Reading and watching today’s news can send you into a panic attack. Global poverty, ice caps melting, congressional chaos, nations threatening one another. It can be dizzying, exhausting, and anxiety-producing. I’ve come to see my 20s as a time of realization about the harsh realities of the world and how they impact my life and the lives of everyone around me. You can choose to either ignore these big problems, jump headfirst into advocating for a particular issue, or (like many of us) stress out about everything.
A mentor once told me that you can’t fix the problems of the world all at once, all day, every day. It’s easy to become paralyzed by the seemingly insurmountable issues we face today. But I would argue that there are some practical and sustainable steps for dealing with some of these issues and workable ways to avoid moments of panic by changing your lifestyle. Here are a few ideas to get started.
Make a simple lifestyle change
Not everyone is able to dedicate themselves 100% to a particular cause or issue they care about, and if you’re like me, this can be anxiety-inducing. What has worked well for me is taking small steps in areas that I can control, even if I don’t have unlimited time and funds to donate to organizations. Biking to work, using a reusable grocery bag to cut down on plastic waste, or becoming a vegetarian to cut down on my carbon footprint don’t require massive amounts of money or a dramatic lifestyle change, but help me sleep better at night knowing I’m doing what I can to combat climate change. And having conversations with people close to you can also work wonders to change hearts and minds on issues that seek to divide us. Talking to my family members about issues of racism or sexism certainly makes Thanksgiving a little less fun, but allows me to share my opinions while trying to cultivate a culture of tolerance within my own family.
Donate time and money to causes that are important to you
Famines, natural disasters, the migrant crisis: It’s easy to hear about these events and feel powerless. In the wake of the refugee crisis in Europe during the summer of 2015, I spent much time in shock but eventually made the decision to choose action. While I couldn’t quit my job and fly off to Greece to volunteer my time, I was able to donate to organizations like Catholic Relief Services to meet the ongoing needs of these crises. If you’re unable to financially contribute, make the time to volunteer or lend your voice and advocate for legislation that impacts global issues.
Organize for community and political action
Calling or writing your local representative may seem like an overused piece of advice, especially since the recent presidential election, but there have already been some victories on policies that affect millions of Americans. I call my mom every week to check in and let her know what’s on my mind, and recently decided that I can apply this same sentiment to calling my representative. Writing, calling, and attending town hall meetings are all ways to make your voice heard on the issues that matter to you and people you care about. But none of this can be done alone. A friend of mine recently said that banding together in community is one of the most subversive acts we can partake in given the current state of the world. When forces beyond our control are threatening to divide us, joining together as a unified body can be incredibly powerful. Get to know your neighbors, attend community meetings, and break out of your bubble to meet new people and encounter new perspectives. While this is easier said than done, searching Facebook and other online organizing platforms for gatherings of people looking to work on issues that you care about is one way to start.
Take care of yourself
While it may seem trite, self-care is pivotal to confronting injustice in the world and creating change. Catholic social justice activist Dorothy Day once said that her “strength returned to [her] with a cup of coffee and a reading of the Psalms.” Meditating, doing yoga, journaling, or talking with like-minded friends — whatever fuels you is important to pursue as you muddle through the messes of the world. When I’m not taking care of myself, my drive to pursue justice is greatly decreased and things seem a lot more hopeless when I’m not checking in with how I’m feeling.
While these tactics won’t save the world overnight, I’ve found that by taking small actions in my daily life, I have greatly reduced my sense of paralysis in the face of injustices. Adopting small habits, organizing, and taking care of myself have all served to calm me in the face of world crises and made me realize that I’m not alone on this journey. The next time you read the nightly news, take a deep breath, center yourself, and assess how you can act. You can do it!
Originally published on September 11, 2017.