Self care is Not a Buzzword, It’s a Necessity

I wanted to write a post to end this year on a positive note. There are changemakers worthy to be named and revolutions we must remember. Yet, one thing keeps coming to mind – the ever so important practice of self care. As we fight the good fight and tackle human rights abuses in conflict zones, gender based violence or the climate crisis – we need to be our best selves. That’s why “self care” is not a buzzword – it’s a necessity.

This year has been a tricky year for me. Personally, I have battled my inner demands on myself as a mother and entrepreneur – and just as a woman of my generation. I’ve struggled with my hopes and dreams. I’ve faced setbacks and disappointments. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learnt this year.

Results vs. Capacity

In the #livingthebestlife world of millennials today, it’s difficult to not compare yourself with others. Other women have achieved so many great things. Everyone else seems to be managing so much more. Other people seem to have it all together.

That in combination with the #changetheworld mentality that many of us have – it is difficult to not feel overwhelmed. I’ve heard that my generation believe in the power they hold. That’s amazing. If so, we will take more responsibility for our planet and our fellow inhabitants of this world. Millennials seem to believe that they really can make a difference. If only they recycle more, eat less meat, fly less planes – they’ll literally help save the planet.

Yet things aren’t always so simple. One person alone can make a huge difference but she can’t save the world. We need each other. The pressures we put on ourselves can build and build and build until they’re too much to handle.

Self care lesson 1: I can’t achieve my desired results if they don’t match the capacity I have to get things done.

If my toddler is keeping me up at night I won’t be able to achieve what I would have if I’d slept well. The same can be applied to almost anything. If I keep staring at my goals, ambitions and desired outcomes, rather understanding my capacity – it’s constraints and possibilities – I know I will not get to where I want to be. That means I need to evaluate all aspects of my life. I need to understand how I can be more at peace and have the energy, tools and support I need to move in the right direction.

Sometimes you may need to reevaluate what it is you’re trying to achieve. And sometimes you just have to limit your expectations for a while.

There’s strength in your every breath

This year I’ve experienced enhanced stress and anxiety. My symptoms have been both physical and mental. It escalated in September with my heart skipping beats. quickness of breath, and a pressure over my chest. I had a very low mood and it affected all parts of my life. I knew that it was not sustainable to think I could manage everything on my own – so I asked for help.

Now, I don’t tear up as soon as someone asks me how I’m doing. Instead, I’ve understood that I had way too much on my plate and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. I’ve also understood that as I delight in dreaming, planning and scheming for the future, I also anticipate negative future outcomes more than I need to. This is a fierce driver of stress.

Self care lesson 2: I need to tame my monkey mind and live here and now.

Although I’ve often heard (and said it myself) that it’s important to live in the present – it’s harder said than done. It takes practice. That’s why I’ve taken on mindfulness meditation. There’s a great little series on Netflix on the mind right now, which was an eye-opener for me. It’s amazing how calm I feel after 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation. It is a self care practice to be done on a regular basis to reap the short and long-term benefits of living in the now.

We’re stronger together

We continuously need this reminder. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. I truly believe that humans are meant to live in relationships with one another. That’s why loneliness is one of our biggest threats and killers today. Isolation and polarization are both demons in our society and something we must actively work against.

Self care lesson 3: There is strength in asking for help

As soon as I picked up the phone to ask for real help, a big weight was removed from my shoulders. If you’re in a bad place – ask for help. Sometimes that is finding a healthcare professional and sometimes it is a friend or a family member. We all need help and that’s part of the beauty of life.

A fresh start here and now

For me, self care is not about taking baths and painting my nails. It’s about an awareness of my mind and body and making nurturing decisions every day.

Now as the new year approaches, I’m quite happy for this year to be over. I’m a sucker for fresh starts and new beginnings. The best part is that I’ve realized that it applies not only to a new year, but to every moment, every encounter, and every breath I take. I can (and must) choose how I want to live my life over and over and over again. That includes choosing self care as a necessity to not only survive, but to live fully.

Self Care by Laiza Onofre

Illustration for Girls’ Globe by Laiza Onofre.

Tariro Mantsebo: Being Enough by Existence

Tariro Mantsebo is a medical doctor and feminist from Zimbabwe, currently working in a remote part of South Africa. In this episode of The Power of Your Story Podcast, you will hear about her journey to confidence. She speaks to Julia Wiklander, founder of Girls’ Globe about reaching her goals despite other people’s doubts, her recent struggles with stress and working in a male dominated field. Tariro’s heartfelt insights gives us so much inspiration to be true to ourselves and to know that we are enough, purely by existing.

