Here’s What Therapists Want You To Know About Being Politically Active


With everything going on in America, chances are you’ve
been working to stay informed, and maybe even help out in
some ways — both of which can take a lot of mental
energy.

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That might mean going to protests, rallies, and marches,
getting involved in local efforts, spending a lot of time
on the phone with your representatives, or even just
staying up on the constant onslaught of news developments.
With SO MUCH going on, it’s easy to get burnt out.

The truth is, though, you’re at your most helpful and
effective when you know your limits. So, to help you
maintain your mental health while being politically active,
BuzzFeed Health talked to the following experts:

Here’s what they want you to keep in mind.

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1. First,
your main goal is to find the balance between taking action
and taking enough care of yourself that you’re
actually able to work effectively.

You can make a difference, yes, but one person can’t do
everything at once. So plan to pace yourself and be in it for
the long run.

“It’s not as if, if you don’t do something today and every
day, you’ll lose the window of opportunity,” says Rashad.
“People really get swept up in the momentum, and wanting
to do something immediately to counter the feeling of
hopelessness and powerlessness.
However, it’s not
sustainable. It’s like if you’re a runner and enjoy the
runner’s high — eventually you’re going to have to rest and
sit out a day so your muscles can recover.”

So, start learning the answers to these questions: How can
you recuperate? What safeguards can you put in place to make
this work sustainable in the long run? How can remind
yourself of why this is important?

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2. On
that note, recognize that self-care doesn’t have to be
indulgent and superfluous. Think of it as securing your own
oxygen mask before you assist others.

On that note, recognize that self-care doesn't have to be indulgent and superfluous. Think of it as securing your own oxygen mask before you assist others.

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If you can’t get on board with doing it for your sake,
Bonior says to think about it this way: “Who would you
rather have fighting a battle for you: someone who’s
completely demoralized, under-slept, fatigued, not eating
well, and stressed to the max [or] someone who is energized
and clear-eyed? So if you can’t do it for yourself, do it
for the fact that you will absolutely be a better fighter
if you take care of yourself.”

Self-care looks different for everyone and is never about
one specific action — think about it as an ongoing
commitment to looking after yourself and making time for
things that rejuvenate you. That said, it for sure
involves getting enough sleep, eating healthfully, and
making sure you have a strong support system around you.
But it also might mean carving out time by yourself to
decompress with Netflix, play with dogs, go outside for
fresh air, or do anything else that makes your heart feel a
little lighter.

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3. If you
get overwhelmed thinking about what to prioritize, consider
where you can actually be most helpful.

If you try to decide what’s most important to you or what
cause is most urgent, you’ll probably wind up running in
circles — because, well, a LOT of things are urgent and
important. You likely also care about multiple causes, and
it’s not easy to rank them against one another.

So, instead, be honest with yourself about what skills you
have and the opportunities that there are to help in your
area. Are you most comfortable making calls? Are you good at
creative efforts to raise awareness? Are you in a place to
donate? It might even come down to something as simple as
choosing a place to volunteer that’s closest to your
apartment, so it’s easier to go more often.

“It’s knowing where you feel like you’ll have the greater
impact within your own small circle of influence,” says
Rashad.

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4. Make
specific to-do lists so you can concentrate your energy in
productive bursts rather than always worrying about what
needs to get done.

As with any goal, you need to pick specific, reasonable, and
actionable steps, otherwise you won’t get anything done.
“It’s much more effective, especially for self-care and often
for the movement, to be able to say, ‘OK, I’m going to spend
fifteen minutes a day acting on this in this way’ than to
think and worry about it all day with little action,” says
Bonior.

If you’re not actively involved in a group to help guide your
to-do list, you can check out places like 5 Calls, which send out daily
digests of actions you can take.

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5. Set
boundaries about how and when you keep up with the news.

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Joanna Borns / BuzzFeed

Pretty much the easiest way to stress yourself out right
now is keeping up-to-date on everything that’s happening in
the news. Obviously, being informed is important and
unplugging for even a few hours at a time can feel like
burying your head in the sand, but setting up some rules so
you’re not constantly exposed to bad, stressful, and even
potentially traumatic news is crucial, says Bonior.

What works and is actually realistic will be different for
everyone, but Bonior says there are a few ways to think
about it:

Setting a time boundary. Limit yourself to certain
times throughout the day (like a half hour in the morning
and half of your lunch break, for example) so you don’t
fall down a vortex of endless scrolling.

Making certain places off-limits to news. Places
like your bed or your workplace — just to create safe
spaces to unplug.

Reading only headlines until a pre-approved time.
Skim news throughout the day so you don’t feel completely
disconnected, but save details for later.

Catching up on the news via digests at the end of the
day.
Newsletters like “What The
Fuck Just Happened Today?” or the BuzzFeed News
newsletter (shameless plug) put everything in a
convenient place so you don’t have to waste time surfing
around.

These are only a few suggestions, but you get the idea.

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6. On the
flip side, avoid news, media, and people who are genuinely
hurtful to your well-being.

On the flip side, avoid news, media, and people who are genuinely hurtful to your well-being.

