Taking care of the world includes taking care of yourself.
By Craig and Marc Kielburger
There was no time to sleep in the early days of March for Our Lives. “You can see clearly in those early interviews that all of us had deep, dark circles under our eyes,” Emma González writes in a new book about the mass shooting at her high school in Parkland, Florida.
“No one had an appetite. None of us wanted to stop working.”
Glimmer of Hope: How Tragedy Sparked a Movement explains how “the kids from Parkland” transformed sorrow and rage into action.
In conversation with González at the Teen Vogue summit this summer, actress and advocate Rowan Blanchard didn’t mince words: “How do you navigate the pressures of having to be woke about everything?”
Taking time out to recharge is vital. Some days when people are deep in their laptops or busy making calls, González, the leading voice of March for Our Lives, can be found under the table watching Brooklyn 99.
Whatever your plan for changing the world, it needs to include steps for taking care of yourself. It’s a lesson many advocates—ourselves included—learn the hard and exhausted way. We were slow to discover the importance of scheduling “down time” into hectic travel schedules and wall-to-wall meetings as charity co-founders. We’d push hard for a cause, working all-nighters fueled by coffee and dedication. But unbridled passion isn’t sustainable.
Journalist and social activist June Callwood first told us the old adage that activism is a marathon, not a sprint. That stayed with us as our small group of activists grew into a large organization—we needed to strive for balance and sustainability.
“People who care a lot, and are invested in making the world a better place, are vulnerable to burning out if they do not practice self-care,” says M. Lee Freedman, a Toronto-based family psychiatrist. “No one is immune.”
“Training includes learning to pace yourself and paying attention to your body’s signals,” she tells us. “You can only run on reserves for so long.”
Self-care has been called “an ethical imperative” for helpers, and not just activist leaders. Avid consumers of news, those who write letters or start petitions, even those who research causes before donating need to pay attention to their own needs, stress levels and emotional reactions to social crises.
“Everyone’s body experiences stress in a unique way,” Freedman says. It helps to tune in. Pay attention to stress signals—maybe it’s poor sleep, for example, or irritability, stomach problems, forgetfulness—early signs that might help to circumvent bigger problems.
Making time to connect with yourself and with others can help keep things in perspective and sustain your ability to contribute.
Think about ways you can fold self-care into giving back, Freedman suggests. You don’t have to choose between one and the other.
“If we could balance taking care of ourselves and taking care of others, we’d have the healthiest of worlds,” she says.