It is very important to be aware of what goes on around us, especially in the social and political sphere.
However, I think that the act of choosing to be socially and politically conscious, and sometimes choosing to be an activist, advocate and even ally comes with a cost. No one tells you that this journey of advocacy and awareness, though an interesting and rewarding experience, can take a toll on one’s mental health and overall outlook on life.
I think that when you are constantly bombarded with gross and terrible news that affects your community, what used to shock you now becomes the norm and over time you become desensitized. It’s a terrible thing to acknowledge, but this desensitization often leads to an overall numbness, and sometimes to feelings of hopelessness that things will get better.
There is this continuous struggle between wanting to stay informed and taking a break, to keep the mental peace, even if it’s just for a little while. I struggle with this daily, and when confronted with the decision, I would never choose the break. I used to think that doing so was weak, because while people were experiencing things like revoked visas, deportation and police brutality, I was simply reading and talking about it.
I realize now that sometimes taking an information and media break, especially after this long and never-ending period of being exposed to terrible stories, is a coping mechanism that is used by many to take care of themselves.
Self-care is very important, and in this line of "duty" it becomes a necessity. Here are some tips and strategies to practice self-care as you take on the world one story or protest at a time.
Self-care is protest: My activism involves doing all that I can to make sure that people feel safe being their true self. A big part of our true selves does involve our emotions and feelings. Feelings of hopelessness, anger or feeling nothing at all are all valid.
Self-care to me is recognizing that my feelings and emotions are real and important, and that the choices I make to ensure that I am okay is activism.
Step away from social media and the news if you must: The news can become overwhelming, and it is okay to take breaks. I’ve often heard things about how there is something called the "real world" and that it does exist outside of our technology and media. All jokes aside, reading and learning about the real world is scary, and it wouldn’t hurt to take a break from social media and the news. That information will still be there if and when you choose to return, and this break might leave you feeling refreshed.
Focus on other things, no matter how frivolous: This idea that all news regarding the socio-political world is all we should consume and focus on is something that needs to be dismantled. While turning our attention to things like the rise and fall of memes such as "salt bae," and the twin millionaires growing inside the belly of Beyoncé, is a recognized privilege the many people that we read about and fight for cannot afford, sometimes it can be a good thing. It is okay to care about more than one thing at the same time, even though one may outweigh the other in terms of importance.
Choose your battles carefully; some things and people are not worth your time. I’ve learned the hard way that there is no need to argue about everything and argue with everyone. Realize that somethings and some people cannot be changed, and while this does seem like a sad and hopeless statement, it is true, and it will save you a lot of time and emotions.
Know that it is okay to not be able to change everything.
Turn to whatever makes you happy: For some people, their source of happiness is music, art, movies, friends, food. The word "self" is half of the word "self-care," so catering your routine to your needs is an essential part of it all.
I'm still struggling to find a balance between getting involved, and making sure that I am not losing myself and my peace in the same process. Our mental health is important, and while these above steps won’t solve everything, or maybe even anything, they do help ease the process, even if it’s just a little bit.
- Lilian Eghonghon Esene is a first year medical sciences student at Western.