There’s no amount of counseling, kale, or yoga — even if these were available or affordable to everyone in the U.S. — that will alter the economic, political, and social forces that sustain poverty or war in the age of terrorism, or what we glibly call “work-family conflict.” We’re going to have to throw out the bath oil with the bath water if we’re going to tackle the social problems that actually create the stress we bemoan today. – Dana Becker, PhD
I work in the non-profit sector ( where precarious work , daunting workloads/ funder requirements, low pay, and chronic emotional burnout has become normalized ), and I also live in a major urban center (where the price of living outpaces most people’s pay check, and where noise pollution and traffic congestion is beyond daunting). I am also self-aware enough to know that the former often helps to shape my quality of life, and ability to respond to and or manage stress. I have also observed how these factors impact the service users I support through my charitable sector work.
While I have the knowledge, life skills and finances (marginally) needed to effectively organize myself, to advocate for myself, and to apply the daily topical self-care practices required for maintaining good health (yoga, meditation, exercise, social connections, etc.), I recognize that I am unable to change the larger social/ systemic issues (i.e. neoliberal workplace practices, poor government policies and lack of social safety nets, war, global warming, etc.) that largely impact me on a personal level, and that can also tend to blunt out most of the formerly noted self care efforts. With that in mind, it often concerns me when I hear social workers (and others) doling out topical solutions (i.e. meditation, yoga, positive thinking, etc.) as a one size fits all prescription for most of the individual stress/stressors related to social and or systemic issues. When people provide Ill-conceived – and or patronizing – advice I have often found that it can actually alienate and further increase a person’s stress level – especially when that advice is given to the most marginalized, and vulnerable, service users (or individuals) in our society.
While I have no real or tangible advice regarding self care, in the sometimes worrisome world that we live in, I would like to offer up one suggestion: unless someone is in the financial or emotional position to make use of the usual topical self-care practices (i.e. meditation, massage therapy, travel, etc.), do not offer them up as solutions, especially in situations when a person’s stress is attached to – or caused by – larger social or systemic issues.