How To Maintain Your Mental Health While Staying Politically Active

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I was in a cab back to my apartment in New York City on the night that protests erupted in airports across the country against the immigration ban when my driver suddenly asked me what I thought of Donald Trump. To make a long story short, he and I then spent that cab ride bonding over being children of immigrants as well as commiserating over feeling inundated by the state of the world.

"It's like every day is just bad news," he said.

And we don't seem to be alone in that feeling. In an ideal world, staying informed about what’s going on in the news wouldn’t have to feel exhausting.

But between keeping up with the news pouring in nearly every day about measures put forth by Trump’s administration (as well as the people he's nominating for cabinet and supreme court positions) and keeping track of the many subsequent protests and calls to action, you might find yourself on your phone at 2 a.m., scrolling through Twitter, wondering if you’ll ever feel joy again.

And if you're pleased with the results of the election and support the actions the new administration has been taking, I imagine you're likely dealing with an onslaught of worried posts from your more liberal friends and juggling the right way to voice your opinion.
In the eternal words of Solange, “Man, this shit is draining.”

If you're feeling some form of fatigue from the news, trust: You're not the only one.

“It’s important to take action and do something that reflects your values,” Samantha Boardman, MD, a psychiatrist and founder of Positive Prescription, tells Refinery29. “The flip side of that is the toll that it can take on you physically and emotionally.”

Farha Abbasi, MD, a staff psychiatrist at Michigan State University and the managing editor of the Journal of Muslim Mental Health, says that she’s seen a huge increase in numbers of people feeling more anxiety about what's happening in the world.

“With the new laws and the immigration ban, there are students that are directly impacted, or their family and friends are being affected,” she tells us. The anxiety, she says, seems to be especially felt amongst minorities who may no longer feel that there is a space for them in the new political agenda.

“The quality of being American is being defined so strictly that a lot of minorities feel excluded,” she said. “Even people who are conservative and believe in the [new] policies were still worried whether there is still a place for minorities in this rhetoric.”

And even if you’re not directly impacted by any of the new laws, Alice Boyes, PhD, author of The Anxiety Toolkit, explained that there’s still a general air of uncertainty that’s causing people to feel helpless.

“There’s just some uncertainty, and uncertainty is one of the things that’s so anxiety-provoking,” she tells us.

If you care about social issues and justice, Dr. Boyes says, it can be especially difficult to reconcile your exhaustion with your desire to help. "If you’re someone who takes a lot of responsibility, and who feels a responsibility to protect other people from harm, you need to try to keep a balance," she tells us.

“I think we’re underestimating the toll of the anxiety that this is giving us,” Dr. Boardman adds. “You can be an informed person, but not be consumed by it.”

Balance is, of course, the key — but that’s easier said than done. That’s why we spoke to a few experts to get their insight on how you can stay woke without burning out.
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Marie Kondo your social media accounts.

If you get your news from Twitter, Facebook, or other social media platforms, chances are, seeing live, real-time updates and opinions about every news item from multiple sources is making you pretty anxious.

Dr. Boardman tells us that she 100% believes that social media can fuel more anxiety than, say, turning on CNN would. If the first thing you do when you wake up is check your Twitter feed, she says, it sets the mood for your whole day.

“You’re already on defense, you’re forwarding things from your phone, you’re pissed off about this awful thing that happened, and sometimes it starts to control you,” she says.

So what’s the solution?

De-cluttering. You don’t have to delete your Twitter account or anything, but it might be a good idea to prune down on the accounts you follow, or to create lists for news accounts, and only check them at certain times. Dr. Boardman recommends designating ten minutes to check your news, and to even set a timer if you have to.

She also suggests limiting your news, even if just for one day.

“Don’t check it first thing in the morning, and see how much better your day is,” she says. “Make sure [checking your feed] is not the last thing you do before you sleep, and don’t sleep with your phone on your bed or pillow.”

Beyond that, if you’re someone who gets stressed out by seeing numbers (i.e., number of Facebook likes/comments), you can install Facebook Demetricator, an app that removes most of the numbers from your Facebook news feed. It doesn’t change how things are shown in your feed, but it does make it so that you don’t interact with news based on how many other people are interacting with it.

“There aren’t going to be consequences of having a day off social media and finding out about news after it happens,” Dr, Boyes says. So give yourself a break now and then.
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Pace yourself.

In case you hadn’t noticed, this anxiety sadly isn’t new. Dr. Boardman says it’s being carried over following the presidential campaign, then, of course, the results of that election.

“People thought there was going to be an end to this, but that was just the beginning,” she says.

And it doesn’t seem like there’ll be an end anytime soon.

