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Self-Care in Activist Work: A Guest Post by Monique Dauphin

At the time of this writing, we as a nation are into the third week of the mass uprisings triggered by the murder of George Floyd. There are many folks who are just now becoming aware of the routine and unnecessary loss of life and dignity of Black Americans at the hands of systems of oppression, and they join those who have been advocating for Black lives for years, decades, and lifetimes. Whether you are new to the fight or a lifelong advocate, chances are, you’re exhausted. It is as important as ever to keep up our reserves of strength. Here are some common barriers to self-care that I hear from activist clients (and, sometimes, from myself). When we hear these things in our own minds, it’s important to have some logical responses at the ready.

  1. “I don’t have time to rest.” It certainly feels that way, doesn’t it? Things are happening at a dizzying pace, and there is a constant and palpable sense of urgency in the air. There are marches to go to, virtual meetings to attend, fundraising events to be held, people to argue with on the Internet. The thing is, no one person can do it all. We each have to make vital choices about which activities feed our value system and sense of purpose the most. Conversely, we’ve got to figure out what to cut. When in doubt, cutting out arguing with people you’ve never met on the Internet will usually save quite a bit of time.

  2. “I’m completely overwhelmed. I have no appetite and I can’t sleep.” Often, I notice that cluster of symptoms has a direct connection to how much social media we’re consuming. With respect to social media, it’s important for us all to remember that the human mind is not well evolved to take in negative information on a worldwide scale. We evolved to care about problems that affect us and our immediate community. When we feel overwhelmed, it usually helps to narrow our focus a little and take concrete action to help, before giving ourselves a break. Some questions to ask ourselves are: “What can I do to support the efforts happening in my own backyard?” Can we show up to a socially distant protest? If we can’t protest for whatever reason, can we drop off some water to demonstrators? “What’s the most effective way to help those outside my community?” Can we make a donation of any amount to a national organization that supports our values? The key here is, once we’ve figured out how we can actually help, it’s easier to allow ourselves a break from social media and even from news in all formats.

  3. “How can I take breaks when others don’t have that privilege?” I hear this one most often from white allies, and there is no doubt

Photo credit: Sarah A. Salem
Poughkeepsians stand united against injustice on June 2nd.

that it comes from a sense of compassion and egalitarianism. But the fact is, all of us need breaks. The fact that many of us are unfairly denied the right to self-care doesn’t mean it will be helpful for more people to deny themselves that right in solidarity. If you’ll pardon the militaristic analogy, consider this scenario. I’m a general engaged in a war, and I tell you that my strategy is to send all my troops to the frontline at the same time. They will all fight 24/7 without rest, sleep, or food, and erm...we’ll just hope for the best. Great plan, right? No, it’s a terrible plan. If you have trouble allowing yourself rest simply because you’re a human being and you deserve it, do it for the movement. We need rest to be in (nonviolent, collaborative) fighting form.

However we choose to do it, it is vital for us all to remember that caring for ourselves is not optional if what we’re after is lasting change. To paraphrase Audre Lorde, caring for ourselves is in itself a radical act of rebellion.

In solidarity,


Monique A. Dauphin is a licensed mental health counselor and the owner of Resolution Psychotherapy. She is proud and privileged to provide culturally aware counseling to Black clients and other clients of color in the Hudson Valley.

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