An Activist's Guide To Self Care

BY Kochava Saturday, 01 July 2017

If you don't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?

How good is volunteering? It’s one of my favourite ways to meet other queer people and give back to the communities that have helped me. 

Activism takes on a whole bunch of different forms. It can be as simple as putting up posters around your school, starting a Stand Out Group or a Queer-Straight Alliance, volunteering at an organising like Minus18 (<3) or even starting a campaign yourself. 

Activism even includes self-advocacy -  like using the bathroom that feels right for you at work or school, wearing clothes that align with your gender or even bringing a date of the same gender to your school formal or family event. 

Investing our time and personal energy into a cause can feel great - but it can also drain us emotionally which can cause us to feel burnt out if we don’t take care of ourselves. When we’re feeling drained or burnt out, we’re not normally able to put in as much effort into helping other people and we aren’t usually able to remain as positive. 

We’ve learned a lot by volunteering at Minus18, so we wanted to share some of our tips to make it easier for you to take care of YOU.

Your wellbeing is number 1

Your ability to make change all depends on your own wellbeing. If you are burnt out, then you don’t have as much energy to give your cause. When you feel positive, it means you are able to devote energy into making other people feel positive too.

Be realistic about your workload

Try not to place too much pressure on yourself, and know what your limits are. You’ll likely want to reduce your activism during Year 12 or exam period, and this should always be OK as long as you communicate it to others. If you put your hand up for a task that you don’t have time for, it means the task won’t get done, and you might also be stopping someone else from putting their hand up too. 

Try get something out of it

Volunteering doesn’t pay in money - but it’s a great benefit if it rewards you some other way. Are you getting a good feeling from helping other people? Are you making friends and hanging out with people you like? Are you learning skills that will help you later in life? All of these can make volunteering and activism more enjoyable.

Be kind to other activists

We’re all in this together, and even if you disagree with another person from within your community, it’s important to keep in mind that most of the time we all have a similar goal. It can be incredibly easy to criticise or talk aggressively about somebody else’s work. When they are in the same community it’s far more likely that you’ll get a response from them, and so it can feel like your criticisms were a quick win.

Unfortunately, a lot of the time all that this does is cut down another person who is trying to achieve the same thing you are. Try talking kindly to others, having conversations about your feelings and what strategies you would like to see implemented. Who knows, you might just find yourself a strong ally.

Taking breaks

It’s easy to get caught up in whatever cause you’re working towards and forget that you have limits. After all, when you’re really passionate about something it can be hard to step back. A lot of volunteers find themselves burning out and not being able to work on their causes at all, or not very well, because of this.

Taking breaks, even if it’s just for a day, is one of the most important ways to take care of yourself. Giving yourself time to relax is good for your mental health and for the causes you want to support. If you take care of yourself, you’ll be better positioned to help other people too.

Support networks

Having other people who can help you is great! If you’re part of a group of people working on the same project, you can all support each other, and when one person is getting overwhelmed someone else can step in and help them out.

if you’re working on a project independently, just having friends who understand what you’re doing and care helps to. Being able to talk about the problems you’re experiencing with other people is extremely validating. 

Remind yourself why you care

It can all come back to why you began in the first place. If you are volunteering at a soup kitchen, and spend lots of time hidden away cooking, it can be refreshing to take a break and speak to the people you are helping. 

Celebrate the victories you achieve, and take the time to remind yourself of the good that has been done in whatever area you’re working on.

Practice regular self care

Everyone has different needs, and what works for you may not work for someone else. 

Make sure you are getting the right amount of sleep, and that you are eating properly and healthily. 

If what you’re doing isn’t working, remember to reach out for help - whether from other people who you volunteer with, or a mental health professional.