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Karen Stewart, MA, and David Stewart, PhD, are psychologists who work with individuals, couples, groups, and organizations in their Durham practice.

Take Care

By Karen Stewart, MA

Karen Stewart, MA

I have always closed my emails and letters to clients with the simple words, “take care,” but those words have never seemed so very important, so crucial as they do right now. “Taking care” of ourselves, each other, and our world must be our priority if we are to continue to thrive. We are all deeply and intricately connected in ways that poets and mystics, seers and sages have always known but science is now beginning to understand and explain. We are on the cusp of great possibilities, changes that we can only begin to see, a way of life that values relationships and sustainability rather than growth, acquisition, and consumption. “Taking care” can be a guiding light.


What does “taking care” of ourselves really mean?

For those of us privileged to have our basic needs met, at the foundation of taking care of ourselves and our immediate family is eating healthy food, getting adequate rest, exercising regularly, limiting screen time, and getting out in nature. Healthy food, rest and exercise form the base of an imaginary pyramid. The importance of those three cannot be overestimated.

Limiting screen time and getting out in nature kind of go hand in hand and research has recently confirmed what we have known for a long time: being outside is good for us (except of course when the air quality is poor because of pollution.) Many books and documentaries confirm that, in fact, we are part of a deeply and richly connected web of living organisms and getting out of our houses and into our natural environment enriches us. Watch The Hidden Life of Trees on Netflix or read The Secret Life of Trees: What they Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohleben. Being around nature, trees and plants soothes our nervous systems and produces feelings of well-being. Step outside in the cool of the early morning or evening and simply breathe, take in this natural balm.

Beyond the foundational needs are things that bring us joy—spending leisure time with friends and family, hobbies, entertainment, and other activities. For me taking care of myself may mean slowing down, taking time to rest and reflect, or it might mean taking a walk, going camping, or even making a meal for a friend. Anything that feels nurturing and enriching.

Taking care of others would mean making sure that we live in a just society where all people have the basics—shelter, food, water, clothing, education, health care (including mental health care), and access to transportation.

A just society would mean that everyone is treated fairly, systemic racism has been eliminated and injustices have been righted. This is a much larger task and requires a concerted effort at city, state, national and even global levels. I can do my small part by voting, writing letters, standing up for what I believe. I know I would rest easier if I felt sure the people in Haiti, New Orleans, and even Afghanistan had their basic needs met. I know the world would be a different place. When people have their basic needs met, it becomes easier to meet the more esoteric needs, though the resilience of human beings is amazing, and people manage to find joy in even the most difficult circumstances.

Finally, taking care of our world means really taking climate change seriously right now and enacting the legislation to do our part to make sure our children and grandchildren inherit what is left of this amazing earth. The incredible web of life that is this planet thrived for so long without us and we have wreaked such havoc in such a relatively short time. Hopefully, if we act now, we can provide the time and space for the environment to heal. If you want to be inspired, you might watch a short You Tube video Three Seconds. If the time the earth has existed is represented by 24 hours, we have been here only 3 seconds. The video describes the harm we have done in those 3 seconds and what we need to do to make it to 4 seconds. (https://youtube.com/watch?v=sacc_x-XB1Y)

Awareness of the three levels of taking care is so important. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we run the risk of burning out. In the face of so much to do it is easy to feel overwhelmed. When that occurs, we can take a deep breath, feel the distress, acknowledge it and then breathe it out. Breath is where head and heart come together, we can center and know that we are okay. We can each do whatever we can to tip the balance in favor of change. We can pick up the phone and call a legislator, pick up a pen and write a letter to the editor, attend a demonstration, write a check, and most of all continue to educate ourselves so that we can educate others. “Taking care” can become deeply embedded in our consciousness and become a way of life providing the motivation for all our actions.