In December, I recorded an episode of Upasna Asks in which I talked about the importance of self-care when you are participating in activism. After the U.S. presidential election, I was especially overwhelmed by the lack of understanding many of my friends and family had for my politics, my openness in discussing the issues I care about, and my work as an activist. With Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20, it’s not going to get any easier to fight for our political beliefs. So I’d like to continue the conversation about how activists can take care of themselves while they are advocating for the causes that are important to them. Here are some steps you can take to recharge, reflect, and cope when you are feeling passionate and distressed at the same time.
Recognize the validity of your feelings.
If you are participating in activism–whether it’s by spreading awareness on social media, joining a social justice club, protesting, or engaging your friends and family in dialogue–your emotions may be mixed, both negative and positive. When you are vocal about an issue, you may be asked (multiple times), “Why do you care so much?” or, “Why are you so angry?” You might ask yourself those questions too. Recognize that whether your activism is driven by frustration, sadness, anger, enthusiasm, or optimism, you cannot beat yourself up for how you feel, or for spending “too much time” on an issue that’s been deemed “negative” or “controversial.” Pause to be mindful of your emotions and appreciate how they drive your actions. Those feelings are what will keep you interested and involved in a movement.
Step away from social media if you need to.
Social media may feel necessary to spread awareness, mobilize, or make sure you aren’t missing important information. But if you’re stressed out or anxious about an issue (even if it’s because you wish you were better informed), sometimes the best way to recharge is to turn off your phone, put your computer away, and do something that doesn’t involve the internet and other people’s opinions for a while. Social media can be overwhelming, especially when there’s something happening in the world around you and you suffer from FOMO (aka the fear of missing out). Take a break and catch up later. You don’t have to know everything immediately. If you take time away from social media, you’ll find that once you’re back on the internet, your mind is more refreshed and ready to tackle information. A study conducted by University of Pittsburgh found that heavy social media users are more likely to suffer from depression than the average user. It’s important to recognize when social media feels toxic to you and take the necessary steps to protect yourself.
Avoid situations where you become hyper-aware of your opinions and beliefs.
Here’s an example: I once went to a tailgating party at my college. Besides being one of the three people of color at the party, I noticed that there were a lot of people wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and drunkenly discussing politics. I was super uncomfortable, so I left. This isn’t about avoiding all situations that are outside your comfort zone, or that challenge your beliefs. It’s about not having to pretend you’re OK with putting away your opinions just so people can have a good time. It’s unhealthy to stifle yourself, but there are occasions when it’s just not worth your energy to fight the environment or atmosphere you’re in. (Like arguing with drunk dudes about why their views are oppressive, for example.) I was afraid of missing out on the fun that day, but I wasn’t all that happy or fulfilled at the party anyway. Take inventory of your environment and if it doesn’t feel good, leave.
There is no right or wrong, or big or small, way to be an activist.
No form of activism is better than the other. Even small efforts make a huge difference in helping to make change. Family discussions are just as valuable as organizing protests, calling your representatives, or attending workshops. And there are infinite ways to help advance social issues through creativity. “A Woman Speaks,” by Audre Lorde, uses poetry to demonstrate the importance of embracing your identity. This essay does a fantastic job of spreading awareness about trans rights. Making calls to your elected representatives may be nerve-racking, but this guide can help ease the anxiety of talking on the phone. There are as many mediums for activism as there are activists. Find the method that resonates with you.
“No” is a complete sentence.
You can always say no to an opportunity to volunteer or organize. I have skipped events, information sessions, and meetings because I needed to finish homework, had class, wanted to see my therapist, or made plans to hang out with a friend. Saying no doesn’t make you any less of an activist, it doesn’t mean you don’t care, and it doesn’t mean you’re any less passionate. Not doing everything prevents you from spreading yourself too thin. It allows you to put in quality time and effort toward the things you do say yes to. Saying no helps you become a better and more content activist.
Accept that you won’t always know everything.
Activism is an opportunity to constantly learn. When you meet new people and make friends and allies, you learn things from them that you may not have known before. Don’t be disappointed in yourself that you’ve missed out on information or education. Don’t be embarrassed that you didn’t know about an issue or an event. You can’t know everything. You don’t have to pretend that you do. The important thing is that you’re open to new information, and that you listen. It’s cool to learn from other people! I find that it allows my activism to be more personal. My passion is propelled by others’ experiences. Being new to activism doesn’t mean you’re behind—you’re just learning at your own pace (like everyone is). The good news is that you can start anywhere. Reading about others’ experiences on Twitter, aka “hashtag activism,” is a common yet effective way to self-educate. These poems by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza exposed me to a powerful perspective on trans rights. And reading books and articles is a great way to invest your time because each tends to focus on a single issue. You can build on what you’ve learned from there.
Self-care is what you make it.
Whenever it all just feels like too much, make taking care of yourself your priority. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, as long as you do it. Go for a walk, play with your cat or dog, color, or watch a funny show. It’s OK to care about activities outside organizing. It’s important to invest attention and time to areas of your life that contribute to your personal happiness and growth. It doesn’t matter what those things are or how you do them as long as they foster positivity, mindfulness, and healthfulness. Do what is best for you, always. ♦