“There’s a long road now, and you have to pace yourself for things,” Dr. Boyes says.

That means thinking like a marathon trainer, Dr. Abbasi tells us. Make sure you don’t expend all your energy in one go, and instead build your strength in increments. If, for example, you know that protests tend to take a lot of energy away from you, maybe you don’t have to attend every single one.

Instead, Dr. Boardman suggests, break things down and ask yourself, “What does it suit me to do right now?”
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Know what works for you.

On that note, know your limits when it comes to taking action. We don’t mean limits in a bad way — it’s just that not every form of activism is accessible for everyone, so we shouldn’t fall victim to any finger-wagging from our Facebook friends who post about a protest and write, “you have no excuse not to attend.”

“[Activism] cannot be guilt driven,” Dr. Boardman says.

If, for example, you have a disability, a protest might not be the best way for you to take action — though, of course, if you can protest comfortably and safely, there's no reason to hold back. Or, if you’re socially anxious, you may not want to call your representative — and that's okay.

Remember, there are many different avenues for people to help. You can donate to an organization you believe in, write a letter to your elected official, or even ask a friend to help you make a phone call.

“There’s no blueprint for anybody to act,” Dr. Boardman says. “Taking action doesn’t always require a public energy if that’s what makes you uncomfortable.”

Dr. Boyes agrees: “Maybe the reason you’re not so active is that you’ve got three jobs, or you’ve got social anxiety. Whatever the reason is, just know that everybody is likely doing something, and I would not get caught up on what that something is. There’s so many different things you can do, even just supporting a friend who’s going to a march, or saying, ‘I wasn’t able to go [to a protest], but I’d like to chip in a donation.”

“It’s not in your capacity to do everything, and that doesn’t need to happen,” she added. “Everyone just has to do something.”
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Remember the little things.

With everything that’s going on, Dr. Boyes notes, it’s easy to trivialize the things that are happening in your daily life. But you don’t want to forget that your friend is going through a breakup, and that you need to be there for her, or that you should maybe give your parents a call to check in with them, too.

In fact, sometimes the small, personal acts of kindness can be a revolution all on their own.

Dr. Abbasi says that reaching out to even just one person in your life to help can make all the difference. Maybe a friend is feeling fatigue after attending multiple protests, or an acquaintance is directly affected by the news, and is feeling hopeless — don’t forget to think on the smaller scale sometimes.

“Just think, ‘I can reach out today and do something for one person who’s feeling vulnerable,' like leaving a box of chocolate for a neighbor who’s feeling worried,” she suggests.
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Look at the bigger picture.

And while we’re at it, don’t forget about all the non-activist roles in your life, too.

Dr. Boyes recommends drawing a pie chart and divvying up the roles that play a big part in your self-esteem and self-worth, such as “friend” or “sister,” or roles you play in your community. You can also include values that are important to you, such as “being environmentally friendly,” or “advocating for women’s rights.”

Doing so can help you see more than one source of your worth. If you see the role of being, say, a good friend, to be just as important as being politically active, Dr. Boyes says, you’re more likely to feel more balanced and less like you’re devoting too much of yourself to any one aspect of your life — including activism.
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Reframe your outlook.

But if you’re having trouble juggling all the different causes you want to support, Dr. Boyes suggests another approach.

“Try to see it all as one cause,” she says. “Maybe you see the cause as American values that are being threatened, and you stand up for them in a variety of ways.”

So instead of breaking things down into causes such as women’s rights, immigrant’s rights, and LGBTQ rights, you can see them all as one issue that you’re protecting, whether it be what you see as American values, or what you believe to be human rights.

In the same manner, Dr. Boardman suggests seeing your activism as fighting for something rather than fighting against something, and seeing if that takes away any of the negativity you may be feeling.
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Find your method of self-care.

As your flight attendant will tell you, you cannot help someone put on their oxygen mask until you put yours on first. The same principle applies here: You’re not useful to anyone if you’re not feeling healthy.

“[Activism] has bonded people together and galvanized them and it’s really wonderful to feel a part of a movement, but at the same time, you can’t lose yourself entirely to it,” Dr. Boardman says.

In the midst of planning a revolution, make sure you take a coffee break. Or tea, if that’s more your thing. Check in with friends, take a bath every night, whatever it takes to add a little uplift in your day. Take a page out of Hillary Clinton’s book and go for a walk surrounded by nature. Treat yourself to a glass of wine after calling your senator. Preferred methods of self-care will vary from person to person, but the all three of our experts agreed that it’s just as important to do things for yourself, too.

“If you are not healthy, you can’t take care of anyone else,” Dr. Abbasi says.