Self-care isn't enough when the community needs healing
Hey there. How are you holding up lately? We all recognize that this has been a challenging year in so many ways, but now that workplaces and schools are opening up again, people are expected to perform at pre-pandemic levels of functioning while still enduring pandemic levels of stress. It’s a Herculean feat at best.
We live in a society that is a bit of a crucible right now. Everything is burning and under pressure – literally, as in the fires raging out West, and figuratively as well. Political unrest is increasingly intense, the economy has taken a huge dive and unemployment is at the highest rate it has been in several decades, people are isolated and many are struggling with exacerbated mental health concerns…and everyone is expected to keep going as if nothing is too overwhelming right now.
But the reality is that it is overwhelming. And it’s ok to be overwhelmed. What you’re likely to hear though – from employers to life coaches to therapists and even friends – is just to be sure to focus on self-care. Self-care is the key right? It’s the way to manage stress, improve levels of happiness, gain more balance in life, and generally just feel better. Exhausted and can’t get through another workday? Take a quick 10-minute self-care walk and get back to work feeling refreshed. Stressed out mom trying to navigate working at home where the children are simultaneously attending school? Bubble bath to the rescue! Overcome with grief and loneliness from lack of contact with friends and family? Treat yourself to your favourite movie and some ice cream and it’ll all be better in no time.
If you know me personally, I realize you were aware of the sarcastic tone in my writing, but I feel that it’s important to point that out for the readers who may not hear my voice when reading these blog posts. Some things you just can’t self-care your way out of! And constantly pushing this narrative on people is frankly a little bit of gaslighting. We deserve better than that. The issues we are collectively dealing with as a nation right now are bigger than this, and it takes more than individual strategies to heal from them.
You can’t bubble bath you’re way out of the anxiety that comes with a sudden uncertainty about the future of human rights when a Supreme Court justice is rapidly confirmed for political gain. You can’t just deep breathe your way through the seemingly unending stress of a pandemic or the resulting financial strain which so many people have been under during this time. And you can’t exercise away the fear of impending threats from white supremacist groups determined to intimidate people around election time. There has to be something more that focuses on greater connection and healing instead of individual band-aids for overwhelmingly stressful social situations.
This doesn’t negate the importance of self-care. As mentioned previously, self-care is still essential and you should still implement it regularly, but there is a place for it as one component of overall wellness; it is not the only factor involved in health and well-being. And to expect people to place the full responsibility of wellness on themselves when we live in such an interconnected society with so many stressors being imposed from outside sources is rather unconscionable. What we should be seeking and promoting instead is community care.
So what is community care? Just as self-care is focused on the individual, community care is focused on the group collective. Levels of community care range from small scale groups to larger societal interactions (micro to macro if you’re a social worker). Creating a meal train for a family who is grieving, battling illness, or healing after the birth of a child is community care. Workplace changes which foster group connection, promote healing, and encourage relaxation are community care. Perhaps turning a monthly staff meeting into a guided meditation space as a regular practice might be one example. But so are workplace changes which promote health and wellbeing in other ways – a company-wide bonus, paid healthcare which doesn’t require a high deductible to use, and unlimited PTO (yes, companies really have this!) – are other examples. Beyond that, community-wide practices which ensure collective safety nets are community care. Those free lunch distribution centers happening at local schools to ensure that children everywhere are fed regardless of income? Definitely community care.
You know what else is community care? Voting. And here we are just one week before election day, so perhaps this concept will encourage someone to go vote who might not have intended to before. Voting with the safety of marginalized populations and those who are vulnerable or at-risk in mind is a way to protect the overall community as a whole. Those who are marginalized include folks who are losing their jobs or homes and need covid-relief support packages, children who need healthcare and access to healthy food, immigrants and refugees who face xenophobic backlash in this country, Muslims whose religious rights are frequently infringed upon, LGBT families who fear their basic rights will be stripped by the Supreme Court changes this year, black men who are repeatedly at risk simply for existing, just to name a few. Voting to protect each marginalized group ensures that society is safer for everyone because equity in society creates a collective safety net, and a collective safety net means that more people are well supported and able to live without concern that basic needs and rights will be met. Access to food, healthcare, livable wages, safe housing, etc., is community care.
Community care is what happens when we show up for each other, when we all work towards the common goal of ensuring that each member in our society is cared for, and when we take the time to be concerned for the needs of everyone instead of just ourselves. Community care fosters connection, builds empathy, increases resilience, and improves physical and mental health outcomes. Yes, the pandemic makes it a little tricky because we can’t all gather together in the same ways we did previously, but we can still take an active role in building up each other. Consider writing letters to those isolated in nursing homes, co-organizing a local food or clothing drive, finding ways to collectively sponsor a family in need if you're able to, or other acts of community engagement. And if finances are tight, talking to your neighbours (safely distanced and masked) is free. Human connection is a powerful method of healing. Be creative.
One of my favourite feel-good stories from this pandemic is the man who built 40 desks for local students so they would each have a place to study while in virtual learning. And a local grocery store heard about this and funded the costs of supplies so it wouldn’t be a burden to him to make the desks. That’s community care. The beautiful thing is that the ripple effect of community care is so far reaching because it elevates and connects people in ways that individual supports cannot. One desk in the life of a child may seem like a small thing, but it truly can transform their learning experience during this time from a traumatic event to an empowering moments, which can create lifelong self-confidence and successes as a result. Now, imagine that on the community level and the effect is multiplied exponentially!
Protect the marginalized. Comfort those who are afraid. Enact policies that are safety nets. Create spaces for workers and students to thrive. Check on your neighbours. Give more than you take. Love one another.
Heal the world, or at least your corner of it, one act of community care at a time. What will you do to connect with others, and where will you seek connection from? And, what do you need in terms of community care to help you heal as well? When we shift our focus from the individual to the collective, we realize that we are not as alone as we feel and our interconnected support can be powerfully healing. Let me know your thoughts!