Self Care for Lovers, Fighters and Resisters
“I don’t know if I can take four years of this.”
You’re not alone, sister.
The “progressive” movement has been fast and furious out of the gate, but many are starting to experience fatigue, exhaustion and overwhelm. Sleepless nights, constant aggravation, less productivity at work. Some are coping by logging off and tuning out. Wi-Fi-free vacays have never been so sweet. While there are many, many troubling aspects of this administration, the Wellness Coach in me keeps coming back to one overriding concern: “This could wreak havoc on our health.” Worried about outside foreign invaders? Try millions of weakened immune systems.
We are not designed to live in a constant state of fight or flight. Many of us are new to activism, and not everyone is prepared to handle its demands. On the one hand we want to remain vigilant and alert, but in reality: we’ve got lives to live! By the same token, the fight against complacency and habituation is real. Nobody wants to succumb to the “bystander effect”, where everyone gathers around the crime scene, but no one has actually called 911.
This is a great time to re-calibrate. To learn how to co-exist with a (white) house on fire and still be sane, healthy, activated citizens. A number of good articles have been written on self care for times like these (see Medium and Thrive Global). Here are six more ways to find balance in this challenging new world:
Tame your feed. If a tree falls in the woods with no one around, does it make a sound? If you don’t go on social media does any of this craziness exist? Wishful thinking. Social media has become ground zero for stirring up hate and dread. Comment threads feel like hand-to-hand combat. Blood pressure is soaring. Don’t let it run your life. Use it to stay informed and spring load action. Dip a toe into the sea of outrage, then get the heck out. If you must linger, try some adaptive strategies, like friends on Facebook who post works of art to break up the corrosive headlines. The ability to moderate your consumption is key.
Seek shelter from the storm. Burning inner cities, terrorists pouring in, walls to keep bad people out: the new administration peddles in fear. The message is: “we are not safe”, and this has a profound impact on our nervous systems. Perceived danger releases all kinds of stress hormones — like adrenaline and cortisol — to help us survive. But if you never take the foot off the gas pedal you get stuck in chronic stress, and that puts your health at risk. I am all for stepping outside your “bubble”, but sometimes you need to take a moment to surround yourself with people who’ve got your back. I went out to brunch last weekend for pancakes, but really I just needed to be around people who don’t think I’m crazy. This doesn’t mean we should stay in the cocoon. It’s precisely these bubbles that helped divide the nation. Bubbles, at best, are refueling stations.
Be a drop in the ocean. In simpler times, I used to check my feed every morning to make sure the sky hadn’t fallen in. These days, I check my feed SO THAT the sky doesn’t fall in — as if my hyper-vigilance will somehow keep the world from imploding. With today’s headlines, it’s easy to fall into that kind of magical thinking. Yes, many things we care about are going down the toilet. Our sense of decency is being assaulted on a daily basis. But trying to shoulder the mantle of justice by yourself is exhausting and totally unrealistic. As a friend advises, “light your corner”, do your part, but don’t try to swallow the ocean whole. Instead, remember that every small protest, every incremental step towards unification and kindness matters.
Take positive action. There is no better strategy for lowering cortisol and healing trauma than taking positive, life-affirming action. The first step is to find ways to detoxify difficult emotions. Anger, resentment and outrage can be motivating, but don’t get stuck in them. For me, the marches in January were a great example of healthy grief processing — a discharge of all the painful emotions so many have felt since the election. No violence, no looting, just massive amounts of energy channeled into creativity, wit, and action. Find your outlet. Put it into your art. Put it onto paper. Start running. Start kickboxing at the gym. Start a “Wine and Whine” night with your friends, if you need to. Thank god I found writing at the age of 12 because I will need it to survive the next four years.
For every terrible headline, counter it with a story that restores your faith in humanity. Stories like this and this that show hate is reversible. Redirect thoughts towards something kinder and gentler — it will change your brain chemistry. Focus on the good right in front of you. Admire the flowers blooming in your neighbor’s yard. I’ve always said there is a place in the resistance for artists; that goes for cute animal videos, too. (Research says they lower stress and improve focus.) It’s important that our immune systems feel GOOD at a time when everything feels really, really bad.
If you see something, do something. Sitting at your computer fuming is not healthy; send postcards to your congressman instead. Maybe also send out gratitude notes to people you care about. Rather than stick pins in voodoo dolls, why not take a photo of the president (or congress) and invite your neighbors and children to adorn him with drawings and decorations and kind thoughts. What if we made him into a better image, knowing that he won’t actually change, but instead magnify something in our own hearts. This isn’t a distraction from real issues; this is cultivating the world we want to live in.
Find YOUR place in the movement. I can’t tell you how many times over the past month I’ve flashed a Bat Signal to the sky and asked: “Where is Tony Robbins when we need him?!” If you know this influential life coach, you know that Tony understands exactly what’s going on and how we can fix it. Yet nowhere on his social media feed have I seen any mention of politics. Instead, he continues to write best sellers and do what he does best: empower individuals to succeed in business and life. I realized that in his unique way he IS helping the cause by helping create more conscious human beings. And maybe that’s the antidote for all of us. Protest, speak up, stay vigilant, but also give yourself permission to do what you love, make the world more beautiful and good in your own way. This is a grassroots movement after all. Use all the horrible headlines and feelings to your advantage to galvanize and focus your life and energize what you’re doing. Maybe it can even clarify your purpose for being here. I know it helped clarify mine.
In recent weeks I’ve heard the mantra “We are made for this.” This moment in our history, this calling forth of the light workers of the world. My question is: where? Where can you best serve this movement — to help make this country whole and sound — in a way that doesn’t totally zap you? Maybe you want to buy a farm and grow organic vegetables to feed your community. Maybe you want to bring hope into the world with a child. Maybe you want to moonlight as messenger of love placing love notes around the city. Not everyone is built for the front lines and not everyone wants to Resist. Play to your strengths and do what you do best. It may not move the dial right away, but it all adds up. A better world already exists…we just need more of it.
Remember the basics of self care. You know what you need to do — do it like your body, your country, your life depend on it. Get offline and outside into nature, prioritize sleep and rest, laugh with friends, eat whole, nourishing foods, have a dance party, meditate, remember how beautiful the world is. Do what grounds you and gets you out of your head. Restore yourself then get back into the game. And always, always listen to your body. There is no shame in taking a breather, bowing out or switching off when you need to. We are entering into four years of shift work. Someone will man the deck while you get some shut-eye.
Finally, remember to breathe. Be yourself. Maybe that’s the best thing you can do.
Stay focused on the bigger picture because all this upheaval is great news for democracy, great news for our evolution as humans. But if we don’t organize and pace ourselves, we will burn out before we get started. Find your balance, and know that it will be enough.