From our Director of Operations, Rachel Kacenjar:
Community organizers of all kinds are feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders right now, and let’s be honest — they basically always feel it in one way or another. It’s extremely challenging to have to balance the crucial work of organizing your community while also being mindful and intentional about taking care of yourself. Without striking a balance, burnout is inevitable, and I strive for a world where the essential social justice work that organizers do can be both sustainable and durable.
This list of suggestions is by no means exhaustive, but serves as a simple roadmap to refer to if you’re feeling lost. I’m hoping that by giving you some suggestions to implement in the coming days both pre and post-election, I can help to get you unstuck if you don’t know where to go as well as potentially spark some new ideas.
Before you embark on a self-care routine, here are a few guiding principles to help you along:
- Involve others to hold you accountable and support you.
- Schedule nudges and reminders by filling in chunks of time on your calendar, and settling alarms and reminders in your phone. Creating time for new habits is hard — use these tools for assistance.
- Prioritize your care. It’s the most important thing you’re going to do — don’t cancel it or move it for work.
- Allow for failure. Self-care is a praxis that takes time. You need to be patient to get into your own rhythm and find methodology and techniques that you feel comfortable with.
- Revisit and adjust your goals periodically. If you’re able to keep a routine in place — great! If you can’t, don’t get discouraged, just take the time to reconfigure the plan.
Before the election (or any planned, stressful event) there are a few things you can do to take care of your future self. It can be difficult to find time to do pre-care, so consider setting aside time first thing in the morning before you allow yourself to check texts, scroll social media, or check email. This timing is important, so you can reserve some energy for yourself before the events of the day eat all of it!
Do one personal chore before engaging in any tech in the morning. Clear off a chair, open mail, take that return to the post office, put in a load of laundry, wash a couple dishes — just spend 20-30 minutes doing one small thing you want to knock off your personal task list before you spend time on anyone or anything else.
Eat breakfast & take your meds and/or vitamins. If you can’t do food because of stress, stock up on something like protein shakes or pre-made smoothies that are easy to grab and go. If you drink coffee, consider downing a glass of water first so that you can potentially avoid dehydration or acid reflux.
You might be saying “I don’t have any food for breakfast, though.” Understood. Use your morning time to schedule grocery or meal delivery/pickup in advance via Ubereats/GrubHub/Postmates. If you can’t do that right now, just take 5 minutes and make a list of foods you like to eat, so if you have to shop after bad news, you already have a list. This is also a nice thing to have if someone asks you if there’s any way they can support or help you — send them a short list of food or beverages you desire. Sidenote: don’t be afraid to actually ask for things when people ask how they can support you.
Put calendar dates and times in your phone to remind you to shower if that’s something that’s hard for you to do when you’re stressed. Even if you don’t have a lot of energy, being in warm water can be soothing and/or provide you with some quiet respite. Abide by the reminders. Set times for a long bath if you like baths, or if bathing doesn’t feel possible just use the time to wash your face, brush your teeth, and or apply lotion or body oil at a leisurely pace so the activity feels restorative.
Identify your care pod and set up friend dates. Send out texts to 3-4 people and ask them if you can support each other the night of/day after the election. Figure out what that looks like right now. Get Zoom/Google Hangout/phone dates on your calendar now. If you don’t feel like chatting with your care pod, set up online games or watch a movie together.
Set up therapy appointments in advance. If you don’t have a therapist and you work full time, you might want to ask your employer if they offer an EAP- Employee Assistance Program, as they often offer free counseling sessions or referrals to counselors.
Take days off work if you can. Some folks might find it uncomfortable to take time off when they’re processing a difficult event, but you can redirect the time to your own projects and self-care. Remember to prioritize your personal goals. If you can’t take time off work, consider keeping your post-work time to yourself without making any commitments that will take longer than an hour for a couple weeks. Try to go to bed early or plan naps to get restorative rest.
Drink water. For every coffee or energy drink you consume, have a glass of water too! Get a reusable water bottle and keep it filled. (Bonus: get up and do some stretches every time you fill it!) Staying hydrated regulates temperature, keeps joints lubricated, can help prevent infections, delivers nutrients to cells, and keeps organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated can also improve sleep quality, cognition, and mood.
