Self Care for Activists

Social justice can be exhausting.

Especially in internetland where the battles never seem to stop, where threats and harassment are a constant, where exposure to assholes is a necessity, caring about things like feminism, race, GLBT rights, ableism, or any other form of oppression is a drain sometimes.

Sure it’s part of the territory, but that doesn’t mean we just have to roll over and take it. Activists who are tired, cranky, harassed, upset, and scared are not the best activists they can be, which means that throwing some self care into the mix is good for the causes you care about just as it’s good for you. So what’s a tired social justice warrior to do?

As Skepchick’s resident “I’ve spent too much time in therapy” expert, here are a few suggestions on how to keep yourself sane while fighting for important causes.

1. Know your limits

One of the hardest things about activism is that there’s always more to do, another argument to get into. You personally do not have to do all of it. There are conversations that are not going to be productive, blog posts you don’t need to read or write, events that you might not be able to attend. That’s ok. Choosing your battles isn’t just about picking the places that you’re going to be most effective at changing other people’s minds, it’s also about knowing when the interaction will take more out of you than you get back in pay off. If you’re already tired, sad, overwhelmed, or burnt out, do not engage with that crappy Facebook comment. You can turn off the computer and go sit outside instead.

2. Make a list

It seems trivial, but having a physical list of things that feel nice and are quick or easy to do can be incredibly helpful when the internet gets triggering or awful. It can be helpful to focus first on very basic sensory things that literally feel good: eating something delicious, taking a hot bath, putting on lotion, lighting some candles, looking at cute pictures (having a folder of emergency GIFs is good), or listening to music are all good places to start. When your emotions start to get overly activated it gets that much harder to think of things that will help to calm you down or re-energize you. If it’s already written out, that’s not a problem. It can also be good to have a list of people to call or see when you need some support.

3. You’re allowed to ask for compliments

For those who write, speak, or have a public face in the social justice community, we get a lot of asshole comments and responses that tell us how stupid/horrible/ugly/fat/fuckable/unfuckable/crazy/gross we are. Even if you can do some fighting against those insults on your own it’s always a good idea to enlist some help from friends. Many of my friends and I have openly asked each other for compliments, as well as made a concerted effort to tell others why we love them, and it actually feels pretty great. Sometimes it feels awkward, but I promise it’s ok and you are entirely entitled to hear about the reasons other people like you.

4. Balance is a must

Many of these suggestions are for getting back on your feet when the world has conspired to be a pile of shit and knock you on your ass. It’s also good to have preventative measures in place, and by that I mean regularly do stuff that you really like and that makes you feel fulfilled. Sometimes it feels like a waste of time. Don’t listen to that part of your brain. You cannot accomplish all the things that you want to if you never take time for yourself.

Listen to Audre Lorde. Audre Lorde knows:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

5. Remind yourself why

I try to keep tabs on the places that people have told me my writing or words have made a difference to them. When I start to wonder why I keep doing things that result in people bitching at me and hating me, I look at those things. There’s a reason that we put ourselves in positions to be harassed and insulted and abused. It’s because we think we can make a difference, make things better for someone. Remember that.

6. Take care of the basics

If there’s one lesson that having an eating disorder teaches loudly and clearly, it’s that not taking care of your body has serious impacts on your emotions. Sleeping enough, eating regularly and relatively healthy, moving your body, and taking care of any illnesses is enough to drastically cut down on emotional vulnerabilities. It might not seem like being hungry or tired would affect your emotions that much, but boy howdy does it. If you’re regularly feeling down, touchy, defensive, or just crappy, make sure you’re taking care of your body.

Author’s note: Your mileage may vary on all of these suggestions. Everyone has their own forms of self care, so if there’s something I’ve missed please jump in in comments to add. If you try something and it doesn’t help, you don’t have to do it again. Tailor your care to you.


Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at

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  1. Below this article about sexist questions in interviews are the following links:

    14 Times Kate Middleton showed off more than she should

    20 Photos that are sure to make you cringe – the caption of a photo taken from floor level pointing up what looks like a schoolgirl’s kilt

    It says that these are “sponsored links by Taboola”. I get that you have to fund your site, I am always impressed with people who provide a site for strangers to have informative fun – thanks, by the way. It does seem to be a bit of a shame though that such women-hating sleaze is on your page.

  2. Oh, and now a new one – 20 stars who are ageing terribly; and it’s no surprise that they’ve illustrated it with a female star not a male one.

  3. It can get…difficult. When you work in indigenous rights, you’ll find people who will claim to be your ally, then the minute you disagree with them on anything, they decide you’re ‘too colonized’ or whatever.

    I can deal with the white supremacists, the animal rights activists, and all the other terrorists, but the fake friends? That just cuts to the quick.

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