Self-Care for Social Changemakers: What I learned from Aisha Moore | Beth's Blog

Self-Care for Social Changemakers: What I learned from Aisha Moore

Happy Healthy Nonprofit

selfcare Aisha

As part of the research for our book, The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit:  Impact without Burnout, I have been following the various  conversations threads about self-care, avoiding burnout, compassion fatigue, and work/life balance in the nonprofit and social change sectors.   A colleague who I have worked with in the past, Aisha Moore, a health and social justice professional tweeted me from the Mindful Leadership Summit.  Kismet!   Aisha and I had worked together on a social media training project for HHS/Aids.Gov, so I was excited to see another shared interest and connection.

Aisha Moore has spent 15 years in social justice and health care programs  as a communications strategist.   The sad truth is the passion that social change activists like Aisha have for their work is a double edge sword.   One the one hand, it helps them to keep going in face of difficult challenges.  On the other hand, it prevent them from refueling or noticing that they are experiencing the early warning signs of burnout.   For Aisha, it came one day when leaving the office for lunch.  She felt dizzy and lightheaded.  She had to be wheeled out of the office on stretcher and taken to the hospital in an ambulance.  After a battery of medical tests,  she learned from her doctor that her symptoms were due to chronic stress.

“Stress?  I love my work,” she told her doctor.  She was so anxious that she did not even notice it was making her sick until she passed out.   She recovered through a systematic program of self-care she created for herself.  She then launched a coaching practice to help other social change makers avoid her mistake.   Aisha was interviewed for a podcast as part of the Mindful Leadership Summit by Meditate This Podcast and shared some of her thinking about creating a self-care plan.

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Aisha talked about moments of  personal transformation.  One of those came to her when she wrote a blog post called, “How To Take Care of Yourself When Your Black Life Doesn’t Matter.”    She was feeling the stress of racism and wanted to write about how racism, stress, and mindfulness are connected.  She wrote the post for herself, to process what she was seeing in the news and also reinforce the idea that is is okay to take care of herself.   It became one of her most shared blog posts – it reinforced her new mission of self-care for social change activists.

On the podcast and her blog, she shares many practical tips about self-care.   But the most important one is more of a mindset:  Do not to feel guilty about self-care.  “You are important, you come up first.  Whether you have kids or a job, you have to lead from abundance not scarcity.  Remember, that taking care of yourself is part of the work that nonprofits and change makers do in order  to take care of others.”  On her blog, she has a “Self-Care Bill of Rights.”

The road to well-being and life/work balance includes having a self-care plan.   Says Aisha, “When I didn’t have a self-care plan, I got up 20 minutes before I had to leave for work.  I gave everything to my work.  Now that I have a self-care plan, I give everything to myself in the morning before I get to work.”

For Aisha, her plan includes having a morning and evening routine.  Her morning routine is to get up early and spend two hours before going to work engaging in a mindful activity.   She calls it, “Choose your own mindful adventure.”  Whether this is writing in a journal, coloring in an adult coloring book,  yoga, meditation, listening to music, or walking, she does something for herself.   For her, she likes having the freedom of choice, although she tends to lean on journaling techniques like Bullet Journaling.  She also has an evening routine that includes maximizing her sleep.

Aisha says that self-care is about setting boundaries and acquiring the skill of saying no, especially at work.    “I work in an organization where everyone loves each other and everyone says yes.   But, you have to realize that it is about being effective and you have to accept that you can’t do it all.”

What has having a self-care done for Aisha?    She has a better understanding of her stress levels and knows how to turn around the physical symptoms of stress before it damages her health.

As a social change activist, she says that many people like her were simply not trained about the importance of taking of ourselves.    In some nonprofit fields, social work, for example, there is more awareness of the importance of self-care.   The University of Buffalo School of Social work has a self-care starter kit and Sara Kay Smullens book on self-care and burnout for social workers.

What do you do as a nonprofit professional to take care of yourself?  How do you practice self-care without apology for guilt?   How has it helped you be more effective?


14 Responses

  1. kath says:

    Beth, I’m so glad you are writing about all of this. Self care is so important and a struggle for so many who are committed to the health of the wider world. Somehow, we don’t place OURSELVES in that world as needing care first to enable ongoing change. There are a variety of strategies I’ve engaged in over the years, but I think most critical is the awareness of your body as a critical part of the movement toward justice. I would be interested in hearing more about how different activists conceive of that philosophically — without that basic premise, I think self-care for change agents is elusive. I’ll be reading with interest. Thank you.

  2. Beth says:

    Kath, I’d love to interview you about what works for you for the book. I’ll follow up in email.

