble upbringings: mom grew up on a ranch and dad grew up in a big family that struggled to make ends meet. The Italian way is to work hard and think big. I was always surrounded by hard workers in my family. Dad would epilogue his stories with, “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps so I could give my children the life I didn’t have.” The message is clear: work hard and I can achieve anything. It never occurred to me until I was an undergraduate student that it is a privilege to be able to pull oneself up by their bootstraps as well as an ideology rooted in systems of power, privilege, and oppression in the world.

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is a myth constructed by the capitalist narrative. It is the myth of meritocracy. If a person does not “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”– they are labelled as “lazy” “unproductive” and “undeserving.”

For myself, when I am not productive, I’m hit with this myth of meritocracy and my family’s ideals of hard work (which are both interconnected!). My brain races: I must be lazy. I should be doing A, B, C…I should have done X, Y, Z. Why didn’t I do the thing?

Why do I feel guilty when I take a day off to practice self-care?

Why do I determine my self-worth using the productivity measurement?

I know I’m not alone in this.

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The capitalist narrative asserts that productivity is not…

  • sitting online all day
  • playing games
  • binge-watching TV shows on Netflix
  • taking a break
  • sleeping, relaxing
  • doing anything “unproductive”
  • things that don’t have a clearly defined goal

One tumblr user (“youarenotyou”) posed the following questions: “Do you have a huge to-do list that doesn’t include taking time out of the day and being kind to yourself? Do you typically not cross off most of the things on that list, and then feel upset over it, like you’ve wasted your day?”

I answered “yes” to both of these questions. What were your answers?

Has anyone noticed that being productive never includes self-care? As a person who struggles with anxiety, as a person who has several loved ones who have mental health struggles, and as a person who works in the mental health field– I see so many people be hard on themselves for not producing enough, especially if their reason for not doing so involves mental health issues. We are comparing ourselves to others and then determining our self-worth using the productivity measurement.

Kind of reminds me of how businesses compare their level of productivity with other businesses, then determines their success based on that production. Time is money. Money is time. The more productive you are in the least amount of time, the more successful you are.

Why isn’t it productive to take care of ourselves?

Because we are told we aren’t good enough to justify taking time away from productivity to practice self-care.

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Lorde, give me strength!

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ~Audre Lorde

When we practice self-care, we are taking time away from being productive. When we practice self-care, we are prioritizing our needs and not allowing productivity to measure our sense of self-worth.

Self-care is the antidote for burnout. It is also an important factor in transforming our capitalist world into a more just place to live in. I want to live in a world that asserts my value as a person not by my level of productivity.

If we collectively practice self-care by taking time away from being productive, what would the world look like? What would happen?

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What do we do next? Here’s what I (try) to do…

****Practice self-compassion. In a previous post on self-care,  I wrote about practicing self-compassion as a way to transform negative self-talk into positive/reality-based self-talk.

“I should be working.” –> transforms to –> “I am taking a break right now. It’s okay to take a break.”

“I should be doing the thing.” –> transforms to –> “I’m taking time for myself right now. That doesn’t make me selfish or lazy.”

“I’m a failure for not doing the thing.” –> transforms to –> “Taking care of myself does not make me a failure.”

****Practice self-care every single day, not just when you’re about to burnout or already burned out. Taking time for yourself is practicing self-compassion because you are acknowledging that you need a break, that you are important, that you are worthy of love and care.

****Create a Self-Care Plan.  What calls to your soul? What nourishes your body? What calms your mind? Who can you turn to for support?

This self-care plan (below) is available for free download here.

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I’m not perfect. I don’t practice self-care every day. I’m not always compassionate to myself. Sometimes I shame myself when I’m doing my self-care thing because I’m not working. Sometimes I shame myself when I’m working because I’m not doing my self-care thing. It is a cycle of shame that I continually try to break. I ask myself whether I’m practicing self-care because I need to or because I shamed myself to. That’s not the answer. I can’t replace shame with shame.

Radical self-compassion is…

  • Being kind to myself
  • Realizing I’m not alone in my struggle
  • Observing life as it is (mindfulness)
  • Honoring my feelings

I practice radical self-compassion by…

  • Asking myself what I would say to a friend/loved one going through a similar situation…then turning those words back to myself.
  • Being mindful of my language and self-talk. Replacing phrases like “I should have..” or “I should be…” replaces negative self-talk with kinder self-talk.
  • Telling myself it’s okay not to be productive because I am important.
  • Honoring my feelings through art creation or journaling.
  • Nourishing my body and giving it a good night’s rest.
  • Taking breaks during my workday.
  • Stopping to smell the flowers.

How do you practice radical self-compassion?

How do you practice self-care?

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