What do you get when you combine anxiety with an abusive and terrifying political administration?
No, this isn’t an excerpt from the world’s worst joke book. It’s a question I’m dealing with every time I hear the words “President Trump.”
As an anxious person, the actions most frequently cited as effective means of protest are the things that send my mind into overdrive. Crowds. Canvassing door-to-door. Phone calls. God, the phone calls.
I realize the problem with me being the one to address this topic. As a white cisgender woman, my feelings and discomfort shouldn’t be centered. Not when 53% of people like me voted for the administration I’m protesting. And certainly not when folks at other intersections of identity are at greater risk than I am.
But I also realize the Trump administration’s list of abuses can’t sit unchallenged. The shameful ban on refugees and immigrants from seven majority-Muslim nations. The appointment of wildly unqualified and dangerous billionaire Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. The looming green-light for the culturally and environmentally disastrous Dakota Access Pipeline.
Anxious or not, none of us can afford to sit back and let the chips fall where they may. Because the chips will not fall in our favor.
My anxiety is manageable most of the time, and everyone’s experience is unique, so this guide will not apply to everyone. I encourage you to work out a plan that fits your needs, possibly with a therapist’s help. But these five principles have helped me think through the process of protesting while anxious, and I hope they’ll help you, too.
- Play to Your Strengths
Activism isn’t one-size-fits-all. Using your strongest tool set isn’t giving up—it’s focusing your energy where you know you can be effective.
Are you an artist? A writer? A journalist? Are you great with logistics and planning? Are you a grant writer? A mentor? Could you use your social media presence to launch a successful fundraiser? Do you work with organizations of faith or other service groups whose missions you could help guide? Are you fluent enough in a second language to volunteer as a translator?
Large crowds or long marches may not be right for you, for reasons including and beyond anxiety: disability or chronic pain, financial resources, caretaking needs, and so on. But there are still ways to make your voice heard.
Know where you shine, and lean into it.
If you’re in a position to financially support organizations doing on-the-ground work for the causes you care about, do that. Set up monthly recurring donations if you can—because these organizations need support consistently, not just right after an election or a particularly shocking executive order.
And spread the word, because the more of your friends and family who pitch in, the better.
The internet’s already rich with lists of progressive organizations that need financial contributions. A quick Google search will help you find ones that support the issues most important to you, but here are a few to get you started:
- The Southern Poverty Law Center
- Planned Parenthood
- The National Immigrant Law Center
- The American Civil Liberties Union
- The National Center for Transgender Equality
- Black Lives Matter
And don’t forget the media! In the age of “alternative facts,” investigative journalists need your support more than ever. Consider subscribing to the New York Times or the Washington Post, or donating to your local NPR station.
Oh, and hey: If you’re using an ad blocker, whitelist news sites. They need the revenue, and you can put up with the inconvenience.
- Write a Script
I hate making phone calls. I once lived with a broken toilet for three weeks because that was less stressful than calling my landlord. And I’ve recently called both my senators, my congressional rep, and the freaking Department of Homeland Security.
Phone-anxious people can still dial our senators when it counts. We just need a plan.
I’m a big believer in writing out exactly what you plan to say before calling. You can draft your own scripts, or use those provided by services like 5 Calls. This can counteract the fear of not knowing what you’re going to say, and the act of writing makes it harder to get cold feet.
These kinds of calls usually take less than a minute. Don’t worry about sounding rehearsed: staffers won’t care if you’re reading. And once you hang up, try not to stress if you stuttered or misspoke. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about calling!
- Find Your Tribe
President Obama’s farewell address made a vital point: living in bubbles with people who agree with us won’t lead to meaningful social change. But on the flip side, you can’t be arguing with white supremacists in the streets every second. Sometimes you need a breather to talk things over with your people.
I have a shortlist of folks I call when I need that moment of clarity. Folks who will let me yell pointlessly about Steve Bannon and congressional gerrymandering for 10 minutes. Folks who will say, “Yes, I hear you. Yes, I know.”
No, these kinds of conversations won’t change the world. But they help us feel affirmed, heard, and valued. And that’s a big deal.
Plus, see if someone in your tribe can help support you in person. Carpool to your next protest. Swap phone scripts. Sit together at your congressperson’s town hall. It helps to have someone you can lean on!
- Aim for Balance
It’s important to push ourselves beyond what feels comfortable, but it’s equally important to give yourself time to recenter. Because you can’t operate at maximum stress forever. You just can’t.
For me, I alternate anxiety-inducing actions with introvert-friendly ones to maintain some kind of equilibrium. After I call my senator, I might listen to a podcast for 20 minutes. Or after I attend a rally, I might lie in bed for two hours watching a miniseries about Queen Victoria.
(Sorry not sorry. If a show has Queen Victoria in it, I am all in.)
Some days you can push yourself to go further than usual. Other days, you might not feel able to take on as much. And that’s OK!
Because while we can’t sit back and expect change to happen without us, we must also recognize our differences, our limitations, and our unique skills.
We—and the movement—will be stronger for it.