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Hidden Gems: Meet Ayana Shepherd of Self-Care Advocacy

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ayana Shepherd.

Hi Ayana, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
It was around late 2018 when I decided to take my life back. Between working multiple jobs and attempting to balance work, school, an intimate relationship, family, friends and hobbies, I lost sight of what was most important. And that was me.

In this period of my life, I was doing things that I enjoyed but as time passed, I wasn’t taking time to REALLY focus on me in every aspect of my life. Boundaries were being blurred and I found myself saying “yes” to people and their needs and subconsciously saying no to my own needs. Just as 2019 was closing, I took my first solo vacation. This was an opportunity for me to reflect, relax, and release. It was so liberating. Fast forward a few months later, Spring of 2020, and my world, our world was flipped upside down. No one had seen anything like it as we experienced COVID 19, and then racial injustice as we watched a man, a Black man, die on TV. I found myself glued to the TV as I anticipated a stay at home order to be lifted and month after month, my heart ached and I grew weary. Anxiety and symptoms associated with depression was settling in (anger, irritability, restlessness, and poor sleep patterns to name a few).

As a mental health professional, I knew I needed to tap into my positive coping skills and ways to engage in things I loved from the comfort of home. So, my sisters and I would do things virtually to connect, we had game nights, karaoke, etc. I colored a few days per week and would mail the postcards that I colored to friends and family to send my love. It was the gift that kept giving. Prior to COVID-19, I had started an IG page that focused on providing self-care tips. Through my journey back to self, I realized that I was not alone and I wanted to share that with others to promote mentally healthy people and communities by providing practical, accessible ways to engage in self-care. That is the short version of how Self-Care Advocacy was birthed into a small, Black-owned business.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
A smooth road…heck no. I started a business in the midst of a global pandemic, growing social justice issues and one of the most historic elections ever. Struggle was synonymous with 2020. Nonetheless, nothing worth having comes easy. I am balancing working a full-time job in human services and being a part-time group therapist for teens. As a business owner, I am still working on getting my footing. I will tell you this, as I was creating Free Your Mind: A Self-Care and Mindfulness Activity Book, there were so many times where I had to back petal because I missed something or did not do something correctly. I had moments where I experienced imposter syndrome and wanted to throw in the towel. I am so thankful for my circle for supporting me along the way. Even today, I’m marketing backwards. This was all new for me. So, I’m learning and growing. That is worth the struggle. And of course, there were the legal aspects of starting Self-Care Advocacy. I have people I could consult with but that too is a challenge because I wasn’t raised to be a business owner. My education did not teach business ownership. This journey takes reframing, faith and resilience. When I fall, I get back up. Struggle or not, I am in it, to win it.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about Self-Care Advocacy?
Self-Care Advocacy is an organization that provides resources and education to both individuals and the community about self-care and mental health. Most people’s idea about self-care includes spa treatments, shopping, and lavish vacations. Our mission is to dig deeper and provide education beyond the glamour of self-care that is often portrayed in the media. I want people to understand that self-care is a way of life and each and every one of us are entitled to self-care. I also want people to know that self-care is not always easy but always worth it. Self-Care Advocacy’s resources and education is provided via workshops, self-care retreats, its social media platforms and via its e-commerce store where the Free Your Mind: A Self-Care and Mindfulness Activity Book can be purchased. The “Free Your Mind” activity book includes coloring pages, word searches, journal prompts and sudoku. The e-commerce shop will be a hub for tools and wearable reminders that promote self-care. What set’s Self-Care Advocacy apart is acknowledging that we are all on an individual journey of wellness but working at it collectively. Self-care also emphasizes the importance of identifying free or low-cost, time practical activities that meet individual needs. If you can just take 5 minutes per day to focus on YOU, you are that much closer to filling your cup. Most people will argue that 5 minutes isn’t enough time. And here’s my response, “If I gave you $5 per day would you turn it down?”. Most people will say no. Just a penny for your thoughts, or $5.

I am most proud of publishing the “Free Your Mind” activity book. It is my baby and I am touched every time I hear how beneficial it is for people. As I was developing this activity book, I wanted to create something that was affordable, easy to travel, had multiple activities that would address an array of facets of self-care and that provided representation. From what I have been told, my mission was accomplished. Now, I have to get more books into more hands so that more people can prioritize their self-care. Lastly, I love helping people. That is who I am and what I do and therefore that is why Self-Care Advocacy was founded. As an Associate Social Worker, who has worked in human services for two decades, I have seen how the demands of life, family and friends can impact one’s overall wellness. Therefore, as I continue to grow as a clinician in an ever changing world, one thing remains and that is the necessity to engage in self-care daily, in order to be able to pour into others.

Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out?
Yes, I have a few nuggets to offer as advice. The first would be to “Do it scared!”. Oftentimes, we are afraid to pursue our dreams. We are afraid of failure. We are waiting for the “right” time. (who knows when that will be). I know this may sound cliche, but if you don’t try, you fail anyway. So, you may as well give it your all. The second is, share your vision with someone. We were created for community. No one gets anywhere in life alone. You never know how resourceful your circle is until you tap into them. Additionally, you may spark a fire in them. We can all win.


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