Self-Care 101 for New Activists

In the wake of the inauguration, amidst continuing grief, anger and disenchantment, there is also a palpable sense of awakening.

Those of us blindsided by the election result back in November – who could not imagine that such vast numbers of people would support what we considered to be unsupportable – now stumble in to a realization that others have been forced to reckon with for years. That widespread racism, sexism, nationalism and fear of anything ‘other’, is alive and well in the United States of America.

This ‘new’ awareness feels devastating. We are in shock and grief for the world we imagined ourselves to be living in. There is no clear path through grief, no timeline to hold on to with a ‘grief will be completed by’ date, no universal expression that we all share and understand, just an acknowledgement by those of us that study grief, that it involves multiple stages, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

For many of us, in the post ‘Trump-win’ world, ‘acceptance’ won’t mean apathy, it won’t mean ‘rolling with it’, it will mean acceptance that the world is darker than we hoped and that whatever we had been doing to support our values, might not have been enough.

It’s this form of acceptance – not apathy –that I believe is at play in the massive increase in subscriptions to legitimate news sources, to donations to the ACLU, to the hundreds of thousands of people that are gathering in streets to demonstrate their concerns across the nation and the world and to the number of planned parenthood donations that have already been made in Mike Pence’s name. This presidency may bring with it a whole new ballgame for activism, a whole new generation of activists. As a direct result of this presidency, some will engage in grass roots efforts for the first time in their lives, others will up the ante of their previous activities in light of the perceived threats.

Community activism, often comes at a personal price of mental and physical health tolls. Activism in its many forms can take dedication, long hours and little sleep, it can put us in to confrontation with others and sometimes even put us in danger, resulting in physical and mental harm. Stress, burn-out, depression and PTSD are frequent amongst the activist community, as they are amongst many fields that are driven by passion. So, as we push forward with our agenda for a more loving, open, and kind America, it’s important to remember, that we must also provide that for ourselves.

It’s easy to put our own needs aside when fighting for a bigger picture – but think of it as affixing your own oxygen mask first. If you are struggling, if you are exhausted, if you are unsupported, you are not at your best and you cannot put your best foot forward for the causes you are passionate about.

Here are some simple self-care strategies for activists:

Breath:

Balance your nervous system before, during and after confrontations to ensure you are always coming from as grounded and calm stance as possible. Do this by inhaling through your nose for a count of 4 and exhaling out of our mouth for a count of 4. Repeat 3 times.

Muscle Tension:

Unwind from long days by deliberately tensing and then releasing muscle groups to create greater release from tired muscles. Start with your feet, tense all the muscles of the feet, squeeze them for 10 seconds, then let them relax. Continue to do this for your calves, then thighs, stomach, arms, shoulders and face.

Sleep:

We lose physical and mental energy when we have not had enough sleep. Not everyone needs the traditional 8 hours, but be sure to make time for the amount of sleep you do need, no matter what the situation. Lack of sleep makes us more prone to burn-out and less resilient to stress.

Community: Work with a community that shares your values. Having a team that believes in your goals and that you can work alongside to reach them, will create a level of buoyancy and energy that we often cannot maintain in isolation. Isolation can also be a breeding ground for depression. Even if you prefer to work alone, it’s important to connect with others who share your values from time to time, to stave off negative thinking and hopelessness that can arise during long battles and contribute to depression.

Emotional support: Connect with loved ones who care about you, and allow yourself to be taken care of and relax from time to time. It’s not selfish, its self-care.