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Activism Wisdom While Breaking the System – Issue 14

How to: Look after yourself and your mind in the fight for social justice. 

Manageable strategies to maintain your energy, connection, and motivation. 


If there is anything that I can write about, it is the mental impacts of social activism. From experience, there is an insane emotional toll that comes from fighting for what you believe in. Whether it be advocating for gender equity, ending poverty, or climate justice, our mental health can really take a hammering. 


This time last year, I was a mess. Even thinking about climate change reduced me to tears, sometimes triggering day long panic attacks. It has taken me most of my formative years up until now to properly realise the importance of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping everyone else. I spent a lot of the time suffocating, and last year I ran out of air. 


That is an extreme example of how neglecting our mental health can render us unable to be of use to anyone if we fail to be of use to ourselves. So, for every single young activist out there, no matter who you are and what you’re fighting for, this one’s for you. Please look after yourselves and never underestimate the importance of putting yourself first. That which is nurtured, will blossom and grow – whangaia ka tupu, ka puāwai.


Are you hypervigilant?


  • Set a timer for 45 minutes. Don’t go on any technology for the duration of your timer. The information will be there when you get back. 


  • Create a safe space for your own protection. What (tech free) items and activities make you feel safe, comfortable, and protected. A familiar playlist? A warm blanket? A colouring-in book? 


  • If you’re in a safe space: Affirm that your vigilance is there to keep you safe, but you’re allowed to let your guard down for a while too. 


  • Ask a friend or family member to check-in on you everyday to see how you’re doing. 


Do you feel alone?


  • Start an action-oriented group chat with a trusted circle. 


  • Research local organising efforts and reach out as to how you can get involved. 


  • Attend a skill-building workshop (online or in person) to expand both your network and your activist skillset. 


  • Organise to call or hang out with people that make you feel safe and cared for. 


Do you feel empty or disconnected?


  • Affirm that your feelings are valid, and you are holding them at bay to protect yourself. Then, affirm that feeling – your emotions are also a valid form of protection.  


  • Try journaling what you are seeing, feeling, hearing and experiencing. Take note of how you are reacting (or not reacting) to them. 


  • Ground yourself in physical sensations (hot shower, cold shower, small exercises, deep breathing etc.). 


  • Turn to something that usually brings you catharsis (lets you release your emotions). Art, writing, running, crying, or kicking the shit out of a boxing bag?


Do you feel overstimulated?


  • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or however long you feel. Then lay down in a cool, dark room for the duration of the timer. 


  • Selectively turn off your tech, including non-essential push notifications. 


  • Drink cold water and pay close attention to how it feels as you drink it. 


  • Meditate, go for a walk or run, do some breathing exercises or talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. 


Do you feel like your heart won’t stop racing?


  • Drink a full glass of water. Eat a protein rich snack. 


  • Listen to low-tempo, soft music. 


  • Hold hands or embrace someone you care about. 


  • Try meditation or a measured breathing exercise (in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, out for 8 seconds. Repeat as long as you like). Mentemia is a fantastic app with a built-in breathing guide, I use it daily.  


Do you feel like you’re stuck in place?


  • Do 10-15 minutes of exercise to get your body moving. 


  • Create a manageable to do list, separating normal tasks and activist tasks. 


  • Find someone to hold you accountable (and vice versa) to create a check-in support system. 


Are you feeling hopeless?


  • Listen to a podcast where someone is fighting for change.