How to care for yourself while being an activist

It goes without saying that a lot of us are feeling the pull to get involved right now. For the last 2 weeks I’ve been amped up thinking of ways that I can help out, but then immediately finding myself overwhelmed by all of the things I want to do and the realization that I can’t do most of them.

My therapist encouraged me to make a list of things that I would do if money and time were no object, and another of things that I can realistically do now. This was incredibly helpful at narrowing down things that I could actually do and separating them from pipe dreams. I was also dealing with the feeling that every little thing I wanted to do was not enough, but it became clear that this was not a useful mindset, and so I created this list of ways to preserve my own self-care while trying to help out, and I hope this will help some of you too.


  1. Choose one cause to focus on

It’s very tempting to want to slay all the dragons at once, especially when there are so many, but you simply cannot attack all of the causes at once. So choose one that is most important to you and work within that realm. For me, it’s abused women and women’s health. So I’m going to volunteer with places that are specific to those issues. Trying too many things will just increase your risk of burnout.

2. Know your role and stay there

In an episode of Lena Dunham’s podcast, Women of the Hour, Geneva Reed-Veal (mother of Sandra Bland) spoke of her and her daughter’s activism by speaking of the different ways each woman approached fighting for what they believed in. Sandra, her mother admitted, was a “front lines” kind of fighter. She would have been front and center of the protest, letting everyone know where she stood. Her mother is more of a speaker, and does not feel as comfortable being on the front lines. It’s important, Ms Reed-Veal states, to know your role and stay there. Don’t write letters if you don’t feel comfortable doing it, or protesting if you know it won’t work out. Instead, find what you feel comfortable doing and stick with it. You stand a much better chance of seeing it through.

3. Curate your social media

This advice comes straight from me, as I have seen firsthand how much it can make a difference. The day after the election, I decided to take a facebook break. Little did I know that this “break” would become essentially a break-up, where I essentially only go on the site when I’m tagged in something or have an event to check on. Along with that, I’ve made sure the sites I do visit are working for me, not against me. I am not friend with anyone who stresses me out, on twitter I mostly follow causes and celebrities that I enjoy, and I don’t spend hours of my day on social media. It has helped my stress level tremendously. I’m not saying ditch any one platform, but trust your instincts and if something stresses you out, life is too short. Delete, delete, delete.

4. Know your limits

Again, don’t try and push yourself too hard. If the place you’re volunteering with wants you to attend 4 events a week and you really only have time for 2, then don’t feel that you need to provide them with the extra 2 just because. You are not the only activist in the world, there are other people who can pick up the slack, and even if there aren’t in your organization, you will not do any good to anyone if you’re burnt out. So don’t push it just because you feel an obligation.

5. Be realistic

Similarly, be realistic about what you are going to accomplish. Know that you can make a huge difference by doing even the smallest thing, but don’t put an expectation on yourself that you are single-handedly going to repair social justice. Acknowledge and embrace the difference you are making, but don’t beat yourself up for not doing as much as you hoped you would.

6. Don’t compare your activism with other people

And with that, just because someone else might have the time and means to do more physically or monetarily than you can does not negate what you are doing. Don’t focus on doing as much as so-and-so, focus on the difference that you’re making. Even if your contribution is $10 every 6 months, it’s something.

7. Make self-care a higher priority

This is particularly important if you’re doing something demanding of your time or anything physical. In the same way that you cannot take care of another person if you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot devote your time and spirit to a cause if you are tapped out. So up the self-care by taking a bit more time for you, whatever that looks like.

8. Don’t expect to be a superhero

I’ve already touched on this but it’s worth repeating and not just because I need to tell myself this every day: you will not save the entire world. But being a small cog in a large machine is vital, and beautiful, and worth celebrating because it means you care.

Take care of yourself,

Take care of yourselves, ~Suzi

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