As an active feminist, social justice is an important aspect of my life.
I try to constantly stay up-to-date on the latest feminist discussions and the different ways I can grow a community of safe and socially-minded individuals. It is often very rewarding, but always very tiring.
Whether it’s through stories of triumph despite a system of oppression, or another case of violent misogyny, the rollercoaster of emotions can really weigh me down—not to mention the effort that goes into finding new information and ideas on the subject.
By just spending a few minutes on social media, I can end up feeling as exhausted (mentally) as if I had run a mile.
When involved in social justice, it is hard to not feel overwhelmed. We are constantly bombarded with harassment, misinformation, tales of traumatic events, and stories of overcoming strife. After a while, there is always the possibility of reaching a sort of “burnout” from the plethora of happenings presented within the community.
One clinical social worker, Cyndi Amato, is familiar with the potential harmful effects of burnout, and advises that the best way to avoid it is through taking the time to practice self-care. When we don’t take care of ourselves, we often end up hurting others—even those we are trying to help. In her words, she defines the symptoms of burnout:
“Symptoms vary among individuals, and stages of burnout may differ, but the most common symptoms include feelings of physical and emotional exhaustion. When this happens, the social worker’s ability to do their job becomes compromised and so does their physical and emotional health. Other symptoms could include irritability, rigidity, and lack of adaptability as the social worker experiences a low tolerance to frustration.”
If self-care is the solution, then what qualifies as self-care? Clinical psychologist Ellen K. Baker, Ph.D., defines self-care as three different things: self-awareness of our mind, body, and spirit; self-regulation of physical and emotional impulses (both conscious and unconscious); and finding a balance between ourselves, others, and the greater community.
Self-care is simple to define, but often difficult to execute.
Personally, I find it hard to take the time to myself to ensure I can peacefully de-compress. I know for my friends, the struggle can be even more impossible than simply staying home for the day. Since every situation is dependent on the person involved, there is no telling just what method of self-care will work best. Here are some of my favorite suggested ways to avoid burnout for my fellow social justice warriors.
Avoid Social Media
Many social justice-minded individuals are heavy users of social media. It’s understandable, considering social media is a primary way for humans to spread information and share stories. Yet social media can be inherently addicting to regular users—especially those who suffer from anxiety and other mental health issues.
Personally, I find it incredibly difficult to pull myself away from Facebook and Tumblr. The rare times that I am without smartphone access, I find it extremely cathartic not to feel obligated to be online. It’s an opportunity that I dread, but also crave on a regular basis.
That is why I suggest taking the time to separate yourself from social media regularly, if not weekly. It will save you from daily doses of existential dread and the loads of stress induced by the constant flow of social justice stories.
Take a Day to Yourself
Being overwhelmed by social justice issues isn’t the only thing that can cause burnout. Life in general—work, kids, friends, partner, and money—can all pile up on our already overburdened mind. By ensuring that one day out of the week (or month) is reserved just for us, we can alleviate many of the stresses that we’ve mentally collected.
Although this isn’t something I personally struggle with, I have far too many friends who seem to have trouble scheduling a day for themselves. Watching my close friends steadily get closer to reaching maximum stress levels is heart wrenching for me. I do my best to try to remind my friends that they need to take care of themselves, but it seems to be a hard thing to get across to a self-sacrificing person with a job, social life and money concerns.
Don’t let yourself reach that level of anxiety. Take a day to sleep in, make yourself some food, binge watch your favorite show, and live by the essential creed of Donna Meagle and Tom Haverford: “Treat yo-self.”
Your body and mind will thank you.
Learn Proper Stress Relieving Techniques
A handy tool to have in your self-care arsenal is any stress relieving technique that works for you. Everyone is different when it comes to the effectiveness of techniques, so don’t fall for one of the most common myths about stress. Figure out what method works best for you, and learn a couple other options just in case.
My favorite methods are breathing techniques (like the 4-7-8 breathing exercise) and the five senses countdown. When I am having a panic attack, I rely on my ability to refocus my attention outside my mind.
When the situation arises where you feel that burnout is imminent and unavoidable, try some doctor recommended breathing techniques and attempt to leave the stressful situation if you can. For those directly involved in social work, it may be hard to excuse yourself from the stressor. In those cases, find other ways to combat anxiety so you can properly prepare.
Find Peace through Letting Go
We should all be aware at this point in life that letting go is much easier said than done. Moving on can feel impossible, especially when we are certain that we are correct in our thinking. Yet holding tight (whether to a relationship, an argument, or an idea) can be more harmful than good to those surrounding us.
One of the biggest struggles I have faced with letting go is recognizing the point at which I need to walk away. If I stay too long, I end up creating considerably bigger problems than were originally present in the situation. At the same time, by letting go too soon—say in an argument with a friend—I can lose a potential learning experience for the both of us. Letting go is still an issue with my everyday life, but it is something I am working to improve.
By improving the act of letting go in your own life, you can prevent the speedy decline into burnout territory and find some much needed inner peace. Remember that you cannot help everyone, and not everyone is going to be open to your input or assistance.
Being a social justice warrior is a constant uphill battle, but you do not need to carry every burden with you to the top.
Author: Katie McBeth
Image: Kate Williams/Unsplash
Editors: Emily Bartran; Caitlin Oriel