It's National Stress Awareness Day in the UK on 2 November. I would like to focus on the stress you can feel as an activist.
A big chunk of all activism takes place on social media, and if you are standing up for something that is seen as too politically correct you can expect that people will shout at you with loud and angry voices. You put yourself out there for criticism, and it can be exhausting
At a conference this summer I spoke to some feminists who have a big online presence about what they did to protect themselves when others abuse them. One said: 'I hardly dare to open my email some days, I know there will be lots of threats there.'
Another told me that she often used alcohol to relax and unwind: 'I feel the only way to kill all my feelings about the issues I feel passionate for is to have a few glasses of wine.'
When I've suffered online abuse in the past I was exhausted for days, and then someone will tell you that you are not doing enough for the women who are 'really discriminated against in the Middle East.' That's not the kind of comment that makes you feel empowered.
I can totally understand people who do not bother to do anything extra in their life to help others. Being an activist and formulating new ideas that will create a better and equal society can be pretty draining.
To be able to stand up for what you believe in and speak up for others who may have no voice you need to look after yourself.
One way to ensure you have the energy to continue to your work is to nurture yourself and practise self-compassion. If you are not topping up own energy every now and then you risk suffering from stress-related health issues.
Five things you can start doing are:
- Start learning about yourself and what you need to feel good physically and mentally. You set your own conditions for what makes you feel good and inspired.
- Design your own Sabbath ritual and remember to take a day or a half-day off every now and then. To do this you don't have to practise a specific religion, everyone can give it a try. You are free to choose what gives you time to reflect and unwind: a walk outdoors, spending a day in silence, not using any digital devices etc.
- Value yourself and the work you have achieved so far. Dare to step away for a while if you feel that the work is draining you.
- Stay away from social media and the news for a few days, it may help you calm down. Delete the apps on your phone. You are not here to constantly read news stories or entertain trolls and other people who are bored with their life; you need to focus on being you.
- People will remember you for having lots of time and energy if you've been involved in activism as a volunteer, and they will ask you to participate again. You have permission to say no to new requests. It can feel as if you are the most egoistic person in the world by saying no, but it is okay. You are enough as you are, and you don't need to jump on every opportunity that crosses your path.
Our culture glorifies stress and makes it sound like you live a good life if you live on the edge of being burnt out. Looking after yourself before you help others is not selfish, it's smart and will make you last longer. The work you have done so far is good enough; don't beat yourself up for not doing enough.
The world is not fair, and there are many movements that promote equality and better use of the world's resources. To speak up and show strength you need to heal yourself and create space to concentrate on your own wellbeing.