“Girls and young women, take the time to know who you are. When you are clear with who you are, what people say and what people do won’t have so much of an impact and influence on you.”

In high-school, Tariro’s teachers had doubts about her ability to study medicine. As a practicing medical doctor, she still encounters sexist comments and disbelief. Yet, Tariro has coped with the help of friends and family, and moments of solitude. Tariro shares her path of figuring out who she is, despite governing gender norms, and stressful situations in her life.

“Sharing my story meant I could start to heal. I could share and pour out all those parts of me that were really eating at me, all those emotions – and just release them. I was able to create a space in myself to grow and put myself together again.”

The Power of Your Story Podcast is a production in partnership with SayItForward.org. We are so inspired by the many stories that women and girls share on the Say It Forward platform. Personal stories of overcoming fears, doubts, or circumstances that have held women and girls back. Sayitforward.org welcomes any woman, any girl from anywhere in the world to share her unique story and inspire others. We hope you are inspired to share your story too.

Alaa Al-Eryani: Courageous Self Love

“I started to believe that everything I was ever taught and told was wrong, and that my value as a woman is not less than a man. We are all human beings, we are all equals.” says Alaa Al-Eryani in this episode of The Power of Your Story Podcast. Alaa is a Yemeni Gender Equality advocate, a Women Deliver Young Leader, and the founder of The Yemeni Feminist Movement online platform. She shares her story of overcoming discriminatory gender norms, leaving an abusive marriage and her path to self love.

“I found confidence when I started to love myself. And when I started to love myself, that’s when I truly believed that everything I had thought about myself was not true.” 

Alaa Al-Eryani inspires us with her positive outlook on change. She shows tremendous courage and stands up for what she truly believes in. She tells us about how sharing her own story and talking to others has helped her to take steps towards healing and recovery.

“I think a lot of us underestimate what the support of others can do.”

The Power of Your Story Podcast is a production in partnership with SayItForward.org. We are so inspired by the many stories that women and girls share on the Say It Forward platform. Personal stories of overcoming fears, limiting beliefs, or circumstances that have held women and girls back. Sayitforward.org welcomes any woman, any girl from anywhere in the world to share her unique story and inspire others. We hope you are inspired to share your story too.

In this episode Alaa says, “It really helped me in my healing and recovery process when I shared my story. ” 

This is the 6th episode of The Power of Your Story Podcast. We hope you have enjoyed this new podcast series as much as we have! We still have several inspiring episodes left. Please consider leaving a rating in your podcast app and sharing this podcast with a friend. Thank you.

Sanne Thijssen: Overcoming Advocacy Burnout

In this episode of The Power of Your Story Podcast, Sanne Thijssen talks to Girls’ Globe founder Julia Wiklander about overcoming advocacy burnout, dealing with stress and finding balance in work and personal life. The Power of Your Story is a podcast produced in partnership with SayItForward.org – the platform where every woman & girl is encouraged to share her remarkable and unique story of overcoming the fears, personal beliefs, or circumstances that have held her back.


“This problem is bigger than me. If I can overcome this and help other people to overcome this, I will come out much stronger.” 

Sanne shares her experience of burnout and finding what she needs for self care. As a young women, early in her career, she was going at 110% and didn’t understand what was happening. It was a hit to her self-esteem, but still she shared her story and found the help she needed. Sanne talks about the power of stories and describes how sharing her own with others helped her move forward.

We can all relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed and stressed out. We are living in a world that constantly bombards us with information. It’s ever more difficult to navigate our own self care. Julia and Sanne talk about disconnecting from social media and filtering the input in their lives. Sanne shares how she has come to understand the stressors that led to her burnout. She also talks about the importance of authenticity in her life today.

“Stay grounded in your authenticity. Knowing what you stand for and why you stand for things is really important these days.”

Find all the episodes of The Power of Your Story here and in your favorite podcast apps. Sayitforward.org is full of inspirational stories from women and girls around the world. If you’d like to share your story too, you can do so today, in your own words, in any language.

Taking Care of my Gynecological Health Is a Feminist Act

Embarrassing. Gross. Painful. Uncomfortable.

These are just some of the words that come to mind when I think of all the things I’ve heard and read throughout my life about the experience of going to the gynecologist.

Since I’ve started taking charge of my own gynecological health, I’ve been thinking more about what these words. What do they mean in broader context of the female experience, the female body, and feminism in general?

My experience with feminism comes through academic and scholarly research, and through conversations with women from around the world about feminist issues. Through both, I’ve come to learn how important it is for women to be able to own their bodies.

The culture and religion around me have always told me that my body is bad, sinful and dangerous, and that I should somehow separate myself from it.

