By Cassy Hewitt
Fighting for social justice is not a task for the faint of heart. No matter how much you work at it or how committed you are, the work is never done. You are in this fight for the long haul.
Some days I find myself drowning in headlines from around the globe, all telling stories of fellow humans suffering persecution at the hands of authoritarian leadership, forced into the slave trade, or left putting their lives back together in the wake of a devastating natural disaster. Here are just a few of the crises heavy on my heart these days:
- Since August 2017, more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled what amounts to ethnic cleansing being carried out in a host of heinous and despicable ways by government troops in Myanmar (Human Rights Watch, Rohingya Crisis, retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/tag/rohingya-crisis).
- Syria is in its 6th year of civil war, leaving as many as 475,000 people dead, 7.6 million people displaced internally, and resulting in over 5 million refugees in search of safety in foreign lands (Laub, Z. 2017, April 28. Who’s Who in Syria’s Civil War. Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/whos-who-syrias-civil-war.)
- According to StatusPR.org, more than half of Puerto Rico’s residents remain without electricity since category 5 Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20.
- Human trafficking, an industry thought by many to be obsolete in 2017, continues to impact over 20 million people worldwide according to The Polaris Project. In 2016, there were over 8,000 human trafficking cases reported within the United States (https://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking).
Staying informed on crises like these (and many more) requires a significant investment of time and emotional energy. Whether you’re contacting congressional representatives about approving funding for disaster relief efforts, donating money to any of the many nonprofit organizations on the ground in places like Syria and Bangladesh, or organizing and participating in volunteer efforts and service projects, you’re making a worthwhile investment that doesn’t come without a certain accumulated cost to your own mental health. In light of that fact, let’s discuss another important way you can do your part in this world: self-care. Hear me out on this; it’s about so much more than sipping pinot noir in a bubble bath.
Fortunately, you’re not alone in your efforts to positively affect change in this world. Regular people like you and me are stepping up and finding or creating solutions every day. Understanding that you are not alone is an important first step in self-care; you have to know it’s okay to step back and take a breath before taking on a new task. There are a few aspects of self-care to consider and plan for.
Your Physical Self
This is the kind of self-care most people initially think of- a bubble bath, a glass of wine, a manicure, a morning run, or even a visit to The Mailroom Barber or The Studio, where the team provides all services and products in a cruelty-free and 100% ethically sourced way. Neglecting your physical health will quickly wear on you mentally and emotionally as well. Taking time to tend to your physical self is a great way to quickly feel refreshed and ready to jump back into whatever cause means the most to you.
Your Spiritual Self
Whatever spiritual tradition you practice, taking time to surround yourself with others who share that practice will renew your sense of community and purpose. Carving out time for your own spiritual practice will recenter you; this spiritually rejuvenated and centered version of yourself is the best version of you that you can invest into any cause.
Your Mental/Intellectual Self
Social justice and human rights issues can quickly become the primary focus of your media or literature consumption. It’s important to make time for other subjects and for your own hobbies. This doesn’t mean your hobbies are more important than being a voice for the voiceless, but continuing to pursue your own interests will help you avoid neglecting your own life and burning yourself out completely. Continue to read books, listen to your favorite podcasts, hang out with your nieces and nephews, work on your bike, and keep your grades up. Those things aren’t selfish and they’ll help you maintain a healthy balance in your life.
Your Emotional Self
Human rights issues are emotional. Innocent people die unjust and unnecessary deaths every day. Because we invest emotionally in the lives of marginalized people, each of us needs an outlet to allow us to process those emotions and determine our next steps. Keep a journal to give yourself time to flesh out your thoughts and emotional reactions. Talk things over with a like-minded friend that you trust and who can share the emotional burden. You may even wish to talk to a therapist about what you’re learning and how you’re responding to various issues. It’s important not to shoulder these burdens alone or silently.
As much as I love bubble baths and wine, self-care runs deeper and plays a much more important role in our ability to maintain long-term awareness and affect long-term change than many of us realize. Those whose lives are impacted by the issues we work to address need us- we cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed to the point of giving up. Self-care is how we refuel ourselves and get back to the important work of interceding and fighting for the safety and humanity of all people.
“In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel ‘burnout’ setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.” –Dalai Lama
Human Rights Watch, Rohingya Crisis, retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/tag/rohingya-crisis
Laub, Z. 2017, April 28. Who’s Who in Syria’s Civil War. Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/whos-who-syrias-civil-war