Since February 14th is Valentine’s Day, we at Empower Tennessee thought it would be a timely month to examine self-care, which is defined by Britain’s Department of Health as “the care taken by individuals towards their own health and well-being-including the care extended to the family and the community. The definition is broad and encompasses the actions required for people to maintain good physical and mental health, to meet their social and psychological needs and prevent illness or accidents” (Amisha Patel, Hemant Patel 1). The concept of self-care, which has been reduced to a buzzword in recent years, is intuitive to people with disabilities, though members of the community may not know it. So, what is self-care? Why do we need it? For that matter, why does everyone, regardless of their physical or intellectual abilities, need to practice positive self-care habits?
We are encouraged to participate in self-care every time we are in a clinical setting. Rest well and get enough of it. Eat healthily. Exercise. Meditate. Self-care activities like eating, resting, and showering are those that seem to draw the most popular scorn. It’s just a nap, after all! Why do we feel the need to have a cultural conversation about the simplest of acts, critics ask. Yet people with disabilities have felt firsthand how much better their bodies function because of the basics.
For example, if you live in the Metro Nashville city limits, you can take advantage of multiple self-care classes offered for free by the Nashville Public Library. Its Be Well at NPL program offers free yoga classes taught by instructors affiliated with Small World Yoga, as well as cooking classes, music therapy, crafts, even adult coloring classes! (For a full calendar of free events, visit https://library.nashville.org/event/be-well-npl.) I take the 10:15 a.m. Gentle Yoga class every Tuesday at the Bordeaux library, and the tightness in my tendons, which are already tight due to mild cerebral palsy caused by right-side hemiplegia, is relieved so much by yoga, especially during the winter months. I would recommend the library’s yoga classes to anyone with CP or a condition similar to it. I have been taking yoga for thirteen years. Most classes attract perfectly sculpted people who seem to have been doing the poses forever, despite instructors’ insistence that there is no wrong way to do yoga. Because this class is made of mostly retired women, the instructors in Gentle Yoga are accomodating to participants with mobility considerations, and any self-imposed body image concerns vanish. (Most poses are based in a chair, with the option of adapting the pose to a participant’s needs. If I feel like I need more of a challenge, I simply move the chair aside and do poses the traditional way. Several participants remain in the chair the entire class. Plus, directly after the Be Well at NPL program yoga is Just Right Smoothies, in which a member of library staff serves fresh, free smoothies to the public. Yum!
Along with the benefits that come with participating in one’s community, it is important to go further in caring for your emotions, just as you do your physical self. People with disabilities are at risk for what Carrie Griffin Basas calls “advocacy fatigue.” Basas defines advocacy fatigue as “the increased strain on emotional, physical, material, social, and wellness resources that comes from continued exposure to system…inequalities and the need to advocate for the preservation and advancements of one’s rights and autonomy” (1). This concept, just like the term “self-care,” is common sense. Of course it is emotionally exhausting to explain both visible and invisible disabilities again and again, even if the exchange is well-meaning. How can we center ourselves when we become too stressed? Alex Korb, a neuroscience researcher at UCLA, revealed four practices that research proves lead to improved emotional health. He recommends practicing gratitude, whether through prayer or meditation. Asking yourself, “What am I grateful for?” even if you don’t feel thankful in the moment, makes you feel happier. Labeling your negative feelings can also make you feel more in control. Making decisions, even small ones, boosts the pleasure center in your brain, Korb says (5). He says we often think we must make perfect decisions, but making any choice at all calms us down. His last recommendation is to touch people for comfort. Studies have shown that “touching someone you love actually reduces pain” (Barker 7). Hug your Valentine today! Everyone needs self-care, not just people with disabilities. It can be difficult to drag yourself out of the house during the dreary winter months to exercise or socialize, but those activities are vital to physical and emotional health. The most important way to practice self-care is to find out what works for you and stick with it. Be your own Valentine, this February and all year long.
Barker, Eric. “A neuroscience researcher reveals 4 rituals that will make you happier.” Business Insider.
26 Sept. 2015. Web. 27 Jan. 2018.
Basas, Carrie Griffin. “Advocacy Fatigue: Self-Care, Disability Discrimination, and Legal Attrition.”
11 Aug. 2014. Web. 27 Jan. 2018.
“Nashville Public Library Events Calendar.” Nashville Public Library. Nashville Public Library, n.d.
Web. 27 Jan. 2018.
Patel, Amisha, and Hemant Patel. “Promoting self care in the community: the evidence and why it is
important.” The Pharmaceutical Journal. 29 Apr. 2014. Web. 27 Jan. 2018.
Lacey Lyons is a participant in Empower Tennessee’s Empowered Ladies peer support group and a freelance writer and editor who works at Belmont University. She can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.