This message has had a particularly negative consequence in my life in relation to an anxiety disorder that began in childhood. Anxiety makes me feel out of control – and particularly out of control of how my body is reacting.

I’ve also been told by religion and culture that I should separate my body and my mind from my soul. Through my work in therapy and research however, I’ve been learning that I don’t have to separate these parts of me. They all work together to make me the person I really am. I cannot fully inhabit myself or fully be in the world if my mind, body and soul are disconnected.

And so, I’ve been learning how to inhabit my own body. Most importantly, I’ve been learning how to care for it – including for my gynecological health.

Uterus, cervix, vagina and vulva are not dirty or embarrassing words.

They are part of my body and of who I am, and to care for my overall health and well-being I must take care of them.

During my latest Pap test (also called a Pap smear or smear test), I experienced quite a lot of discomfort and even pain. (Most people don’t experience pain during these tests. However, there are some reasons why pain might occur, so it’s vital to be open and honest with your health provider.)

I spoke up as soon as I began to feel pain. I said it loud and clear and my provider heard me. She kindly apologized for the discomfort and pain I was experiencing and moved slowly while walking me through the whole process. She kept checking in on me – “How are you doing now? Are you hanging in there?” – and I kept speaking up whenever something hurt or became uncomfortable. In just a few minutes, the exam was over. The relief of knowing I had done something so important for my health was worth the temporary pain and discomfort.

At the end of the appointment, I felt proud of myself and empowered because I spoke up instead of keeping quiet when things didn’t feel right in my body.

Saying “That hurts!” was not just a good way for my provider to better care for me, but also for me to take some control of my body in a situation where I didn’t have full control of it.

Despite the discomfort, I felt connected with all parts of myself during the experience of my gynecological exam. Because of my anxiety, I had been doing a lot of grounding and breathing exercises to prepare. I made sure I was fully engaged in the conversation with my provider, listening to her advice and tips and answering her questions honestly and openly.

By taking time out of my day to focus entirely on myself and my body, I felt like I was finally validating my body’s existence and needs in all its complexities. The female reproductive system is a marvellously complex world of its own. I was speaking up against the voices that have told me that my body is dirty and shameful, and saying loud and clear, “No! My body is good and an essential part of me that deserves care and love.”

Taking control and care of my body are concepts that are becoming increasingly vital to how I live my life.

I wholeheartedly believe that doing so – even through something as routine as attending a gynecological exam – is a feminist act.

Women Who Do Too Much

The exhausted woman is a cultural trope.

It’s a scene repeated in books, movies, our own lives: she arrives, apologetic, to a lunch appointment or meeting, straight after her last appointment or meeting.

Somehow, between mouthfuls of food, she remembers what’s been going on in your life, updates you on how she’s been juggling her career and her personal life and her family responsibilities, periodically checking her phone to answer an urgent text, share that contact you needed, forward that interesting article, and then rushes to leave on time for another appointment or meeting or to pick up the kids.

Even looking at the mythological modern woman is exhausting. Being her is next to impossible. A whole industry has been spun around the herculean task that is living up the feat that is being a successful modern woman.

Artist Emma Clit, who followed up her viral comic You Should Have Asked with The Consequences, used both to brilliantly highlight the multitudinous invisible burdens women carry with them every day. The psychological wear and tear is hard to see, but significant.

Women of all ages – from as young as adolescents – may recognize the heavy psychological effects that stem from the expectation that they can be everything to everyone.

So, what can we do about it? Recognize this in yourself? Want to know what to do next?

Don’t Feel Guilty

If you’ve taken pride in being there for the people around you, taking time for yourself – even when you desperately need it – can feel like self-absorption or failure. A helpful trick is to think of ourselves as our best friends: if they came to us, worn out and frazzled, we’d insist that they turn off their phone and think about taking care of themselves for at least an afternoon.

Running or Swimming or Yoga (or Something Else)

We’ve heard this ad nauseum, but it really does help. Any kind of exercise helps lower stress levels and does wonders for our health. We don’t have to run marathons or join dance classes (unless we want to!) Free youtube tutorials teaching you how to stretch or moonwalk or kickbox or anything that gets you breaking a sweat are just as good.

Schedule You Time

The way we’ve been told we need to make time for our jobs, our partners, our friends, is the same way we need to make time for ourselves. It is okay to say no to the party and stay in to rest if you need to (it really is). It is okay to tell your significant other you need some space to recharge.

Be Your Own Advocate

(Warning label: This can be the hardest one to do.) Learning to insist on helping and breaking patterns is a difficult thing to do, even when they’re patterns we don’t particularly enjoy, but it’s crucial to maintaining our mental health and the health of our relationships.

Further Reading on Girls’ Globe