Recently, many people have become more involved in social activism and community work. Seeing differences in political positions, opportunities, and lived experiences, many of us have declared that we cannot honestly passively wait for others to make the world a better place. While this work can be rewarding, it can also be challenging. Sometimes it’s worrisome, and sometimes you can feel discouraged about the progress you’re seeing (or not seeing) or the state of the world in general. There can be overwhelming feelings, everything that needs to be done, and despair about how things are going. You may find that you really want to leave, or maybe you do there is broke up and now you feel guilty. We have good news: psychology research has some ideas for keeping ourselves afloat. Let’s start with how to manage the emotions that come with this job.
Control your mood and respond to it: Be alert and notice when you start to slip (Pick up kids? Having trouble getting out of bed?). To do this job and fulfill your other roles, you need to stay afloat. What works for you in terms of self-care? Rediscover knitting, music, candles or soft blankets. These things don’t have to be time-consuming.
Positive reinforcement: Choose at least some activity activities that are self-enhancing (read: enjoyable). Go into the community and work with children. Not alone, do something with your friends (or go and make a new friend!). Solidarity, validation, feeling like you’re doing something…these can be pretty powerful rewards!
Social Support: Find an activity partner who can provide emotional support, help keep things in perspective, and remind you of the importance of self-care. Also, the activity may not stay away from family and other friends. Finding a way to include them can allow you to spend time with the important people in your life while doing the things that matter to you. Added bonus: if you take the kids with you, you’ll be modeling for them how to be an engaged citizen.
Mindfulness: Passions can take over your life. You may find yourself sitting down to dinner with your family, thinking about the things you need to do to prepare for that night’s meeting. Shifting gears is difficult, and several aspects of your life may suffer. Finding five minutes a day to practice breath-based meditation can help you refocus and do wonders for your mood and ability to be ready.
Control your exposure: If you’re doing too much, step back and practice saying no. Remember, hopelessness and despair probably won’t help your business. Limit the time you spend watching, reading or listening to the news. Keep some favorite (soothing?) music handy to play when the news starts to stress you out. Read fiction.
Cognitive reappraisal: Do you find thoughts holding you back? Maybe “my whole situation feels the opposite of what I do, so what’s the point?” Think about how useful (or not) these ideas are. What are the consequences of such thinking? Are you feeling down, hopeless, alone and unmotivated? Is there another way to look at the situation that is less dire? For example, you might say, “Pooh, that’s hard work.” Still realistic, but less depressing.
Bottom line: We are not machines. We cannot fight all the time. Pay attention to your emotions and overall health, and find ways to sustain your social participation over the long term.
Author: Dara G Friedman-Wheeler, PhD & Jamie S Bodenlos, PhD
Beck, JS (2011). Cognitive behavioral therapy: Basics and beyond., 2nd ed. New York: Guilford Press.
Burns, DD (1980). Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. New York: Signet.
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