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Activists and Self-Care: Why we’re bad at it, and how to better care for ourselves (Part 1 of 3)

Updated: May 14, 2022

Back in the day, when I was a (somewhat) diligent university student, there were a lot of talk in my studies about self-care. This was great, because self-care is an important topic, and has huge effects on our health. What wasn’t so great was that the conversation often focused on only two things: finding time to relax, and having hobbies we enjoy. While these two things are important, there are many more aspects to self-care.

When I did a quick search for activist and self-care, I found that the discussion centred around burn out, and strategies to avoid that. But there's not many detailed discussions around why activists have such a hard time with self-care, and how to intentionally and holistically target the different aspects of self-care. So with this 3-part blog, I will focus on this.

Originally, I planned to write just one blog post about self-care. But as I brainstormed an outline for the blog, it became a much bigger topic with many, many details and nuances that I wanted to share. To make it easier to read and digest, I decided to make this into a three-part series focusing on self-care:

1. Part 1 will talk about six reasons why some activists have a difficult time doing self-care

2. Part 2 will talk about tips and strategies for dealing with the “six reasons”

3. Part 3 will talk about the three dimensions of self-care, and how we can create a holistic approach for taking care of our health

Of course, not all of us find self-care challenging. But by the end of this three-part series, I hope that I am able to give you some helpful information around self-care, and offer new ways to think about and implement self-care habits into your daily life.

Six Reasons Why Some Activists Have a Difficult Time Doing Self-Care

The process of being a socially conscious individual, and being an activist, is an intimate process. Because it is such a personal process, that means we all struggle with self-care in different ways. Here are a few reasons why self-care can be difficult:

1. We are overworked, and underpaid

Being overworked and underpaid is common with our line of work. And this can become even more challenging to navigate because we feel such strong conviction for our values and passion. Due to the deeply emotional connection to our work, it makes it hard to set and keep boundaries with our work. And having good boundaries between our work and personal life is important for maintaining a focused and intentional self-care routine.

2. Sometimes, we feel more comfortable focusing on others, than on ourselves

We all enter activism and community work for different reasons. These are deeply intimate reasons that may relate to our own personal experiences or traumas. And sometimes, focusing all our energy on helping others is much less scary than focusing internally on our own mental health and needs. However, there is a cost to this. As time goes by, we risk burn out and feeling resentful.

3. We were taught to prioritize the needs of others

When you spent most of your life learning to prioritize the needs of others over your own needs, it makes it very difficult to break from this habit. And sometimes, the desire to take care of others may be linked to personal feelings of self-worth, need of validation, guilt, or shame. Understanding and working through these emotions will help you find a balance in your relationships with yourself and others.

4. We were never taught how to take care of ourselves

A lot of times, this is connected to the previous reason we discussed. We prioritize the needs of others, and never learned how to take care of our own needs. The reason for this is different for everyone. It might be because our parents also didn’t care for their own needs, so we never learned how to do self-care. Or maybe, our community work has us focused on giving, making us forget that it is ok to also ask and receive. Whatever the reason, it is never too late to build a self-care routine for yourself.

5. Self-care is hard work, and require changes in our daily routine

Self-care can be hard work. It requires us to take care of our mind, body, and spirit (this will be discussed in part 3 of this blog series). This means that we must schedule our self-care routine with intention, to ensure all aspects of our health is taken care of. Prioritizing our self-care is also a shift in the way we think about and relate to ourselves. This shift can be tough for some. But ultimately, we can’t continue our activist and community work, nor uphold our values, if we burn out.

6. There’s no time for self-care

Building a self-care routine can be tough. When we already feel that we don’t have enough time, adding self-care tasks to our routine may seem impossible. This is where prioritizing is important. And self-care is as important as it gets.

These are six common reasons why activists and community workers may struggle with self-care. This is not an exhaustive list. Each individual may have unique reasons for why they struggle with self-care. Join me in part 2 of this three-part series, as we discuss tips and strategies for dealing with these six reasons.

As always, thanks for tuning in. If you found this helpful, consider sharing this with others who might also find it helpful.

Take care, and keep being you!


I’m always open to your feedback and comments. If you, or someone you know, may benefit from my therapy support, you can contact me here for a free consultation. For more information, click here.

Harry Au

Therapy for Asians

MSW, RSW | he/him

Resources: Newsletter | Blog

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