An Integrated Approach to Young Adult Mental Health Rehab

Self-Care for Activists: 8 Practices for Young Adults

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Young activists are speaking out about today’s most pressing social issues. Recent polls show a high level of engagement among young adult and teen activists regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, systemic racism, and police brutality. Furthermore, today’s young adults believe that they are making a difference: In a survey conducted in June 2020 by the data intelligence company Morning Consult, 62 percent of Gen Zers agreed that they have the potential to impact the world. However, to do so over the long term, they need to avoid burnout by practicing self-care for activists.

Gen Z, Black Lives Matter, and Sustainable Activism

Morning Consult’s data shows that “the vast majority of Gen Z supports Black Lives Matter and took at least one action related to recent protests:”

  • 12 percent attended a protest
  • 41 percent posted about Black Lives Matter on social media
  • 46 percent have made an effort to learn more about what they can do to support racial justice.

According to Statista poll, as of June 2020, half of 18- to 34-year-olds “strongly support” the protests in response to the murder of George Floyd. That’s compared to 42 percent of 35- to 44-year-olds, 35 percent of 45- to 64-year-olds, and 28 percent of those 65 and older.

Clearly, youth activism is a major force for change.

Know the Facts

In a survey conducted in June 2020 by the data intelligence company Morning Consult, 62 percent of Gen Zers agreed that they have the potential to impact the world.

The Power of Youth Activism

Young activists are passionate about helping to create a better world, whether they’re fighting for racial justice, climate change, gender equality, gun control, or LGBTQ+ rights. While they may have other reasons for getting involved in a cause—such as connecting with peers or finding a safe space where their identity or beliefs are celebrated—the number-one reason youth engage in activism is because they are committed to fighting for social justice.

Moreover, young people’s social media savvy makes their activism more effective. They use social media platforms for organizing and spreading the word. Gen Z and the teens coming up behind them use Instagram and Twitter, as well as the messaging app Signal, to rally their fellow activists and create a powerful collective voice. In addition, young activists use the video app TikTok as a platform on which to share conversations and experiences related to the cause.

“Around the world, we are seeing children and youth engage as social, political, and economic actors, demonstrating their capacity to help make social change,” says Jessica Taft, author of The Kids Are in Charge: Activism and Power in Peru’s Movement of Working Children. “They deserve to be listened to, to be seen as collaborators and treated as equals.”

The Top 3 Causes of Activist Burnout

Activism can be exhilarating, because what you’re doing is so important. But it can also be draining, resulting in what’s known as activist burnout. Furthermore, young activists sometimes experience “activist guilt”—feeling guilty for taking time away from the struggle while others are suffering. Studies have found three primary burnout causes among activists:

  • Emotional and physical exhaustion
  • Beginning to feel jaded and cynical about the cause
  • Doubting that you’re really making a difference.

Young people have been carrying every single movement we’ve seen across the world, so it’s time for adults to step aside and uplift us. We are not just the future. We are the present.

Nupol Kiazolu, 19
President of Black Lives Matter–Greater New York

Symptoms of activist burnout can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Cynicism
  • Sadness
  • Feeling pessimistic
  • Disappointment
  • Emotional numbness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Lack of motivation and energy
  • Inability to concentrate and focus
  • Chronic pain or illness.

To avoid burnout, practicing self-care is essential.

8 Self-Care Tips for Activists

Sustainable activism requires taking time to care for mind, body, and spirit. Here are eight strategies that encourage self-care for activists.

Recharge in ways that work for you.

Make a list of the activities that refill your well of energy and positivity—being in nature, reading, creative expression, or time with friends that isn’t focused on activism. Make sure to do one or more of these practices daily.

Create healthy boundaries.

Become aware of when you’re getting tired or your mood is low, and choose to stop and rest rather than pushing through. As activists often remind each other, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Practice mindfulness.

Research shows that mindfulness practice, such as yoga, tai chi, and meditation, supports sustainable activism and helps prevent activist burnout. Simply taking a moment to pause and breathe, slowly and deeply, can shift your state of mind and help you refocus.

Develop a balanced relationship with media and social media.

Social media can support activism, and young activists need to stay informed about what’s happening in the world. But constant exposure can be exhausting and demoralizing, so self-care for activists includes unplugging sometimes.  

Don’t go it alone.

Accessing the support of fellow activists is essential. When people come together in support of a cause, they create community, build authentic connections, and do more effective work.

Care for your body.

This is one of the most important aspects of self-care for activists. Get enough sleep, get good nutrition (here are the top 10 foods to eat every day), and exercise regularly.

Remember that a therapist can be part of your support system.

A mental health professional can help you work with activist guilt and anxiety. Therapy can also address unprocessed trauma, grief, or identity issues triggered by personal or vicarious experiences of social injustice.

Keep track of your wins.

Document the milestones that represent forward movement in your work. When you feel low or hopeless, let these accomplishments serve as a reminder that meaningful change truly is possible.


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Mental Health / July 15, 2020

Newport Institute

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