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DON’T HATE-READ. It can be so tempting to read comments
from trolls, to scroll through that one guy from high
school’s Facebook because you can’t believe he’s so
bigoted
, or to click the link from a radical news site
that your friend sent over in disbelief. But 99.9% of the
time, it’s not productive and it’s not worth the cost of
your mental health.

“It’s important to recognize that a lot of media and news
out there can be hurtful and might not necessarily add to
your understanding of an issue,” says Williams. This is
especially true for marginalized or stigmatized groups
right now.

“As a person of color, for example, there are a lot of
things being said that we would call microaggressions. I
know that I can only deal with so many microaggressions in
one day, so I have to pace myself if I’m going to be
productive and sane and have a good sense of
well-being.”

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7. Remind
yourself that it’s OK if your strong emotions die down — in
fact, you need to let them.

Remind yourself that it's OK if your strong emotions die down — in fact, you need to let them.

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When bad things happen around you, you might find yourself
feeling guilty for the moments you feel good — almost like
you’re normalizing negative events when you’re not actively
sitting in your anger and disgust. But that’s not the case.

“No one can stay in a state of emotional and
physiological arousal indefinitely without burning
out,”
says Williams. “Your body is eventually going to
come back down and you may feel complacent at times and
that’s OK. If these things are really cherished values,
they’re not just going to go away while you think about
other things.”

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8. Keep
your expectations realistic and don’t rely on immediate
results to feel like your work is worthwhile.

There might be times when you see that an action you took led
to a change —like
when Uber CEO Travis Kalanick left President Trump’s economic
advisory council after #DeleteUber went viral with
customer backlash — but these instances are rare, says
Rashad.

“For the most part, activism doesn’t offer immediate
gratification,”
she says. “And if things aren’t moving at
a speed with which you feel content with, it’s very easy to
feel impatient and frustrated.”

Without that instant gratification to keep you going, it’s
really important to always be having conversations about
self-care, mental well-being, and the impact of the work
you’re doing. Otherwise, you might become cynical, apathetic,
and resentful toward the work and the people you’re doing it
with, says Rashad.

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9. If
this is your first time getting involved in politics in a
big way, ease in and focus on educating yourself.

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For a lot of people — particularly those who were unaware
or unaffected by these particular issues — this is going to
be the first time they’ve felt compelled to participate in
activism. If that’s the case for you, be aware that you’re
not going to know everything, and that it’s OK.

“See yourself as a baby,” says Rashad. “Would you expect
that baby to run a marathon? No. You start with crawling,
then taking your first few steps. So be mindful of taking a
stance of humility, be patient with yourself, and expect to
make mistakes.”

That’s not to say you can’t get involved — you should!
Look to the people who have been doing this longer for
advice on where and how you can be most helpful.
Ask
questions! That way you won’t burn yourself out going to
every protest and rally that comes through your Facebook
invitations.

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10. Know
the signs of burnout — and step back if you’re experiencing
them.

Know the signs of burnout — and step back if you're experiencing them.

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Sometimes you just need a break. Look out for changes in
your physical health (are you getting sick more often?),
your sleeping and eating patterns, your relationships (have
you stopped hanging out with friends or found yourself more
irritable around them?), and so on. Also, keep an eye out
for any depression and anxiety symptoms in general (you can
learn more about those
here and
here).

Another good indicator of burnout is if you’re just
feeling, well, defeated. “If you’re putting in the
work and are starting to ask yourself, ‘Well, what’s the
point?’ that, to me, is a sign you need to sit out,
refresh, and remember why you’re doing this,” says Rashad.

If any of that applies to you, don’t feel guilty about
concentrating on yourself for a bit. “If you need to
step away for awhile, don’t interpret that to mean that you
don’t care,”
says Williams.

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11. If
you’re considering seeing a therapist, put in the effort to
find one who gets it.

If you're considering seeing a therapist, put in the effort to find one who gets it.

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Therapy is never a bad idea, and if you’re someone
dedicating a lot of mental energy to political activism, a
therapist can be a great sounding board for putting things
into perspective and a resource for strategies to help you
cope with your emotions day-to-day, says Williams.

That said, not all therapists are equipped to deal with
this kind of work (like the issues of marginalized and
stigmatized groups) so shop around to find someone you
connect well with. Some of that will be trial-and-error,
but always feel free to ask prospective therapists lots of
questions — not only about their backgrounds and approach
to therapy, but also straight-up whether they feel equipped
and open to talking about politics, activism, and issues
that pertain to your ethnicity, race, religion, gender,
sexuality, etc.

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12. Learn
to see positivity and playfulness as an act of resistance.

Learn to see positivity and playfulness as an act of resistance.

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Hold on to the good things in your life and don’t put them
on the back burner just because everything else might be
demanding more attention.

“We give the opposition more power when we don’t play,
when we don’t have fun, when we don’t find the joy and the
happiness in life,”
says Rashad. “Because then, they’ve
taken everything from us. Not only are maybe your rights
and life threatened, but your very ability to smile and
laugh are also threatened. So don’t give them that power.
In the midst of all of this say, ‘I am still committed to
playing and to lighter moments and to laughing and smiling
and loving.’”

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