2020 has been exhausting, hasn’t it?
Protests and pandemics; Murder hornets and threats of war. Hell, we’re barely into hurricane season, and every time I see a breaking news alert on TV now I sigh and think to myself, “WTF now?” Certainly, it’s been incredible to see how these calls to act against injustice have mobilized the nation. But it’s upsetting and draining and I can’t even watch the news anymore. There’s that undeniable frustration when it feels like marching for a cause never seems to lead to concrete results. The forces that put these injustices into place feel so monolithic redundant take out it almost feels like there’s no point to protest anymore.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the unrelenting negativity. Fighting for so long can leave one feeling numb, lost, or even hopeless, leaving one in a state psychologists sometimes call “crisis fatigue.” On a biochemical level, the physical drain of all this stress is well understood. Cortisol, a hormone that amps up your body for fight or flight responses, is perfect for those short bursts of stress that our ancestors felt when being chased by lions. But our bodies are maladapted to the constant weeks- to months-long pressure we put ourselves through when we protest without success. The constant barrage of negativity puts us into a chronic high-cortisol state, resulting in anxiety, insomnia, weight gain, decreased immunity, and even bone loss. In the face of all this, can you blame someone for throwing up their hands and giving up? The protest burn-out seems inevitable. Expending the time and energy to march on the streets results in pictures in headlines and history books, but there’s little point in risking so much when each day seems to accomplish so little. Finding ways of staying in the fight outside of the streets will be critical to maintaining momentum.
To that end, it’s essential that we as activists form strategies to enact change that are more sustainable. A recent collaboration between social activists, artists, and organizers within BLM and the LGBTQ community recently culminated in the publication of “The 26 Ways to be in the Struggle Beyond the Streets.” The open letter acknowledges how difficult it is to march every day. Instead, it offers suggestions like preparing meals for people who are marching or circulating news and visuals of protests so they can reach a wider audience. The group also suggests spending volunteer hours engaging in gatherings or recruitment drives to build engagement in your own community. By building toward structural changes within the populace, we can build a larger base of support and help form a coalition with an even wider scope, which can help mitigate the cost of manpower for future protests.
But more than all of that, I’d like to highlight the final suggestion and urge you to remember that self-care and patience underpins this entire fight. While it may feel like you’re not out there solving problems, just being someone who cares about what happens in the world is important and valuable because you can have an impact on those immediately around you. You can shift the conversation in the interactions that you have on a daily basis from one of confrontation to one that acknowledges and reframes through understanding. Anyone who has a crazy uncle or racist grandmother knows that this feels impossible. But in acting as a force of positivity and change in your personal connections, you act to change the world. This takes emotional energy. This is why it’s so important to take the time to take care of yourself, because it’s when you’re low on energy that these interactions go out the window. Take breaks. Forgive yourself for not doing more. Practice self-care. Don’t lose that empathy, that hope, because we need it now more than ever. By taking those steps, you ensure that you remain in the kind of mentally healthy headspace that enables one to care for others.