Whether we like it or not, we’re living in a time of ideological revolution. It’s a time of postcard parties, phone call brigades, and street protests. Our days are dominated by blue and red Facebook feeds, fake news, and alternative facts. Daily, we are bombarded by shock and awe politics ― executive orders, censorship threats, and possible scandals.
Regardless of your feelings about our 45th president, this revolution is inescapable. It dominates newscasts, social media feeds, and water cooler conversations. For some, it feels like—and might be—a matter of life or death.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Revolution takes time to settle in.” This fight is an ultra-marathon, and let’s face it, not all of us have been training for these dark days. Many of us crave the comfort of fast-food delivery and Netflix binges while the revolution asks us to engage in political discomfort.
“Self-care is self-preservation” and an “act of political warfare.” This quote by Black Feminist theorist Audre Lorde appears in recent articles encouraging black women to engage in self-care after “spending generations in servitude to others.” Assuredly black women, who shoulder burdens I (as a white woman) can only imagine, need self-care. However, I think self-care is essential for everyone ― black, white, gay, straight ― in these uncertain times lest we fall into the apathy that follows chronic angst and information overload.
So how do we care for ourselves during a time of revolution? Working as a mental health counselor taught me the importance of being specific and keeping it simple. The research-based strategies listed below are ones I’ve shared with clients. They’re also a part of my personal self-care arsenal.
- Pace yourself: Develop a one-day-at-a-time attitude. List the actions you can take and then choose one: make phone calls; send postcards; attend rallies, town halls, or small group meetings; have a respectful conversation with someone you disagree with; practice kindness; advocate for those who are marginalized. Challenge your areas of privilege, attend events where you are the minority. Read articles by those who do not look like you or think like you. When you’ve done that one thing, put away your groceries and return to your normal schedule.
- Check your facts: On issues of concern, read articles you love as well as ones you hate. Go to the source. Read cited materials and counterarguments. Synthesize this knowledge into your own opinion.
- Check your language: During a time of revolution it’s easy to dwell on the negative, to go ballistic when Uncle Steve just doesn’t get it, or to roll your eyes at a neighbor whose yard sign opposes yours. Examine the most common words in your social media feed. Do they inspire contempt or understanding?
- Think small: Draw an imaginary circle around your body with a nine-foot diameter. Unless you’re doing a lot of public speaking or have a million twitter followers, this circle is your sphere of influence. Focus on what you can do within those nine feet. Take your circle to places where it can do the most good.
- Know your values: It’s easier to stand on a foundation than to push against a wall. Identify the issues that matter to you most and support them. For example, instead of maligning Betsy DeVos, stand for high quality public education. Acting on your principles and values will keep you grounded and your activities focused.
- Unplug: During recent revolutions, key events happened on social media. Think Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, and the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests. Staying informed is critical, yet too much social media is bad for your mental health. Comparisons with other people can lead to depression. Living off a blue or red Facebook feed can skew your worldview. Not to mention that time online keeps you from meeting people IRL (in real life) where authentic interactions are possible. Instead of consuming large doses of social media, schedule no more than five bite-sized (10 minute) social media appointments per day. If ten minutes doesn’t seem like enough, pick three snack-sized (20 minute) options. Think about what you stand for and search for those items. If you have extra time, check out pictures of puppies and kittens. Spend the rest of your day in the real world.
- Make a date with your anger: While many revolutions are fueled by righteous anger, calm builds endurance. It supports the compassionate treatment of others and lets you see the humanity in inhumane situations. If you’re angry, set aside 15 minutes twice per day to focus directly on your anger. Light candles, write hate letters you’ll never send, punch pillows. Scream in the woods. If that doesn’t work, give yourself half an hour. Whatever you do, don’t let your anger fester. That’s a recipe for depression.
- Engage with the spiritual: Know how you make meaning from the world and the places where you draw hope. For some, spirituality is closely aligned with religion, but that’s not true for everyone. Ask yourself the following questions: Why do I think bad things happen? Who or what has helped me during dark times? How does cultural change occur? Search for books, people, and institutions that deepen your understanding of yourself and the world.
- Laugh often: Good vibrations combat negativity. Laughter boosts the immune system, protects against depression, and can re-energize an apathetic spirit. It also makes you more attractive. Watch funny movies and comedy specials. Make jokes with friends. Try laughter yoga. Figure out what makes you giggle.
- Find your Zen: “To be fearless is to be peaceful,” says Sister Peace, a nun at Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastery in France. Nonviolent action is stronger than hate, but it requires us to cultivate stillness and deep self-knowledge. Practices like mindfulness can train your brain to peacefully go the distance. Mindfulness is simply a singular focus on the present moment, or as a wise man in snakeskin boots once told me, “the art of keeping your head and your ass in the same moment.” Classes in mindfulness and online meditations are plentiful. In a pinch, say to yourself, “I am here,” and focus on breathing.
This ideological revolution, like all revolutions, may exhaust you and push you off kilter. It feeds off fear, powerlessness, and apathy. In a weakened state, it’s easy to give up, to try to normalize our abnormal times, to create an escapists bunker that shields you from the daily barrage of social and political bombs.
But this revolution is happening, and it needs all of us.