There has been so much pain and sorrow in the world as of late. I won’t list all of the horrors—you know them well. This post isn’t about the horrors of the world; it’s about you.
In light of these events, you have no doubt been inundated with information, the likes of which you wish weren’t true. You may have chosen to become (more) active in the fight for human rights, whether that means attending protests and vigils, immersing yourself in rhetoric on these topics, or engaging in conversations with others. But what if I told you that caring for yourself is also a radical and political act?
This immersion in the ills of the world, when you do not care for yourself enough, can cause compassion fatigue. Longtime activists describe a similar experience, which they refer to as activist fatigue. This is a type of emotional exhaustion that stems from exerting more energy than you are bringing in. As a psychotherapist, I am acutely aware of this, and it is something that we discuss in therapy circles all the time. But the truth is that many of us don’t realize we are becoming fatigued until it’s already too late.
I have experienced compassion fatigue myself. Listening to the ills of all my clients and holding space for them without replenishing my own reserves really took a toll. I thought that I was taking care of myself, but really I wasn’t. When I literally couldn’t get myself up off the couch and even the thought of responding to an email brought me to tears, I realized that something was wrong. I was putting the care of others ahead of myself, and in fact, I was taking pretty crummy care of myself. Being a therapist is meaningful and fulfilling, and it is also incredibly draining—so is activism.
When public tragedy occurs and we are suddenly a (larger) part of something as important as the fight for human rights, it’s easy to get swept up in it and forget everything else. That’s because it feels so meaningful to us—and it is—but meaning alone isn’t sustainable. Our bodies need food, water, nurturance; our minds need rest and joy. Our hearts need community, as well as alone time. We must care for ourselves so that we can continue the fight.
I recognize that I speak from a place of privilege, and I would never tell another how to feel at this time. All I want to express is that each and every human life is meaningful. Your life is meaningful. Please do what you can with the resources you have to care for yourself. Caring for yourself is truly a radical, political act.
Here are a few ideas to help keep yourself well as you work through this difficult time and when tragedies occur in the future. There will always be more suffering in the world, but there will only ever be one you:
1. Drink Water and Eat Food
No matter what is going on. If you are going to a protest, demonstration, vigil, or other event, bring water and pack a snack. If there is food or water available to you at the location, partake. This is sustenance to keep you going, and your body really needs it.
2. Rest When You Can
Again, if you are actively demonstrating, take moments to sit down. Your presence matters just as much whether you are standing or sitting. When you are able to, go home and sleep. If you are watching coverage on TV, turn it off for short periods of time. The act of watching what’s unfolding is taking an immense emotional toll on you.
3. Be Mindful of Social Media
In this age of technology, there is no escape from the horrors of the world. So even if you’ve turned the TV off, it doesn’t mean that the news of atrocities can’t reach you. Give yourself permission to shut down your devices sometimes. Just stepping away for a few minutes (or hours) can make a big difference in your mood. Also, remember that there are people on the Internet who disagree with you, some of whom you may even find morally reprehensible. Pick your battles. You only have so much energy, so choose who gets that energy from you. Now might be the time to remove energy stealers from your friend lists.
4. Get Support
In times like these, community is so important. But not all people are supportive. Identify people in your life with whom you feel safe to share your feelings. Be aware that people who are in the population directly affected by events may not be in a position to provide that support. If you are an extrovert, give yourself plenty of time with others to fill up your energy reserves. If you’re an introvert, give yourself time alone, even if it’s only a few minutes away from others to recharge.
5. Give Yourself Permission to Have Moments of Levity
Laughter and joy are healing. In times of grief, we need these moments, so allow yourself to enjoy them when they appear. And when the person with the microphone says dance—dance!
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”