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Ask A Therapist: How do I balance activism, my well-being, and relationships?

Is your activism affecting your health and personal connections? Here’s how to stay balanced and thriving.

Are you or a loved one a crisis responder, activist, or resistance worker who’s experiencing relationship stress and low emotional capacity? In this month’s Ask a Therapist, The Expansive Group provider Ashley M. Lagrange, M.Ed., LPC (they/them), shares more about this line of work and ways we can maintain relationships along the way.

What is crisis response, activism, and resistance (CRAR) work?

I asked myself this question and was flooded with thoughts, wondering how I’d put it simply. Ashley M. Lagrange, M.Ed., LPC was somehow (and unsurprisingly!) able to wrap it into ten words.

They describe these roles as, “work intended on collective well-being—–work that looks beyond oneself.”

Ashley provided me with a list that shows us the breadth of roles that nurture collective well-being. And they acknowledged that CRAR work varies in consistency, frequency, and commitment.

Some Examples: Long Term & Consistent

Some Examples: Short-term & As-needed

  • Protesting, striking, civil disobedience, and more
  • Helping your neighbors, such as raising awareness about their tenant’s rights
  • Raising funds for individuals and communities
  • Collecting signatures and petitioning

How can this work interfere with relationships?

Ashley reminds us that this work, “requires battling systems that intentionally disenfranchise.”

Crisis response, activism, and resistance workers are facing institutions that rely on powerful, unequal, and oppressive structures and institutions (healthcare, housing, food access, and so much more). CRAR workers confront these power structures and ensuing disparities head-on as they advocate for change, raise awareness, challenge oppressive systems, and support marginalized communities.

To maintain the work they do, especially within these unsupportive systems—–CRAR workers expend a lot of energy and resources: physical, mental, spiritual, relational, and psychological. Often, CRAR workers can be from historically marginalized communities themselves. These realities add up and can take a toll.

Ashley shared that, “It may make us unable to connect with others in intentional and meaningful ways while also trying to work towards a collective goal. Sometimes this work can make those we care for feel there isn’t enough time and attention given to them due to the intensity and urgency of some of these goals.”

As an anti-oppressive therapist, I felt seen when Ashley shared this with me. Once I got into the depths of my full-time therapy work, I found myself visiting my loved ones less often and leaving more texts unread, both of which were once a core part of my identity and being.

How can I tell if this work is interfering with my relationships?

I have seen signs of CRAR work interfering with my own relationships and I wanted to hear Ashley’s take on it. They describe that these signs can be “internal and external.” They can be noticed inside yourself (your thoughts, feelings, and emotions) and outside yourself (your relationships, hobbies, and physical symptoms).

To help paint a picture of what this impact can look like, Ashley shared some examples of things to notice:

  • Lowered Immunity: Am I getting more sick than I ever did before?
  • Feeling Disconnected Culturally: When, and how, do I connect to the people, places, and things that nourish me?
  • Frequency of Intimacy: Can I remember the last time I shared intimacy with a lover, friend, or comrade?
  • Relationship Satisfaction: Has me or my person’s satisfaction with the relationship lessened? Have we made adjustments in our lives to make sure our needs are met? What about my relationship with myself?

What can I do to maintain my relationships during my low capacity?

Okay…you notice the toll that this work has taken on you, but now what?! Ashley boiled it down to three ways we can help one another, “communication, creativity, and flexibility.” And they acknowledged that, “it’s easier said than done.”

While we definitely want to stay connected with our people, it’s helpful to diversify who and where we receive care from. Ashley recommends completing care webs and pod mapping. As an added bonus, they recommend Chapter 2 of The Future is Disabled by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.

Ashley encourages us to avoid thinking about, “what we think should be done” and to instead, “check in with what we can do.”

They encourage us to, “find new ways to share time and adapt to the circumstances. Maybe we meet up for lunch virtually because time is limited for transportation or I sit in your room with you and chat while you clean.”

You can look for new ways to connect with your loved ones that don't rely heavily on emotional capacity. This could involve engaging in shared hobbies or activities, exploring new experiences together, or simply spending time in each other's company without the pressure to have deep-talks (or any talking at all! For some inspo, check out parallel play).

How can I lessen the chances of burnout from crisis response, activism, and resistance work and stay healthy and connected to my loved ones?

  • Develop a Support Network: Cultivate a strong support system of friends, family, colleagues, and fellow activists who bring you emotional support, understanding, and rejuvenating hangouts.
  • Learn from Each Other: Use the wisdom of published activists, adrianne maree brown, Angela Davis, and Mariame Kaba, to guide you through this process. Confide in your fellow CRAR workers—–relate to one another and share your personal strategies.
  • Set Boundaries with Yourself: Define specific times for work and ensure you have designated time for rest, relaxation, and activities that bring you joy. Once you’ve identified what you do and don’t want to do, Ashley suggests, “letting your networks know as best as you can, for an extra level of care and accountability.”
  • Notice the Impact of Particular Activities: Ashley suggests we, “learn to listen to our reactions, investigate them, and create habits, practices, and rituals to tend to them.” Notice how different elements like time of day, location, and types of tasks impact you emotionally, mentally, and physically. Avoid doing multiple energy-draining tasks close together.
  • Set Reachable Goals: Break down your activism and resistance goals into smaller, manageable tasks. Acknowledge and celebrate your community’s achievements and your own milestones along the way.
  • Rotate Responsibilities: Avoid taking on too much responsibility inside and outside of work. When possible, share tasks with coworkers, comrades, and loved ones.

Ashley leaves us with two questions:

  • How do you know emotionally, physically, spiritually when you’re doing too much?
  • How do you know when you can push yourself a bit harder?

Care workers need and deserve care. This requires being nurtured by others, and not being constantly self-reliant.

Ashley reminds us that once we answer these questions for ourselves, “this information must turn into the vulnerability and acceptance of defining what sustainability means for you, then letting your networks know as best as you can for that extra level of care and accountability.”

If you’d like to learn more about yourself and expand your personal care and support, you can connect with a therapist or coach using this intake form.

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