Self-care for people who care

‘Caring’ is one of the things that brings me most joy in my life. I am a fiercely political person who loves spending my ‘downtime’ working on new and exciting projects. In the past month, I’ve rallied, I’ve doorknocked, I’ve attended conferences and forums, I’ve met new and fascinating people from across the country who want to make the world better too.

Advocacy is a path that can be full of victories and joy. But ‘caring’ can also be exhausting.

This is something that has been playing on my mind recently – the tension between the strength of empathy and the toll it can take. Recently a friend asked me how I was feeling about the postal survey: “I’m tired of feeling angry all the time.” Advocacy is driven by a positivity to make the world a better place, but it is also driven by an anger that we’re not already there.

I know this is one of my downfalls: taking on too much and feeling it too intensely. Projects inevitably hit stumbling blocks. Time, money, bureaucracy, the slow progress of social change – all present daily challenges to advocates. I am often let down, not by individuals, but simply by the circumstances in which I am/we are operating. In the meantime, I feel the stories of ongoing struggles in a way that is deep and personal.  I’m not alone – the evidence shows that empathy can wear you down.

“Why do you care so much?”

A colleague asked me this question last month when I was talking excitedly about various things I was working on. The question threw me. I used to be very cynical – I still am – but my commitment to caring has snuck up on me. I used to be driven by my own ambition to succeed, and while there’s no doubt that’s still the case, I passionately and viscerally want to change the world.

I don’t want to ever stop caring, but I think it’s important to do it in a way that is safe to myself. ‘Self-care’ has become one of those phrases, sold by lifestyle brands and yoga studios. But I’m fascinated by the concept because I am so bad at it.

I want my yoga, gym visits and meditation to be non-negotiables, but they usually play second fiddle to DOING MORE. I want to get better at saying no to things, but when you care about things, it can be hard to prioritise yourself over other things you are genuinely interested in. I need to rest and recharge, but often I spend my downtime committing to new projects and people.

So I guess, I’d love it if there was an easy answer but I’m 99 per cent sure there isn’t! How can you care without caring too much? How can you do without doing too much? How can you change the world, without changing yourself?

Edit: Here is a link to a wonderful little animation that shows just why empathy can be so exhausting when you are constantly feeling like you are down there in the hole with people. 

Image credit: @recipesforselflove on Instagram

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