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Anxiety, Activism and Self-Care

Anxiety, Activism and Self-Care

What do I mean by self-care and how does self-care relate to anxiety and activism?
I think it would be fair to say that most of us are reckoning with the very uncertain times we are in and feel various degrees of anxiety and fear. So how do we relieve this periodic angst? I’ve come to feel that self-care can be a major force for moving forward with positive actions and thoughts.

Anxiety and Self-Care
The first step in self-care, I believe, is acknowledging that these are dangerous and uncertain times, and anxiety about that is totally understandable and normal. Up until our recent US election, the danger has been there, but our democracy has felt more or less stable. Corrupt yes, but stable. Now, given our new administration it’s unpredictable and chaotic. One way that helps me move forward is to allow anger, sadness and disbelief to be present in me and to do whatever it takes to let these emotions pass on. I also believe that humor and acceptance are going to contribute much more than depression and despair to the possibility of finding creative solutions to myriad crises. Many say the best antidote for depression and anxiety is action and deeper dedication to what calls us to contribute our unique gifts to the world.

Put your own oxygen mask on before putting one on your child
This is the directive given by flight attendants during pre-flight instructions. It’s good advice for us as well in daily life. Take care of ourselves first. But, you may say, isn’t it selfish to take care of ourselves when there is so much suffering and need in the world? Many of us have been told that. We’ve devoted ourselves to our work for the world, and often discovered we are totally burned out. Now we know that unless we take care of ourselves, nurture ourselves, we’re going to be of little value to anyone else.

Care for the World . . . and Over-Care
It takes courage and awareness and compassion to feel the pain of others and the Earth, and to realize our oneness with all living things. It takes a willingness to open to that suffering, and it’s important that we do so. Otherwise it’s just “all about me.” We also have to be aware that our capacity to feel the pain of the world can sometimes lead to over-care, where our empathy and compassion for others can bring us down and deplete our energy for doing even a little good right around us.

Here’s a strategy I find useful to set my inner compass
I imagine myself on my death bed and what my last thoughts might be: Would I like to have been more this way and less that way; done more of this and less of that? Maybe I have to make some adjustments after considering my answers. I also ask myself, how do I want to feel now, and how do I want to feel like to other people? For instance, I want to feel upbeat, positive; I want other people to feel positive around me.

What about self-care as it relates to our activism and engagement? Many people talk about resistance these days. I’ve been experimenting with how it feels to say “persist” instead of “resist.” While resistance feels exhausting, persistence feels empowering. As one friend says, “The needed action may well be the same, but the energy is transformed and transforming when we use the word persist.” Try it out for yourself. We give energy to what we focus on, so let’s take it away from what we don’t want and give it to our vision. Instead of resisting—or along with resisting, opposing, and fighting—let’s think more about persisting and creating, guiding and protecting. Those are the things that are fueled by love for each other and our planet. Love is an energy that will more likely keep us going a lot longer than resisting. Here are some other ways to envision and describe our work for change. Mobilize, inspire, guide and direct attention, as in “Look over here!” Aikido moves use guidance and deflection rather than blocking. We can try that, as well as protect, organize, march and work for our causes. We also have to remember that activism can be the simple act of engaging with the checkout clerk in a personal way with a smile of acknowledgment for that person as another human being. It’s as important as marching.

There is no Plan(et) B.
In a time of uncertainty I am certain of this: that we’re headed for a cliff. Either we plunge over it and crash on the rocks below, or we learn to fly by creating something that is completely new. A new arising. To do this we each engage in our unique way; we connect with others and care for all life in creating a thriving and sustainable world. Under this administration and this Congress, I’ll bet we’re also going to learn how to take care of ourselves really well!

These articles are well worth your time
How to Resist from a Place of Love, Self-Care for the Long Haul

Advice for Activists from Grace Lee Boggs

Deepak Chopra on Reducing Stress and Anxiety

A Positive Outlook May Be Good for Your Health

Crossing the Mystical Threshold

More ideas for self-care in the March column, "Get a Life."


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