Sustainable Self-Care? You Need To Balance Ritual With Restful Self-Care

Sustainable Self-Care? You Need To Balance Ritual With Restful Self-Care

Self-care is anything you do intentionally to take care of yourself. Period.

And whilst it seems that the kinds of self-care hashtagged on social media are indulgent, expensive or elaborate, the origins of self-care are much more grassroots.

As Slate author, Aisha Harris writes about the history of self-care:

It wasn’t until the rise of the women’s movement and the civil rights movement that self-care became a political act. Women and people of color viewed controlling their health as a corrective to the failures of a white, patriarchal medical system to properly tend to their needs.

In the 60s, activists, especially women of colour recognised the intersectionality of poverty, racism, sexism and access to healthcare.

The less privilege you have, the less healthcare you can access. And in order to fight the status quo so more people can thrive, you need to stay healthy. Which means you need self-care.

Self-care became an intentionally radical act of self-preservation. A way to demonstrate to an oppressive and often violent society that you matter.

In today's climate, self-care is as vital as ever. If you are looking to live deeply, self-care is non-negotiable. Especially for activists, marginalised people, highly sensitive people, or anyone with a chronic illness.

So how do you take care of yourself in a way that is consistent, sustainable and meaningful without it becoming commodified?

We think it's about balancing ritual self-care with restful self-care.

Let's dive in.

The difference between ritual self-care and restful self-care

We believe self-care can be split into two categories. Ritual and restful. How you carry out each one will be completely individual. However, both are required for your own sustenance.

Ritual self-care: any habitual form of physical or mental care required for your survival

Showing up for yourself, especially consistently, is hard work. Meeting your basic needs can be repetitive and dull. In fact, illustrator and mental health advocate Hannah Daisy calls it "boring self-care".

Hannah also points out that self-care isn't always care you have to do "entirely by yourself". You may need a carer or people to help you along the way. There is no shame in needing assistance for self-care.

Ritual self-care could be as simple (not necessarily easy) as:

  • making the bed
  • filling a prescription
  • drinking enough water, or
  • journaling every morning

But it could also be things that are more complex, like:

  • cleaning the house
  • going to therapy
  • connecting with loved ones
  • cooking a nourishing meal, or
  • getting up and dressed

It's usually the mundane activities that are rarely commemorated but deserve to be celebrated nonetheless.

Why ritual self-care feels hard

Ritual self-care often feels difficult to maintain because it takes relentless effort and usually isn't very fun.

More often than not, it means doing something boring, uncomfortable or hard in the short term to feel better in the long term.

It means making a commitment to your future self in the here and now.

Ritual self-care is especially difficult if you're a spoonie, have an invisible or chronic illness, or are recovering from trauma. When you are fatigued or in pain, ritual self-care may be all you can manage.

But ritual self-care isn't the only important form of care. You need to balance it with rest.

Restful self-care: any form of rest, relaxation or rejuvenation

Self-care isn't all bubble baths and naps. Except when it is. A big part of self-care is rest.

We have internalised capitalistic ideals about hustle and productivity, believing our worth is tied to our output.

We have come to regard self-care as selfish instead of a place to cherish our "soft animal bodies".

We have participated in the dehumanisation and enslavement of black and brown bodies and then have the audacity to call them lazy.

In a patriarchal, white supremacist, capitalist society, rest is denied for so many.

Our society has been built (and continues to run) on the backs of slave labour, and unpaid or underpaid labour from women and people of colour.

During the pandemic of 2020, half of all essential workers in the US were Black, Hispanic or Asian American and over 75% of essential health care workers were women. In Australia, almost 80% of healthcare workers were women, jumping to 95% in aged care.

Despite working in difficult and dangerous conditions, and being considered "essential" to the economy, these workers were also often paid the lowest and had the least access to paid sick leave and health insurance.

Not to mention the unpaid labour, mainly shouldered by women, that increased as children were required to be home-schooled during lockdowns.

In this landscape, restful self-care isn't a way to offset your productivity. It becomes a politically subversive act, especially for Black and First Nations people.

As Nap Bishop, artist and founder of the Nap Ministry, Tricia Hersey writes:

Rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy. To imagine a New World that centers liberation, we must practice rest as our foundation to invent, restore, imagine, and build.

Types of restful self-care include:

  • naps
  • crafting
  • meditation
  • a warm bath
  • daydreaming
  • getting enough sleep
  • spending time in nature
  • listening to meditones

But it might also include:

  • asking for help
  • quitting social media
  • letting go of toxic relationships
  • practicing good boundaries & saying no

a list comparing examples of ritual self-care and restful self-care

The #1 Internal Barrier to Self-Care

Whilst a lack of privilege can be a hindrance to care, there is also an internal barrier to overcome in order to make self-care a consistent priority.


If you don't fundamentally believe that you matter and that you are worthy of exquisite care, then self-care is going to be difficult to sustain.

Whether it's ongoing oppression and trauma, feeling ashamed for your care needs, or doubts around whether you deserve compassion and care, shame can be a deep barrier to self-care.

We also live in an ableist society that devalues and pities atypical bodies and brains. So it's easy to internalise the idea that needing help, care and assistance are somehow shameful and inferior.

Unpacking ideas about what types of bodies are deemed worthy and why; plus learning to love and accept yourself and your needs will help you sustain the effort required for consistent self-care.

Managing your energy with an energy audit

An energy audit can help you systematize your self-care. It means you'll spend less mental energy ruminating about it; you'll be less likely to forget what needs to be done; and have a clear plan of action.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • When do I feel most energised throughout the day?
  • When do I feel the most tired throughout the day?
  • When do I feel most energised throughout the month?
  • When do I feel most tired throughout the month?
  • What drains my energy?
  • What restores it?
  • What are my ritual self-care needs?
  • What are my restful self-care needs?
  • When can I schedule each?
  • If I'm having trouble with self-care, who can I ask for help?
  • Is there anything about my overall life that needs to change in order to access more care?
  • How can I use any existing privilege I hold to help others access more care?

Terms to Remember

Ritual self-care: any habitual form of physical or mental care required for your survival

Restful self-care: any form of rest, relaxation or rejuvenation

Spoonie: Spoon theory was developed by writer Christine Miserandino to describe to a friend what living with Lupus was like. Spoonie is now a term of identity used by many people living with a chronic illness

Ableism: discrimination and prejudice in favour of able-bodied people

Resources for Self-Care





Today I Affirm book cover

Today I Affirm: A Journal That Nurtures Self-Care by Alexandra Elle

Today I Affirm helps walk readers through the ins and outs of cultivating positive self-talk in a way that is stress-free and easy to understand. Includes affirmations written by the author, short bits of inspiration, charts to fill in, as well as journal pages all with the focus on self-care.

Unfuck Your Habitat book cover

Unf*ck Your Habitat by Rachel Hoffman

A refreshingly accessible guide on how to clean that’s simple, flexible, and adaptable to pretty much any lifestyle - including single people, people with roommates and people with chronic illness or physical limitations.

Wild Remedy book cover

The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell

Written across 12 months and featuring her gorgeous hand-illustrations, The Wild Remedy demonstrates how Emma uses time in nature to counteract her depression.

Craftfulness book cover

Craftfulness by Arzu Tahsin & Rosemary Davidson

An engaging, friendly and inspiring celebration of all things creativity and craft, while emphasising the huge mental benefits of making things with your hands.

All About Love book cover

All About Love by bell hooks

Centering love as a verb, bell hooks offers a proactive new ethic for a society bereft with lovelessness. She provides a new path to love that is sacred, redemptive, and healing for individuals and for a nation.

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