Self-Care Isn’t Just a Hashtag: How to Be an Activist Without Getting Overwhelmed

This morning, before I even got out of bed, I scrolled through a series of disturbing headlines on my phone about the Republicans’ plans to end funding for everything from the arts to climate change research to school lunches for kids. I think of these programs as the whole reason we pay taxes, so I wanted to go back under the covers and cry. But if I’ve learned anything from our latest presidential election, it’s that if I want change, I have to get out of bed and take action.

self care

I get nervous calling strangers on the phone, but I’ve forced myself to get over that, and call senators, representatives, and other government officials to share my feelings on the disturbing things happening in our government. The only problem? There are so many bad things happening, I can’t keep up.  As a freelance writer, my schedule is flexible, but I still have a limited amount of time to spend reading about the issues and figuring out what to do.

On days like today, when it feels like everything I care about is being threatened, I force myself to make time for self-care.

If that makes you roll your eyes and think about all the Instagram photos with the #selfcare hashtag—mostly people doing yoga and sipping from oversized tea cups—I swear that’s not what I mean.

I’ve never used the #selfcare hashtag in my life, but I believe self-care is a key element of being an activist. Here’s why: Trump’s administration has been running the show for less than two months. The things I care about will continue to be threatened for at least a few more years, and if I want to fight those changes, I have to stay as strong and focused as possible. I’m up to the challenge, so I’ve been reading a lot about self-care lately. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Focus on the issues that matter most to you.

I signed up for so many activism emails after the election that they often sink into the depths of my inbox without being opened, but I’m doing my best to read some of them. Don’t feel guilty that you can’t take EVERY action. There’s so much going on, it’s almost impossible to keep up. Choose a few issues that you’re passionate about, and make those your priority.

Do what you can, when you can.

If you have a few minutes free every day, download the 5 Calls app and contact your reps. If your schedule is less predictable, but you have a few hours free once a week, consider visiting your local representative’s office in person, writing a few letters, making calls then (and leaving messages if it’s over the weekend), participating in a protest march or activist meet-up, or writing a letter to the editor of your local paper.

Give what you can.

If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, this one is tricky, but maybe you have a few bucks to spare. If possible, donate to nonprofits that are fighting for issues that matter to you. Support candidates—especially women—who share your concerns. If you’re between jobs or underemployed, talk to a nonprofit about getting trained as a volunteer, and give your time instead.

Form (or join) an activist group.

For the past few months, I’ve been spending most of my Sunday nights with a group of activist women, identifying ways that we can make a difference—and then taking action. Between meetings, we stay in touch via email, updating each other on whatever feels most urgent that day. This connection with other activists has been wonderful for me, because on days when I am overwhelmed with freelance projects, I know others are still out there working their asses off. It also gives me an opportunity to listen to people whose priorities are different from mine, and think about how we can help each other.

Help one person. 

When I feel hopeless about the state of the country, I’ve discovered that I can instantly boost my mood by anonymously helping a stranger. On Facebook, I follow Second Families, an organization that offers assistance to refugee families as they get resettled in the United States. Second Families sets up Amazon wish lists of basic things the families need. It only takes a minute to buy something little, like a power strip or a set of kids’ pajamas, and have it sent to a refugee family. Giving even small things takes money, but you can be kind to a neighbor—or someone who’s working hard at a low-paying job—for free. Many of us are stressed to the limit, and even tiny acts of kindness make a difference.

Take care of your body.

I’ll admit it. Those trendy Instagrammers using the #selfcare hashtag do have a point with their mugs of tea and their yoga. When you’re worried about the state of the world, it’s easy to overlook things like exercise, eating right, and getting enough sleep—but your body needs all of them. You can’t take care of your country without taking care of yourself.

Talk to a therapist.

If you don’t already meet with a psychologist on a regular basis, trust me on this: It’s a good idea. Whether you’re battling depression or anxiety, or you just feel overwhelmed by everything that’s going on politically, having someone to talk to (who’s not a friend or relative with their own baggage) can help clear your head.

Take breaks.

Whether that means silencing your phone for an hour or two, turning off your Twitter notifications, or going out to dinner with a few of your favorite people, take self-care breaks. Do things that make you feel loved, help you relax, or make you laugh. I’ve been watching a lot of Fuller House on Netflix, because sometimes a silly sitcom is about all I can handle. I’ve also noticed that if I pet my dog for a few minutes, my shoulders (where I hold a lot of stress) relax a little. I’ve been doing a LOT of dog-petting.

Stay committed.

I’ve seen several people completely disconnect from social media, because they found all the political posts annoying. To me, that’s like hiding under a rock and hoping your problems will go away—it’s not realistic. If you care about change, you can’t pretend not to see what’s going on around you. You have to stay involved and stay committed. Like it or not, we’re in this for the long haul, and ignoring it will only make things worse. Make time for self-care so you have the energy to speak out, today, tomorrow, and in the future.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

– Audre Lorde