Listen to soothing sounds when you’re trying to relax or sleep. If you have Google Home or Amazon Echo, you can “hey Google/ask Alexa” to play soothing sounds. You can also find some here: 3 hours of soothing nature sounds
Make or find playlists that help you work out anger, relax, and get hyped up. Linking a couple of suggestions here:
- Chill Vibes
- Don’t F*ck Wit Me Today (created by my dear friend Maria)
- Stay Mad
- Ultimate 90’s Playlist
Identify something you’re grateful for at the end of every day and write it down or put it in a note in your phone. If the election shit hits the fan, it will be really nice to look at as a grounding exercise.
Post-care/ long term self care strategies and praxis:
After the election, (even if it goes the way you’re hoping for) you can work to build a more enriched self care practice. If it doesn’t go the way you’re hoping for, it will be normal to feel elevated levels of anger, depression and anxiety. Take time to mourn if you feel loss, and be sure to pause. Don’t commit to any new big projects before you’ve given yourself time to recuperate and gut check yourself to see if new commitments fit into your overall plan. Take baby steps. Attempt one thing off this list each week, or do a slow build and keep adding.
Opt out of news or make a small window of time each day to ingest it. This includes social media. Stop doom scrolling! Consider one hour of social media in the middle of the day and 1 hour at the end of the day to start. Taper off from there and see if you can take whole days off here and there.
Take the time to brainstorm ways to show up for your community that require less energy. If you already have a lot of commitments, pare them down. Circle back and let your co-conspirators know that you can give less time and are committing yourself to rest and recuperation.
Reinvest support in local community that supports you back. If you’re giving yourself to a national cause or campaign and do not feel tangible support from your co-conspirators, get out! If the work you do isn’t impacting the community around you, there’s a chance it may never nourish you. Think locally when it comes to making change. It’s okay to align your own needs with your work and want to see a positive impact that feels good for you, too.
Follow social media accounts that promote rest, rejuvenation, and wellbeing. I recommend:
- @the Nap Ministry (you can also call 1-833-LUV-NAPS to get a restful message from the founder)
Devote calendar time to reevaluating your personal goals. Look for your next opportunity (job, school, class, board to serve on.) If you feel stuck, this is a good way to unstick, even if it’s just in the daydream phase.
Plan a trip far in advance and look up sites and activities and pin them to a Pinterest board. Start saving up! Travel is out of the question for lots of people right now, but you can make a free Pinterest board or plan using Trello.com for free.
Connect with yourself by asking yourself introspective questions during this difficult time. Here’s a short list of questions to help you go deeper:
[These questions are from Elizabeth Weingarten, the managing editor of Behavioral Scientist Magazine.]
- What’s something that you miss about pre- COVID/pre-election life that surprises you? What’s something that you don’t miss that surprises you?
- Which member of your family/ friend group have you been thinking about the most during this time? Why?
- What’s the most generous act you’ve seen recently?
- What’s the last thing you experienced that made you laugh, or cry?
- What times of the day or the week are hardest? How can you plan to make them easier?
- What’s giving you hope right now?
- What’s the best thing that happened to you today/this week?
- How do you want this experience to change you? How do you think it will?
- What do you hope we all learn or take away from this experience?
Give yourself a massage or get a massage if you feel safe doing so. Use tools to ease tension in your neck, shoulders and back. Look into cork balls, foam rollers, or personal massagers. Make time for this on a regular basis to help ease your tension. Consider going to bed 45 minutes early and devote that time to easing the tension in your body before you try to sleep.
Get outside. Give yourself permission to buy a new raincoat, parka, boots, or gloves if you need them. If physical activity isn’t for you, take transport through a park or drive to a place you’ve never been before. Take a short road trip to see some natural beauty. Getting out of repetitive scenery can open you up to new feelings and ideas.
Joyful movement. Yoga and exercise aren’t for everyone, but if they are for you, there are lots of amazing web-based classes you can join right now. If you have low mobility or want to just dip your toe into low-impact movement, try Joyn, which has instruction for joyful movement at all mobility levels.
Journaling is a great way to process feelings. If writing by hand isn’t your thing, try Penzu.com or Livejournal.com. You don’t have to publicize anything you write, but if it helps you to share with others, personally invite friends to engage with you on these platforms via email or direct message.
