When I was growing up, there was this popular saying: “You can’t love others until you love yourself.” For me, this wasn’t the case. In fact, I found it much easier to love others.

But over time, I realized something important: the more I was able to embrace the different parts of myself, the deeper I could feel for others. And by deeper, I mean with greater understanding, more empathy and fewer strings attached.

I’ve found the same holds true when it comes to care. I often find it so much easier to care for others. But I’ve also learned that I can only extend the level of attention, presence and respect to them that I’m able to provide for myself.

Why bring all this up?

Because if we want to advance care in our community storytelling work – which I see as a key role of journalism – we also need to practice self-care.

Showing up for ourselves, as it turns out, is the best way to sustain our ability to show up for others. To hear, understand and recognize their needs, and create journalism they’ll turn to and trust. Which is just what AX Mina gets at in her essay. She provides insights to help you develop personal and reporting practices that nourish your well-being.

If you don’t have a self-care routine in place, or (like me) you find it hard to maintain the one you mapped out as part of your new year’s resolutions, that’s normal! Like any new commitment you try to build into your schedule, it takes time to find what works best.

Also, you don’t have to have your self-care practice dialed in before you can effectively engage in community care work. It’s something you can build and refine along the way.

How to make room for self-care in your work

By AX Mina

Find the full essay here.

Like many mediamakers, I’ve gone through periods of burnout at work that prompted me to reconsider how I extend care to myself and to others. What follows is an assortment of methods and perspectives that helped me, and I hope that they can support your own self and community care practices.

On balance: Just a year before the pandemic, I went on an Eat Pray Love journey after a period of burnout. What I learned as I traveled the Yucatán Peninsula is that, in all the work I’d been doing, I had neglected my body and my spirit. When I returned, I adopted the idea that work is composed of head, heart and hands — something I’d learned from a mentor. We use our head to engage in strategic and intellectual work. We use our hands to get work done. And we use our hearts to practice care and compassion. I learned to ensure I was balancing these different aspects of myself. It’s hard to extend care to others when one is imbalanced.

On self-reflexivity: When entering a space, it’s vital that we understand the power dynamics we bring into a space. How do issues like race, class, gender and language play into how we relate to others and how others perceive us? As journalists, we’re often trained on objectivity, but one concept I’ve appreciated from anthropology is the idea of self-reflexivity. Self-reflexivity is an invitation to sit with and understand how our presence shapes and influences a situation and our ability to understand the dynamics of a story.

On trauma-informed language: Often, care looks like being sensitive to the traumas that people around us might carry. Using invitational language makes space for people to say no or to respond in a way that feels more comfortable for them by giving them multiple options. Some examples include:

  • “Is this a conversation we can have today?”
  • “Would you be open to talking about this topic right now?”
  • “When would be a good time to ask a few questions about your experience?”

Trauma-informed language might slow things down, but that can be a very good thing. In that regard, we are slowing down to put in the work, using our hands, to extend that invitation.

On boundaries: If we maintain tight boundaries without opening the heart, we become cold and unapproachable. If we open the heart without good boundaries, we find ourselves depleted and withdrawn. In my leadership coaching work, I always ask my clients: what fills your cup and what empties it? This is a simple exercise for checking in with the nervous system and knowing when we might be overextending ourselves, or when we might have more to give to others in a situation.

On practicing care in advance: Sometimes the hardest work is balancing practices like invitational language and care work with, say, a tight, high-pressure deadline. As in many things in life, being prepared is essential. Having conversations ahead of time with team members about how they handle stress and what kind of support they might need during stressful periods at work is a vital part of extending care in a variety of situations. Thinking about when and how to have these conversations can help as we involve others in sharing stories and experiences we hope to bring into our journalism.

AX Mina (she/they) is a strategic consultant and leadership coach with over a decade of global experience in organizational strategy and leadership, technology development, public speaking, and media development. She serves as part-time program director at The Self-Investigation, and she’s coached and trained news entrepreneurs and managers through programs with LION Publishers, The OpEd Project, and the American Press Institute. She was a founding board member of the News Product Alliance and is a Senior Civic Media Fellow at the USC Annenberg School for Journalism and Communications. Connect with AX on LinkedIn.

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