Q&A: Shelly Tygielski on Self-Care for Turbulent Times

Recorded Books
(Photo Credit: 2019 Red Eye World Photography)

“Self-Care for Turbulent Times” is part 1 of 4 in Shelly Tygielski’s new workshop series. Narrated by the author, this workshop will provide you with a practical roadmap to apply main pillars of self-care and community care in your life, relieving stress, cultivating resilience and creating space for peace even in the most unprecedented and difficult times.

We were thrilled to chat with Shelly about “Self-Care for Turbulent Times”—available to purchase and download here!

Author Q&A: Shelly Tygielski

Recorded Books (RB): Tell us why self-care is so important to you? Why should it be important, now, to others as well?

Shelly Tygielski: In late 2017, I had reached a point of activism burnout and fatigue in a debilitating way. I needed some serious self-care and a personal recharge if I was going to have any momentum going forward and if I was going to ensure that my physical and mental health was not going to further suffer. This experience resulted in a promise to myself that I would never go back to a place of ineffectiveness, defeat and malfunction—and a promise to do whatever I could to ensure that no one is left behind, feeling depleted, exhausted, and hopeless.

For the last four years I have been working hard to create the world I want to see by sowing seeds of love. And I realized that this can only be done if we include love for ourselves in the mix. My rallying cry for 2020 (and beyond) has been that: Self-Care is a radical act of love.

For me, personally, I’d continue that sentence by saying “Self Care is a radical act of love that increases my capacity for impact!”

But self-care means something different to everyone. That’s one of it’s most transformational and unifying properties. What will focusing on self-care allow you to do this year? What will your impact be?

We know that self-care is good for us—it increases our emotional and physical health, it builds resilience, and paves the way for kind, compassionate engagement with the world around you.

These are all important qualities for us to cultivate during these unprecedented times.


RB: So why is self-care often viewed as a selfish pursuit? And why do people feel so guilty about taking the time to pursue it?

Shelly: I think we feel guilty about self-care because it goes against everything we’ve been taught about being a good human being, let alone an effective activist. Self-care means putting ourselves first and we’ve been conditioned to believe this is wrong and selfish. Real change-makers are meant to suffer and endure hardship; proper nutrition, healthy relationships, and exercise are frivolous, right? Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malala Yousafzai—these individuals are forever linked to self-sacrifice and suffering. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t have time for self-care!

The word “self” has a negative connotation in this context because it seems to be only about the individual. But we need to expand our view of the “self” beyond the individual to include everyone we touch: our families, our communities, the whole of the natural world. When we practice self-care, we hone our interactions with everything around us: we protect the world around us. Imagine the powerful transformation that would happen if everyone took care in this way.

I like to refer to self-care as communities of care instead. Simply by taking the word “self” out of the mix, we change it from being an individualistic pursuit to a communal one. In doing so, we take a lot of the guilt out of the mix.

RB: Many people feel like self-care has been hijacked by the monetization of the “wellness industrial complex.” Do you agree with that statement?

Shelly: I would definitely agree with that statement. One of the main issues with the way self-care has been viewed today is that it’s mostly geared toward women who are white and of means. It’s become associated with the purchase of goods and services that are indulgent and frivolous. This is one of the reasons self-care is also seen as an “occasional” practice.

But self-care is for everyone—men, minorities, people of color, and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet. It’s especially for those individuals.

Self-care is a collective goal, not a commodity good. In order for us to collectively be successful, this is an essential paradigm shift that needs to happen. Only when the organizations we support, run, and invest our time and money in start viewing self-care as a pillar rather than a luxury, will we begin to see liberty and justice for all. Only when we each take responsibility for ourselves and our compassionate hearts, will we be able to achieve our unalienable rights of life, liberty, and happiness.

RB: What would you say is a common misconception about the practice of self-care?

Shelly: I would say that people tend to think that self-care is supposed to be easy. It’s actually a really hard undertaking! Most people think it’s a quick-fix – like a bandaid. But, it’s actually a long-term play. Ironically, so is our political and social justice work. We all know that very rarely if ever, do landscapes change overnight, but we fail to understand that this also applies to well-being. It is much easier for us to make decisions that feel good right now (“quick-fixes”) than it is to have the discipline to make decisions that may suck now but feel really great later.

RB: What do you hope people walk away with after listening to this workshop?

Shelly: First, that self-care is not one-size fits all. We need to ask ourselves “what do we need right now” and then learn to listen. Second, that self-care is not an individualistic pursuit. In order for it to be sustainable and achievable, it has to be communal and weave safety nets and support networks for all of the community members. Third, I think the formalization of self-care plans and communities of care is something most people don’t do. I hope this workshop makes a strong case as to why we need to formalize these if we want to truly create cultural shifts as it relates to the way we view self-care and how we want to be and can be supported.

RB: You are a community organizer and you talk a lot about the power of movements. How does self-care play into this? Is there a national movement in the making here?

Shelly: Well, I think looking around at the collective exhaustion of our friends, co-workers and peers, I would say that a movement isn’t just something we should be thinking about, it’s something that is absolutely critical to our survival. In order for self-care to become a national movement, we must be clear about what it is and what it’s for: its intention and purpose. The motivation behind self-care needs to extend beyond our own in-the-moment happiness. We need to understand that our self-care impacts the lives of those around us in innumerable positive ways. We need to realize that from a macro perspective, self-care reaches beyond the individual to impact communities, neighborhoods, our nation, and, ultimately, the world.

The modern self-care movement needs to start as a practice to avoid burnout, rather than as a response to it. The movement must demand that individuals put their health and wellness first without feeling guilty for doing so. If we all collectively share our plans for self-care, we declare boldly that our needs, our state of mind, our body and our overall health matters. We give permission to others to invest in themselves and take the courageous step to acknowledge that they have needs, that their needs are important, and that those needs deserve to be met.