The Secret To Radical Self-Care During These Very Traumatic Times

Hint: It's one word.

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What is the secret to practicing “radical self-care” you ask? In short: the secret is you. It will always be you.

Because you are the only one who has the power to change your life and to build a life that brings you happiness, love, and joy.

My grandmother used to tell me when I was a young woman in college that I was my own best secret weapon in life.

She would say, “it’s up to you to make good choices. Not choices that are just healthy for your career, or who you love, but healthy for your mind, your body, and for your soul.”


I only wish at such a young age that I could have truly embraced and followed such wisdom.

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I think of her words often now as we have all been through such a difficult past two years with COVID, Zoom workplaces, illness, isolation, depression, mask mandates, lock-downs, inflation, high gas prices, and a deep sense of loneliness even when we are surrounded by other people.

The best advice I can give you about so-called “radical self-care” is that it comes from knowing yourself from the inside out.

And it starts by guarding your mind, guarding your spirit, and guarding your energy. In other words, guarding your mental and emotional health.


Of all the life lessons I have learned, this one is the greatest.

For me, I did not learn how to truly embrace and value my own well-being until I was well in my late forties and early fifties. Do not wait that long to get this one right.

Life is too short. Time lost can never be reclaimed.  Young people, hear me on this one—start out as you mean to continue in your life. Set healthy boundaries around your mental and emotional wellness and stick to them.

No means no. You time is your time.

And in this modern, crazy, fast-paced world of ours, guarding your peace is essential to your own care.

After we deal with the trauma and generational issues of our families, our second greatest obstacle in life is us — you and me.


I call it “getting out of your own way”.

Part of getting out of your own way is setting up a system of valuing you before you value anyone or anything else.

The very fact that what I just wrote made most of you bristle, or feel uncomfortable, tells you how deeply conditioned we are as human beings, and more so as women to not put self first.

But I am going to keep repeating this until you believe me: Everything you need in life starts with you.

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Knowing what we want and what we need is the first place we have to start, but the real test comes when we have to actually do something to address those desires.


What I know for sure is that when you do not put your mental health and your emotional health first, everything else goes off track. Your life becomes a blur, badly out of focus, and only you can fix it. My Nana used to say, “There’s a running day and a catching day.”

She was spot on. You can only run from yourself for so long before you will have to pay a very expensive emotional bill for all the years of self-neglect, self-abuse, and lack of self-care.

But here is the good news: it does not have to be this way. You can start out by practicing good emotional health and wellness habits, or you can correct courses at midlife as I did. It is not too late to have a peaceful, fulfilling, and happy life. Your life is what you decide it’s going to be.

Remember: You are responsible for yourself. Not your family. Not your friends. Not your spouse. Not your pastor. Not your church. Not your work colleagues.


Nobody is going to love you more than you love you. You have got to decide what’s next in your life, at every season of your life.

And once you decide, you have to have a strategy in place to get there. We focus so much in our modern times on being “productive.”

Translated, that means we are always on, always exhausted, always overwhelmed, and stressed the hell out. Which is no way to live. No matter your age.

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A better, healthier way to live is to focus on balance. Meaning, yes, you can work hard. And you can be productive. But you balance that by setting limits.


The workday has changed dramatically since I started my professional career in the mid-to-late 1990s. We had no devices.

We had no 24/7 availability. With the exception of physicians, we were not expected to. I was a young attorney working in government and then in private practice. Our workday ended at 5:00 pm and we all went out for a drink or to dinner, or we would play softball on Capitol Hill.

On the weekend we would go to a club and have fun. Even though we didn’t know it at the time, we were taking care of our mental and emotional health. We played as hard as we worked, and we loved both. Not so much now.

  • With our gadgets and devices, the twenty-first-century workday is literally never ending.
  • And let me be clear: your workday needs to end. Just as it has a beginning, it must have an end.
  • You have to begin work at a certain time each day, and likewise, you need to have a time when you put down your phone, and your laptop, and turn work off.
  • You need to be able to shift between the professional you and the personal you.
  • When you work, work.
  • When you are at home, be present.
  • Be with your kids. Be with your spouse. Be accessible. Be there.

If you don’t get this important life lesson quickly, what inevitably happens is that you become less and less emotionally available, first to yourself and then to your family. You become grouchy, short-tempered, maybe even mean, judgmental, snapping at everyone and everything.

The reason is that you are not happy with yourself, and intellectually you know it--hell, you even whisper it to yourself under your breath every day.

"I need some rest." "I need a vacation." "I need to get away or I am going to lose it."

Ever say any of those things? I know I have. And it wasn't until I started doing something about it that my life started to change, and I started to change right along with it.


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Sophia A. Nelson is an award-winning American author and journalist. She is a frequent on-air Commentator for CNN and is an OPINION columnist for USA TODAY, a contributing editor at, and writes freelance for The Washington Post About Us Section.