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Radical Self-Care: 6 Ways Activism Is Good For You

10/06/2017 17:20 EDT
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Seemingly everyday we wake to some new terrifying and dispiriting news from the Trump Administration.  It’s almost too much to bear and yet, we must not only bear it, but continue to resist it and all the other politics of hate.

Since the election of Donald Trump and the mobilization of millions of activists (new and seasoned), much has been written about self-care for activists, and with good reason. Less than a year into this new political reality, the refrains of “I’m burnt out,” “I’m overwhelmed,” “I just can’t face it,” grow ever louder. Indeed, it’s a lot to endure, especially for those living on the margins and/or directly in the line of fire of Trump and the GOP’s policies of meanness and hate.

Self-care is absolutely vital to our ability to resist over the long run. If we do not take excellent care of ourselves and our communities, none of us will be able to sustain the fierce activism and organizing that is essential to withstand four years of the Trump presidency, not to mention the years of devastation that are likely to follow. And we aren’t talking about the expensive, “spa day” kind of self-care or that aimed at making people feel better or learn to tolerate structural and systemic oppression and injustice. We believe in radical self-care that transforms individuals and communities so that they can bring their best to the fight for freedom.

We also believe that resistance is itself a form self-care. Here are just some of the ways that becoming politically engaged can be good for you.

1. Fight Feelings of Hopelessness and Despair

Being an active part of political resistance is critical to fighting feelings of hopelessness and despair. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the constant barrage of bad news and demands for action. Becoming immobilized by apathy, hopelessness, and fear are real threats. In fact, this is a tactic of the Right, and one of the reasons they are attacking from every corner all at once. They want us to give up, become divided, and turn away from the avalanche of terrible news.

We can chose to focus on the insurmountable badness and the sense of hopelessness, or we can focus on the amazing signs of resistance and the unprecedented mobilization of people from every walk of life. Here’s the thing: when bad things are happening, we are predisposed to go into “fight or flight” mode and believe the stories about unavoidable doom. That’s why so many of us want to hide under the covers with a pint of ice cream. It’s also why so many people are dealing with high levels of depression, anxiety, and isolation right now. The good news is that we can shift from that place of being immobilized into one of action by changing the way we frame what is going on and focusing on what we CAN do. This isn’t about denying the reality of the bad things happening, but about moving from despair into a place of strength and resistance. There’s a time for sitting on the couch binging on Netflix, but ultimately, it’s focusing on resistance and engaging however you can in the fight against bigotry and fascism that’s going to make you feel better.

2. Promote Social Connection

Being part of an active and motivated community makes us feel good, connected, not alone. Knowing that we can be proud of ourselves, that we did all we could and can, while taking care of ourselves and those we love, is a beautiful and gratifying feeling. Now more than ever, we all need connection, love and support. Joining movements of resistance is one important way to cultivate those things and reap a lot of other benefits as well. And there’s a solid body of research showing the social connection is great for your health – from reducing anxiety and depression to boosting your immune function.

3. Build Your Power, Confidence, and Skills

Engaging in acts of resistance can also help build your own power and confidence. This is an unprecedented time in US politics - never before have we been asked to rally and protest so damn hard. Many of us are building new political skills, and the good news is that all of us can use our voices to push for political change. If you’re new to these kinds of struggles, the process can seem mystifying, but it’s really just about finding ways to give voice to the issues and values that matter to you. This can ripple in other parts of your life as well. You may find that speaking up politically gives you the confidence and the power to also confront that misogynist boss, that creepy cat caller on the street, or that person in your friend circle who makes the vaguely racist ‘jokes.’ 

4. Clarify Your Values and Focus on What’s Important

For some people, this moment has helped them clarify their political values. Many people of color, trans folks, and others have had lifelong clarity because their lives are in danger daily at the hands of police, other government forces, and private individuals. Others are feeling a new horror at the state of the country and are being mobilized (often for the first time) in unprecedented numbers.  Whether you’re new to the struggle or have been active for decades, engaging in political resistance can clarify and reinforce your values, remind you of what’s important, and help you connect with others who share your concerns and commitments.

5. Build Skills of Kindness and Compassion for Yourself and Others

Engaging in resistance can also be a way to practice and strengthen your skill of showing radical kindness towards yourself and others, providing opportunities to act with compassion and love in the face of bigotry and hatred. The current political moment is about all the worst of the “-isms,” fueled by hate and disregard for our mutual humanity. Those assaults are exhausting, and we are all going to need some extra kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. This includes, and starts with, being kind, compassionate and forgiving towards yourself. Not only is radical kindness awesome to receive, it turns out that doing acts of kindness and compassion improves your own well-being and emotional health.

6. Deepen Gratitude and Well-being

Being of service to others is a way to feel good about ourselves - when we get busy, we get better. It’s easy to sit around feeling exhausted, defeated, and depleted. When we take the time to be of service, it can recharge our batteries, filling us back up with gratitude for what we do have and a sense of purpose and connection to a community outside the smaller box of our home and close relations. Police brutality, the gutting of the social safety net, the loss of affordable health insurance, and the rise in hate crimes are creating an ever greater need for mutual aid. Now more than ever, we need to protect and nurture one another.

Some days, it’s hard to think about joining the fight. We need to honor those limits, and let others take up the mantle when we are too weary, while remembering the simple, affordable ways we can refill our emotional cup. Fortunately, there are literally hundreds of things you can do to take care of yourself so you can recharge and have more energy to give (see this series of daily self-care actions) to both yourself and the struggle for human rights, civil rights and a more just and kind America.  In the stressful times, when the news feels like too much, remember to eat a balanced meal, take a walk or a bath, connect with friends and love ones, and remember, too, that engaging in the resistance itself, however you are able, is a beautiful and powerful act of self-care.

Victoria Albina, FNP-c, MPH is a holistic medicine provider and life coach working with women in NY and worldwide to improve their digestion, fatigue, and relationship to self.

Julie “Jules” Netherland, MSW, PhD, is an academic, activist, and self-care cynic turned self-care advocate.

Together they are writing “Radical Self Care: An Activist Survival Guide to Resisting, Surviving, and Thriving in Challenging Political Times.”

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