Photo: Seth Doyle.
It’s difficult to work, take care of family, and enjoy life when everything you read online suggests the world is going to hell. Ten days into Trump’s presidency and I want to turn off the news, escape to an isolated cabin without wifi, or resolve to stay out of politics completely because it’s all too “negative.”
But none of those options is effective in bringing about positive change. The remedy to feeling helpless is not ignorance or escape — it’s action.
Here’s what I’ve figured out on how to be an informed, proactive citizen without giving up or going crazy.
Every day, find three small ways to take action.
It’s fine to share articles on Facebook or spend your coffee break commiserating with your friends about the bleak headlines online, but none of these actions effect positive change.
The best way to combat your feelings of hopelessness and helplessness is to do something that has an impact beyond your personal bubble. Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to make your voice heard.
Donate to a group you know is doing important work (start with the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, EarthJustice, the NAACP, National Immigration Forum, or Union of Concerned Scientists), send a thank you message to the government officials who you know are fighting alongside you, or search online for nearby protests, marches, and gatherings you can take part in.
If you only have five minutes to spare, call your senator to talk about the issues that matter to you. Pick one political issue or decision per phone call and state your frustration with the way it’s being handled. Don’t be afraid to share a personal anecdote and to urge your senator to take some sort of action, whether it’s a specific vote or a motion to start a petition. 5calls.org provides phone numbers and sample scripts.
Create first, then consume.
Before you check the news each day or scroll through Facebook, get to work. Focus on making tangible progress with your most important tasks and responsibilities. Limit your distractions and devote your full energy and effort to the stuff you need to get done.
When you prioritize creation before consumption, you’re able to work with a clear, fresh mind. Not only will you be more productive, you’ll also be more efficient with your workload, meaning you’ll be able to cross twice as much off your to-do list and still leave time to make those calls to your senator.
Beyond just being a spectacular source of beauty and wonder, nature has the unique ability to simultaneously calm and energize us. Anyone who’s ever watched the sun dip below the horizon knows this is true.
Humans aren’t wired to sync up to the chaotic, fast-paced rhythms of urban, developed life for long periods at a time. That’s why it’s common to feel depressed, detached, and blah the more time you spend indoors staring at a screen.
Being immersed in nature reminds us, among other things, that we don’t have to live on autopilot. So, get outside: hike, swim in the sea, go camping for a weekend, have a picnic, or visit one of our national parks.
Limit your social media use.
Social media used to be a place for cat videos and pictures of friends, but not anymore. Now, social media is its own news factory, spewing out stories faster than we can possibly scroll through them. Facebook and Twitter in particular double as battlegrounds for heated political discussions and debates.
I get the majority of news from my Facebook feed (where I follow various reputable news outlets, senators, and activists) and I like this exchange of information — until it becomes too much.
In the current political climate, the likelihood of me innocently checking my notifications and being bombarded with upsetting headlines and angry posts is high.
That’s why it’s crucial to cut down on the time spent on social media. If you overindulge, it can suck the life out of you.
Limit your social media use to half an hour a day if you can. Turn off your push notifications and opt out of receiving emails about comments on your posts. You can even delete the social media apps on your phone if you have to.
Look at the news once a day.
Here’s a reality check: We do not need to read news updates every 45 minutes in order to stay informed on the issues and events happening across the globe.
Submerging ourselves so deep in the news — however important — isn’t healthy or productive. It’s exhausting. Checking the news 37 times a day is like checking your email every 10 minutes. It distracts you from the work you need to do and fills you with anxiety in the meantime.
You’ll feel so much more in control of your life and emotions if you pick just one time a day to absorb the news. Spend 20 minutes checking your favorite news outlets, find out what you need to know, then walk away.
Support companies and people who are making a positive difference.
Take some of the energy you reserve for complaining, panicking, and crying and use it instead to praise and support people who are fighting for the things you want.
If you like Starbucks’ recent promise to hire 10,000 refugees in coffee shops around the world, support them by buying your afternoon latte there. If you’re proud of your senator for voicing his or her opposition to the Muslim ban, send that person a quick note of appreciation. If your local chapter of ACLU needs volunteers, ask how you can help.
Giving your money, time, and support to the people who are actively creating change is far more effective than tweeting your outrage, and it’ll make you feel good in the process. Two birds, one stone.
Escape with art.
If you have creative passions, now’s the time to pursue them with even more fervor. Write about what you’re feeling, play music, decorate, sing, act, build, take photos, dance, or paint your emotions on a canvas.
All art is the art of storytelling, and telling stories is the best way to understand the human experience.
But don’t just escape with your own art — escape in the art of others, too. Get lost in a fiction novel, see a play, peruse an art gallery, or watch a new series to immerse yourself in a different universe (Try Black Mirror or The OA on Netflix).
Art — both creating it and appreciating it — is healing.
Talk to the people in your community.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Each of us, especially those of us whose rights are being directly attacked, needs to know we are supported and loved. The easiest way to show your support to your community, friends, and family is to talk to them.
Tell your Muslim friends and family that you support their right to freedom of religion and that you condemn Trump’s xenophobic, vile, and un-American ban. Reassure them that you see them, you value them, and you will fight on their behalf.
Do the same with anyone in your close circle who feels threatened, unsafe, unheard, dismissed, or attacked. Reach out and offer your support. Tell them you have their backs no matter what.
Now is not the time to be silent.
Take two minutes every day to consciously think about what you’re grateful for. Make a list, tell a friend, or ponder it silently as you drink your morning coffee.
Focusing on what you’re thankful for keeps you rooted, first and foremost, in joy and appreciation. Even on the darkest of days, appreciation is a powerful, sturdy foundation on which to stand.
Live your life.
When you feel like everything is spinning out of control, remember this: you have and will always have full control of your emotional state.
Take the time you need to grieve and process the horrors you see unfold, but at the end of the day, choose to find some kind of joy in your life. It doesn’t serve you, nor does it help the people you’re trying to protect, to let anger and sadness rule you. What does serve you, however, is your determination to continue to seek out happiness and beauty in an unkind, unjust world.