Self-Care Is Vital When Fighting For Social Change. Here's Why.

Here’s how to prevent burnout and maintain mental wellness during times of resistance.

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Fighting for social change isn’t easy. There’s no quick fix. In the past few weeks, thousands of activists around the world have taken part in anti-racism protests, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the US. Nightly protests were alive in many American cities after the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, who was killed in Minneapolis by a white police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes. It sparked similar protests in the UK.

They’ve given us the opportunity to have much-needed conversations about police brutality, what it means to be anti-racist, our responsibility to address institutional racism, and our work towards equality for the most marginalised.

Amidst this anger came the voice of another marginalised group, after JK Rowling attracted criticism for her comments on trans issues. Trans people felt angry and disappointed – and Black trans people are even more disproportionately targeted.

These fights are essential. They put focus on the struggles minorities face. But they also take energy – successfully establishing social change takes time, it’s not something that can be achieved in a matter of days. And sustaining that energy throughout can be hard – both for those in the centre of the fight, and others wanting to support and understand their experiences.

It’s important to maintain self-care while absorbing information and committing to push forward change. “Without proper self care, people risk suffering from burnout,” says Isaac Maweu, a psychotherapist and life coach.

“The brain is the most vital organ in the body and it’s being drained more by what [people] are doing – as much as it’s a good cause.”

Maweu says if we don’t maintain self care, there’s a “great risk” of projecting and displacing the anger to other people in our lives. “In all that we do, let’s be aware of how this affects us at the long-run,” he adds.

So how can you make sure you’re at your best?

Learn to know when your brain needs a break.

Whether you’re frustrated, angry, or overwhelmed, it’s understandable you’re going through an emotional rollercoaster right now. Set and honour your own boundaries.

“When you feel drained, it’s time to fill up – and you can only fill up if you’re accessing your mental health and self-care toolbox,” explains Grace Victory, content creator and founder of How to Heal Holistically. “Release your emotions by crying, exercising, or being in nature – pent up emotions manifest in your body which can cause deeper distress. Meditate, create, and find joy.

“This is a time to get educated, but it’s also a time that’s incredibly traumatic and exhausting.

“This is a time to get educated, but it’s also a time that’s incredibly traumatic and exhausting.”

- Grace Victory, founder of How to Heal Holistically

If you don’t, feelings of deep, heavy exhaustion can set in and this may make you retreat inside yourself when everything gets too much. “Try bringing your attention away from what you digest online,” says Cassandra Corrado, the woman behind Feminist Sex Ed, who created a resource on how to rest and recover during this time.

“The reality is, if you put down your phone for two hours, the information is still going to be there,” she tells HuffPost UK. “Overstimulation can make you feel jumpy – or like you’re buzzing out of your skin. Move back for a bit and say, ‘Okay, what do I need in this immediate 15 minutes to take care of myself?’ I’ve found journalling and breathing to be some of the helpful methods.”

Understand your limits with social media.

You might have been involved with a debate on Twitter or posted a black square on Instagram – and then think, “Now what?”. Many feel the need to do more – but do what you can right now to your best ability.

“A feeling of powerlessness can have negative effects on our overall mental health, because we feel like we don’t have autonomy,” explains Corrado. ”Some people think, ‘There’s no point in me doing anything because I have no power and if I have no power, then I’m ultimately worthless to this movement.’ We get stuck in this loop where we think we have to be processing all this information – all the time – as a way of keeping ourselves safe.”

“A feeling of powerlessness can have negative effects on our overall mental health.”

- Cassandra Corrado, Feminist Sex Ed

It’s great to be clued up on the moment, with a hunger to learn more, but being constantly switched on has been proven to cause us stress. If the urge to scroll is too strong to resist, turn off notifications and limit the time you spend reading or watching the news.

“Take regular breaks from social media so your mind can process what you’re ingesting,” suggests Victory. “Try to set yourself a strict sleep routine – switch off technology an hour before bed and have an hour to yourself in the mornings before engaging in the online world.”

nadia_bormotova via Getty Images

Prioritise rest and diet relentlessly.

Resting and recharging starts from within. When you give yourself a good base, you’re more able to take on whatever the day brings. We need energy to show up as our best selves for everyone around us, which means prioritising our rest and diet as relentlessly as we can.

“Focus on putting the right things in your body and make ‘me’ time a priority –that way you can then serve other people,” says Ngoni Chikwenengere, a fashion, food and lifestyle blogger. “Self-care is underrated. During lockdown, I’ve spent a lot of time working out, eating right, sleeping more, and trying to keep myself in a positive space physically, because it impacts everything else.”

If you implement small changes to your life to build healthy habits, they’ll eventually stick. “Make self-care a ritual because it takes time to get used to, but it lets your mind know it’s time to rest,” Chikwenengere adds.

“Make a list of what you want to try. Opt for healthy alternatives in the house, use a sleep spray, or work out to clear your mind.”

Know that your actions, however small, matter.

Giving yourself time to reenergise will help you think productively about the movement – and what you can do to contribute to change. Now it’s time to think about how you can turn your feelings into actions.

Acknowledge and understand that small changes can make big differences; from tackling difficult conversations to educating others, it can be a challenging, but absolutely necessary, process.

“Everyone can do something.”

- Celine Erorh, founder of mental health social enterprise Celutions

“Everyone can do something,” says Celine Erorh, founder of Celutions, a mental health social enterprise and creator of an online mental health wellness guide. “Share information with your audience, donate, sign petitions, or protest if you want to – just remember to protect yourself, both physically and mentally.”

If you’re unsure how to take action, use your platform to shine a spotlight on marginalised people and their experiences, that may have been hidden by the mainstream. “Pay attention and hold space for Black people to be heard,” adds Victory. ”Hear them when they cry, shout or vent.

“This is the first time for many that our voices are actually being listened to. We underestimate the importance of just hearing.”

How to support Black British people – Timi Sotire

In the short-term:

  • Checking out this resource (credit to @_nmtr) on practical ways to show support in the UK. It includes emails to write, petitions to sign, and funds to donate to.

  • If you don’t have the money to donate, read this Twitter thread on alternative methods of donating to Black Lives Matter.

  • Here is an excellent article from Gal Dem on what to do if you can’t protest on the streets for Black Lives Matter.

  • Uplift Black voices already discussing these issues on social media: @ukblackpride, @jasebyjason, @ChantayyJayy, @divanificent are just a few accounts to follow on Twitter.

  • Don’t DM your Black friends telling them all the ways you’re showing support. We aren’t going to validate you!

  • Don’t share violent videos. This Gal Dem article explains why.

  • Don’t use this as a time to promote your work. Parris Walters, 21, from Essex tells me “support is certainly not turning our pain into art projects”

In the long-term:

  • Boycotting racist brands and celebrities. Don’t engage with organisations that show anti-Black practices, or that profit off Black culture while failing to protect Black people.

  • Supporting UK Black business – here is a Twitter thread of Black businesses you can support.

  • Speak out in the face of injustice. Speak out even when it makes you feel uncomfortable.

  • Don’t centre non-Black voices. This isn’t about you! As Parris says: “Take accountability. Understand that whether you like it or not, you have been complicit in racism and benefitted from privilege”.