Give & Learn
For the next few weeks, NJCASA will be sharing content related to our upcoming Creating Transformative Spaces Conference (Nov 30th and Dec 1st)
For this week’s Give and Learn, The New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault is exploring the topic of Self and Community Care. While, in recent years, there has been an increased focus on self-care as a way of reducing burnout, particularly for individuals in high-stress fields where vicarious trauma is often a factor, community care is a less discussed practice that is actually necessary for self-care to be truly successful.
Self- and community-care are integrally connected because one cannot be successful without the other. Self-care encompasses a variety of practices that focus on individual health and healing, including activities ranging from exercise and meditation to more nuanced ones that bring a person peace and pleasure based on their unique interests. There is no one-size fits all answer. Essentially, these practices are most effective when they are aligned with individual preferences, meaning that what represents self-care for one person may not for another. However, there are also distinct limits to what self-care can provide when it is not founded upon strong community-care values and practices.
While many interpretations of self-care are individualistic in nature, the foundations of it should remain rooted in communal principles and priorities. An individual always needs to focus on caring for themselves, but this need is heighted when that individual experiences increased levels of burnout and stress. For those in the helping fields, for example, vicarious trauma is a reality that elevates the need for self-care. Similarly, for members of marginalized communities who face discrimination and other socio-economic barriers, the need is also elevated. These factors can have long-term negative effects, such as lost wages, and they are often associated with a broad range of health impacts, including heart disease, mental illness, addiction, and more.
Ironically, however, groups who experience extreme levels of burnout and anxiety are often the same ones that do not have enough resources and systems of support, which is why they experience heightened levels in the first place. They also typically have less personal time and fewer means to access recommended self-care practices. Thus, merely suggesting that individuals who are exposed to prolonged periods of stress and trauma focus on self-care fails to account for the absence of the very communal structures needed to uphold and support these individuals in the first place. Furthermore, the notion of self-care in these instances can place the onus exclusively on the person experiencing harm, which actually has the potential to exacerbate negative outcomes.
This is why community care is so essential. Community care is based on principles of support, collaboration, and equity, and it runs the gamut of actions that individuals can take to uplift and nourish those around them—everything from volunteerism to advocacy. Many of these traditions are common among communities that have experienced marginalization, as they often seek to fill gaps not met by the dominant culture in an affirming and inclusive context. Expanding these practices to other communal settings, like places of work, enables all members of a community to receive the support needed to thrive.
Groups that center community care enable their members to achieve self-care in a manner that actually sustains its long-term benefits. For example, if a staff member goes on vacation to recharge and only comes back to a toxic work environment, the positive effects of their experience quickly give way to renewed stress and anxiety. However, if the staff member returns to a place that values them, where their voice is heard, and where they feel supported and validated, then these benefits can feel long-lasting. Also, this individual, in turn, will more likely feel capable of stepping in to do the same for others in their community, thus expanding the value of a community-care model.
Learn more about ways to prioritize self and community care by attending our Creating Transformative Spaces Conference. And remember, to contribute to NJCASA’s work in supporting survivors of sexual violence and building safer, more empowered communities across New Jersey, please donate to us on Giving Tuesday, November 29th! We’re grateful for your support and collaboration!