We live in a world where it's normal to hear, almost everyday, that we should "move faster", "be better", and "do more".
Many of us (and you're not at fault here if you do) listen to these messages, not thinking about the inevitable consequences of pushing ourselves to the limit. Recently, I sat down with a woman who has mastered the art of the do-more-lifestyle; therapist and health enthusiast, Alanna Gardner. Alanna works as a full-time marriage and family therapist and moonlights as cycling instructor at Flywheel Sports. Alanna has made the do-more-lifestyle work in her favor by doing more in areas that are personally nourishing, like self care, health and community. Although she pushes herself to be her best, she does so while replenishing all that she gives. Alanna and I met, after a super-charged class at Flywheel sports, to discuss wellness and self-care-while-black.
Who are you and how do you choose to contribute to the world?
I’m Alanna Gardner and I am a full-time marriage and family therapist with Philadelphia MFT, as well as an indoor cycling instructor at Flywheel Sports. My passion is health and wellness and anything that encompasses that. It [wellness] comes in very many forms, it doesn't have to be via therapy or working out. Anything that has to do with wellness, I’m all about it and that’s how I choose to give back to others.
With wellness, there’s always the self-care piece. How would you, personally, define self care?
There’s that saying that you can’t give of yourself unless your cup’s full. I go by that. I feel like [self-care is] whatever you have to do to maintain and make sure that your cup is full and overflowing. Because, really, you need to overflow to be able to pour into somebody else and still have something left to give.
Growing up, many of us are not taught the importance of incorporating self-care into our lives, so, self-care becomes something we discover and, hopefully, practice adults. When did you first learn about self care? What was your self-care “aha!” moment?
It’s probably when I had my heart attack. I had a birth defect that I never knew about. So, five years ago, I was in my last semester of grad school, I was training to run the Broad Street Run. I was running a bunch of races, I was swimming, I was lifting. I was in the best shape of my life at the time, but still trying to do too much. Although those things aren’t what brought on the heart attack, I think having the heart event and also having to have open-heart surgery that....was just an instance where God kind’ve brought me down to my knees.
I was like, alright, I have to implement asking people for help. I have to now set boundaries with people and say no. I was the type of person who felt that I could do anything. I went from being someone who was supremely independent to not being able to lift my purse. I couldn’t even walk around Target by myself. I had to find balance in my life. I had to learn how to rely on others.
Speaking of relying on others, as a Black Woman, we are often taught to not rely on others; to take care of ourselves, and everyone else, by ourselves. How was it for you to not only be obligated to rely on others for help but also have that be a part of your self-care?
It kind’ve goes unspoken that “black women will get it done”, we’ll power through no matter what the case may be. The “strong independent black woman” archetype is prevalent, in our community. Black women will get it done and then some. From the characters that you see on TV down to the women in our families; we get it done. So, for me, it was weird and uncomfortable to take a step back and ask people for help, it was a challenge.
What do you think are the major obstacles, for women of color specifically, when it comes to acknowledging the need for and practicing self-care?
Support. Based on my own experiences and those of my friends, family, and clients, I think it’s a lack of support. We [women of color] don’t have support for a lot of things either due to circumstances or just not seeking/asking for it (i’m guilty of this!!). It’s the lack of support and not knowing where to find that support.
Self-care is trending right now and there are lots of messages out there but many of them are not speaking to us. If you had a self-care dream for Black women and women of color, what would that be? What would you tell us?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and or do things that push you out of your comfort zone. Try something new!