Make a list of activities you enjoy or would like to try and try to do at least 1 a week until the list is exhausted. Keep adding to the list! Be curious!
Get indulgent about sleep. Wash your bedding. Remove distractions from your bedroom to make it cozy. If you like aromatherapy, incorporate a diffuser or humidifier into your bedroom. Consider the lighting, temperature, and if your pillows are supporting you the way you want to be supported. Start going to bed earlier and ban screen time when you’re in your bedroom.
Get organized! Is your workspace or bedroom messy? Take 10 minutes every day to clean a small portion of the spaces you inhabit most. Organizing your work or items so they are more visually appealing and easier to find helps a lot of folks feel grounded.
If you live in a region where it’s gloomy this time of year, get a SAD light! Use it first thing in the morning. Think of ways to use it while you meditate or when you sit down to work in the morning. Incorporate it in your routine.
Aromatherapy helps lots of folks to feel either calm or energized depending on the scent. Try a scent roller, diffuser, or candle to pick you up or calm you down. I personally enjoy a blend of lavender, cedar and sweet orange essential oils mixed with almond oil to help me feel calm. (Please only engage in aromatherapy in your own personal space, as some folks are scent sensitive and scents can cause them bodily harm.)
Learn a new skill! Have you been meaning to learn a new craft, recipe, or skill? Skillshare.com offers affordable classes for a wide range of subjects. Dip your toe into something you’ve always been interested in. Make time for it! Put it on your calendar!
Build a reading list of books that will center you or give you joy. You can certainly consider keeping social justice centered books in your rotation, but give yourself something easy to ingest now and then too. Here’s a list to get you started, and if you haven’t already read it, please read Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Maree Brown. If reading feels hard right now, invest in some recorded books. Listen to them on a long drive or while you’re doing something else for yourself.
If you don’t have the attention span for reading books right now, magazines are also an awesome option. There’s tons of free ones online, or you can get some freebie subscriptions here.
Learn and practice mindfulness. If the uncertainty of the future is making you feel out of control, know that your feelings are valid, and you might be able to shift your negative feelings by focusing on the present.
Meditation can be a helpful tool that works hand-in-hand with mindfulness. Meditation can be very difficult, and takes lots of practice, so if you are new at it, make sure you clear space on your calendar and truly devote time to trying to make it work for you. Look into instructional courses if you don’t know where to start, or consider Yoga Nidra, or a class like Root & Rest.
Snuggle a pet or care for a plant! Petting animals has been proven to increase Serotonin! If you don’t do animal family, grab a plant and read up about what it needs to thrive. Grow along with the plant!
Find a way to laugh! Make a list of movies that are guaranteed to make you smile so you have it ready to turn to in tough times. Here’s a short list to get you started.
Engage with all of the cute things! Here’s a cute baby animal compilation on Youtube for starters.
Create your dream room/decorating project/recipe file using Pinterest. Just zone out and click on things you like. Hopefully you’ll find new things you like or relaxing projects to take on. Don’t get caught up in possessing the perfectionism yourself — learn to just enjoy it for what it is.
Do something with your hands. Play with play-doh or slime, color in a coloring book, make some cookies, play an instrument — use your motor skills to switch up your cognitive functioning. It can seriously help pull you out of a funk!
Start keeping a list of compliments you’ve been given in your phone or on a notepad/in a diary. If you can, think about what you like about yourself and start there. Refer to the list when you’re feeling low.
Commit to protect your time to do all of these things. Without your buy-in and commitment, it will never work. If you’re a workaholic (pointing a finger at myself) consider your self-care a job. Take it seriously.
Find joy and or gratitude if you can. The hunt may be arduous — but put in the work to look for it. If you don’t have the strength for this, that’s okay too. You’re allowed to wallow — it’s part of normal processing. Make some space for the possibility for your wallowing to expire and allow joy to creep in naturally. Harness it when you feel it.
Try to remember that struggling is not failing. And even if you do fail, your community is here to support you and help pick you back up.
This list was compiled by Rachel Kacenjar, MNO, Operations Director for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, who has had a pretty rough electoral season and is an absolute workaholic trying to change her ways. She would like to credit her therapist who always asks her “what are you doing to take care of just you this week?” for sparking the idea for this list of suggestions.