How to Protect Your Mental Health While Advocating and Protesting


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As the Black community and allies continue to protest for justice and equality, medical professionals are calling attention to potential long-term emotional risks. The increased stress for the Black community already coping with COVID-19—that disproportionately affects BIPOC—is reason enough why mental wellness should be prioritized, says racial trauma and boundary setting therapist Essence Cohen Fields. “The processing of trauma goes hand-in-hand with boundary setting and the continuous cycle of re-exposure to trauma," Fields notes.

So, how can people continue to protest and not get overwhelmed? Fields, who is the founder of FLY (First Love Yourself) Counseling, says to avoid “compassion fatigue” or the need to always be plugged in. It starts with something as simple as not watching the news 24/7 or continuously refreshing your Twitter feed to see what’s going on in Portland or around the corner. Is the fear of missing out more real now? Is everything that is happening feel out-of-this-world chaotic? Yes. Still, protesters and advocates must learn when to step back and when to tap back in. According to Fields, boundary setting is essential for promoting mental wellness and can keep you marching for the long-haul. 

Limit Your Exposure

You need to restrict how involved you are every day because it can lead to that burnout feeling. “For example, that means really setting boundaries around everything, even the news cycle,” says Fields. “If you're going to be informed, tell yourself, ‘You know, I'm only really going to check in once in the morning and then once in the evening.’ And that's if you can't go without being informed daily.” Then, she recommends picking three days out of the week and dedicate a specific time limit to the activity. For example, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, commit three hours to design signs for Black Lives Matter or spend that time calling government officials or let that be the amount of time you’re physically outside protesting.

Prioritize and Plan Your Level of Engagement

Woman making protest sign
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“So, it's really admirable that we want to be so involved with different things at the same time, but that can become too much. And worst-case scenario you end up with compassion fatigue,” says Fields. It’s not wise to want to participate in all types of advocacy engagement in a day, a week, or even a month. Once you’ve set aside the days of the week you want to engage, decide on the specific activity you can do within that week or month. This month, for example, you can do two weeks of protesting and another two weeks of making signs. “You don’t want to be so involved that you spread yourself too thin and develop a sense of apathy, where you’re like, ‘You know, I wish things would just go back to the way they were,’" where there wasn’t a heightened call to action. You don’t want to resent all the positive efforts and strides you’re making because you’re burning yourself out.  

Instead, find your strengths and stick with it. “Prioritize your engagement in terms of ‘Alright, where can I be most effective without being overwhelmed and without feeling inundated.” So if you enjoy writing letters more than taking to the streets, “Say, ‘You know what, this week I can write letters. And then next week I can financially donate.” As opposed to telling yourself, you have to do all forms of protesting in a given week or month. “That is not sustainable long-term.”

Stay Connected with Friends and Family

Maintaining a sense of community is more critical now because mental health is more “prevalent when people become isolated,” says Fields. As the pandemic continues along with the protesting, identifying your tension triggers is essential. To not feel “socially overexposed” or increasingly stressed, reach out to your friends and family for moral support. It reminds you that you’re not alone. But, you’re thinking, I don’t want to share my deep, dark thoughts with my friends and family. “You don't have to let them know how you're feeling specifically," says Fields. "Sometimes, just to share a laugh and distract your mind is all you need. Laughter is one of the first things that go away in those continued tense moments.”

Even if it's just a quick call here and there, staying plugged into a community can help you escape some harsh realities. “Make that an important part to maintaining your engagement,” says Fields. “Your activism should include an outlet in the form of talking to someone.”

Regularly Practice EFT Tapping

woman stretching
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What’s Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) Tapping? Think of it as a way to identify stress points in your body. “It's a way to ground yourself,” says Fields, who adds that this should be done in addition to things like exercising regularly, meditating and journaling. 

Developed by Gary Craig, EFT tapping helps to balance emotional pain. According to Craig’s book, The EFT Manual, the technique (tapping on stress-reduction points on the body) quickly reduces depression, anxiety and other conditions related to emotional health. There are eight main points in the body that you tap on using two fingertips, including the top of the head, eye area and collarbone. As you tap, the sensation begins to help with tension that tends to rest in those areas. Fields says affirmations accompany the tapping she coaches.

“It starts with the same script: ‘Even though blank blank blank, I love and accept myself.’ So, for example, ‘Even though I may feel overwhelmed and undervalued, I love and accept myself.’” Fields also wants her clients to feel comfort once they've identified their tension points. It starts by putting "one arm across your chest so that you're touching your shoulder like you’re giving yourself a pat on the back. And then you put your other arm underneath that arm, wrapping it around your stomach like you're giving yourself a hug at the same time.” This, she says, adds that physical, self-love display to the exercise. As you are in this position, continue the affirmations with different “Even though” statements. “You can continue to reaffirm things like, ‘Even though I may not feel seen or heard, I am beautiful and I love myself.’”

Most Importantly...

You know the saying, “Everything in moderation?” This applies to advocacy and protesting. Your wellbeing comes first. So, keep doing your part, but remember to regularly check-in with yourself and love on yourself.

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