  3. Parker says:

    Hello Beth,
    Thank you so much for researching this topic. I am currently trying to find information on self-care practices for humanitarian aid workers when responding to Complex Humanitarian Emergencies. I am looking forward to information you have on the low resource settings and self care. Social Changemakers often put themselves behind their work particularly when time and resources are poor. However, taking care of these highly valuable individuals is key to providing the services that their communities need.


  4. SG says:

    Hi Beth,

    I am so glad that you are writing about self care. I used to work at an educational foundation where I was told that it was was run like a start-up. The understanding was that it would mean working non-stop like crazy. Thing to remember is that this is made up of parent volunteers who are in it for helping raise funds for programs in schools. I revamped one of their programs and made it extremely successful within two years. I did it without letting my team feel any stress. But I was constantly questioned about why I didn’t seem stressed enough. I was told that perhaps I wasn’t serious enough because I didn’t ‘look’ stressed.

    I meditate regularly and practice yoga and mindfulness which helped me deal with stress. I spoke with the President about introducing those practices in the foundation. He probably thought I was crazy. Not only did he not allow me to introduce these practices but eventually forced me out saying that I was using the organization as a spiritual path. Honestly, I don’t see any issues with being on a spiritual path but it was awful to see that taking care of your stress equated to ‘not being serious’ enough. In the end, the results showed what worked: the program I ran made $350K for the foundation over 2 years, when it used to barely make 10K. Ironical, that they still saw it fit to bully me relentlessly and forced me out. Also, the president does foundation work and all the emailing between 12am-3am. I feel that it sends the message to others that he is very hard working and others are not. He even made some kids who are part of the foundation pull in late nighters. The kids ran a program and got completely stressed. Sad, because this stressful working style is getting passed on to the younger generation and while they are learning to run programs, theya re not being taught skills needed to handle stress that is a byproduct of this working style.

  5. Lexi says:

    Hello there, Thank you for this very important article. This is exactly the work that I do as a coach as well. After reaching similar points of personal distress while the Executive Director of a non-profit I started, I realized how much people who are focused on a mission often neglect themselves. I believe that as we strengthen and care for ourselves, we actually strengthen the missions we are working on as well. We begin to lead from a place of peace and trust in ourselves and that effects the work that we do. I’d love for you to check out my website at And I’d love to stay in touch about the work you are doing! Thanks again for this great read. Lexi

  6. Vera says:

    Such a timely article for me… quite literally, as I’m meandering the internet after waking up at 4am with The Panic, as I call it. My question is – do you think it’s possible to recover from burnout and continue with the work you are doing? If self-care has been completely ignored, and it’s gone too far, is it possible to get back the ability to be passionate and effective in the work? I gave too much to me career once, burned out so bad after 8 years that I can’t fathom ever going back. But it led to my starting of an amazing nonprofit organization, to which I’ve dedicated the past two years, which is now thriving. Unfortunately I, again, neglected this self-care piece, and I already feel the same burn out after only two years. I don’t REALLY want to give up, nor can this organization survive without me at this juncture. But I’m not sure if it’s possible to turn things around for myself, break the habits of self-neglect, and get back the passion that I had a year ago…

  7. Beth says:

    Vera, thanks for stopping by. If you know you are burned out, get help. See your doctor because burnout and stress can have health impacts. Get support – friends, family, or professionals — a coach. Look at the basics, like getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods and exercise – those help a lot. Follow the links to the University of Buffalo self-care guide – it includes some terrific resources, tips, and assessments. Good luck with your journey.

  8. Beth says:


    I would love to hear more from you. Can you fill out our brief survey and we can follow up with an interview?

  9. Beth says:

    Wow, what a story! I’d love to interview for my book. Can you fill out this survey and we will follow up?

  10. Aisha Moore says:

    The comments are so rich. It only further validates how we all need to spread the word about self-care. It’s really been transformative in my life.

  11. Beth says:


    Absolutely – the post did really well and I’m excited.

    Just wrote this about a self-care habit I’m trying to rebuild over the holiday

  12. Beth, I just saw your important post and am so glad you are writing about the necessity of self-care. Burnout is in the wings for all of us during this very demanding and complex time in our country. I hope our paths can cross. The research for my book on burnout and self-care began six years ago, and we all must protect ourselves and incorporate self-care in our day-to-day lives.

    SaraKay Smullens

  13. Carie Lewis Carlson says:

    Beth, I’ve bookmarked this forever and finally got a chance to read it. Great points. I am UNAPOLOGETIC about self-care, always have been – and its so important. Especially in working for a nonprofit, but ESPECIALLY as a working mom. Thank you for encouraging this!

  14. Beth says:


    After interviewing your wellness program coordinator, HSUS is also a leader when it comes to wellness.

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