Radical wellbeing is a necessity
by Merita Petäjä, psychologist, Project Manager of Oasis of Radical Wellbeing
Oasis of Radical Wellbeing is a new project from Aalto University researching, collecting information and distributing it to Aalto community and beyond. The aim of the project is to give Aalto community members tools to withstand the pressures of study, work, society, as well as the pressure we put on ourselves. If we can take care of ourselves, we will have more energy to take care of others, and once our community becomes self-sufficient in sharing support, we will all be better off. But what is radical about it? The project leader, psychologist Merita Petäjä, is starting a series of Oasis of Radical Wellbeing blogs.
The key concepts of radical self-care are self-preservation, protecting oneself from harm, and maintaining identity and values. The concept has its roots in movements where people have experienced oppression or where social activism is needed. “Taking care of myself is not self-indulgence, it’s self-preservation,” wrote Audre Lorde, an American poet, feminist, and human rights activist, in her book A Burst of Light (1988). Many activist communities have made use of Lorde’s thoughts on self-care.
Radical self-care is more than just a bubble bath - it’s a necessity.
In addition to maintaining physical wellbeing, it also includes creativity, recovery, caring for friendships, and living by our values.
But simply maintaining one's own wellbeing is not enough. The goal of radical wellbeing is to be able, as authentic selves, to work for what we value in our community.
The goal is still to be able to look at things from the perspective of others and build cohesion with a wide variety of people.
How does this happen?
We are familiar with the idea that physical fitness must be taken care of. Our shared experience with the pandemic has shown that taking care of oneself is more than just taking care of one’s physical wellbeing. We need to take care of friendships, creativity, recovery and friendships. We must stop to reflect our values and live by them.
Implementing one’s own values in a consistent way in one’s way of life contributes to a real, authentic life. Such a streamlined life can sometimes lead to a conflict with the values represented by the majority or, for example, a popular lifestyle, on e.g. social media.
Radical self-care means respecting one’s own unique identity, family, culture, gender, and sexual orientation, especially at times when they are being criticized or challenged. Radical wellbeing is the constant examination of one's own values, standing behind them and recognizing and accepting even uncomfortable feelings.
Community-focused perspective is central to radical wellbeing. It is one of the cornerstones of individual wellbeing to be part of the community. But it is not enough to create a bubble of personal wellbeing only with like-minded people. One must also be ready to work towards building a network and a study community to include those who are different in their identity or hold different values.
Aalto University has people from more than a hundred countries. That begs the question of how we should work to make such a cocktail of cultures work as productively as possible for common goals. The principle of the majority excludes people who may otherwise bring a lot of information and creative ideas with them.
Radical wellbeing is promoted by the fact that we are ready to meet different people and allow each of us to bring out our own authentic self.
Uncomfortable emotions and feats in life
We all experience moments when the connection with other people is broken or it is difficult to stand behind our own values. The fact that we do not shy away from uncomfortable feelings but grasp them, accept the experience of uncomfortable feelings as part of growth and development, and try to view them with kind acceptance, is a radical wellbeing.
Recognizing one's privileged position is also radical wellbeing. A person who represents the majority in many respects, for example in a meeting, is likely to have more power at their disposal. Awareness of one’s own ways of exercising power and actively striving for equal treatment of others is part of the change we need.
“If I’ve had any particular intention at all with this Pippi character, apart from entertaining my young readers, it would have been this – to show them that it is possible to be in power and not abuse it, because of all feats in life it seems that’s the most difficult one of all”. -Astrid Lindgren about Pippi Longstocking
Research shows that compassion and a shared experience of humanity support our ability to help other and work for causes such as justice or environmental protection. Authenticity and compassion for oneself strengthens a person's ability to empathize with another person's perspective as well.
A person's own wellbeing is supported by the fact that they can distinguish systemic things from personal ones. However, radical wellbeing seeks systemic change. We need action at the individual, community and global levels to achieve sustainable solutions. In order for us to be able to take action to advance the goals of the community and society, it is essential to take care of our own resources, limits and resilience.
It is important that there will come times when we dare to take off the refreshing cucumber slices from our eyelids and open our eyes to look at the world as it is, and to work for the things we care about.
"Indeed, this is uncomfortable!"
The key to supporting your own wellbeing is to stop from time to time and look at key aspects of oneself. This is especially necessary at times when our connection to other people is being tested - when we begin to feel hopeless, when we face difficulties, or when our values or identity are being called into question.
It is empowering for wellbeing if, in these difficult times, we are able to accept our experience and recognize that “Indeed, this is uncomfortable!”. Sometimes, we need supportive, close people because the comfort they provide us with will help us deal with the situation.
What can we do?
Self-care routines help us focus our energy on making changes and maintaining our serenity even in difficult times. Routines are empowering but building them requires effort. Slowing down life to accomplish routines is often very difficult. Therefore, it is good to stop to think about how to strengthen one’s own models of self-care and at the same time one’s own authentic lifestyle. We may ask ourselves:
1. What coping mechanisms do I use? How do I deal with uncomfortable feelings? How much dare I move out of my comfort zone?
2. What kind of support system do I have? Who do I get support from? Who will accept me as I am?
3. When and where does my creativity burst into sight? How can I express myself in my free time, work or study?
4. How do I manage my physical resources? Sleep, nutrition, health?
5a. What values are so important to me that without the ability to realize those values, my life would feel meaningless?
5b. What kind of a cultural, gender or sexual identity do I have?
READ MORE HERE:
Degges-White, Suzanne (2020). Radical Self-Care to Protect Your Overall Well-Being. Learning to care for yourself allows you to be there for others. Psyschology Today. Radical Self-Care to Protect Your Overall Well-Being | Psychology Today
Myers, J. E., & Sweeney, T. J. (2004). The Indivisible Self: An Evidence-Based Model of Wellness. Journal of Individual Psychology, 60(3), 234-245. (The Indivisible Self: An Evidence-Based Model of Wellness.)
Jeffry L. Moe, Dilani M. Perera-Diltz, and Tamara Rodriguez (2021): Counseling for Wholeness: Integrating Holistic Wellness into Case Conceptualization and Treatment Planning
Lorde, Audre (1984). Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Trumansburg, New York: The Crossing Press.