You? Someone who cares and who is disturbed by institutionalized oppression and social justice.

You? Also someone who feels like your nervous system is fried and it feels nearly impossible to respond to all of your friends on social media who are calling for you to take action. *

This piece? Here to offer some help on just that topic, which is really all about building resilience .

Courage and Building Resilience

My work has took a major turn when I began studying habit-formation and and how that ties in with psychological resilience.

I have come to realize that courage is, really, psychological resilience. You feel stress, yet you are psychologically resilient towards that stress. You are building resilience .

So what do you do if you are someone who cares, yet you don’t feel particularly resilient? What do you do when the barrage of things that are going on make you feel less able to do something, rather than more able?

What Courage Research Says

There is a collective body of research that each of the following four actions leads to greater psychological resilience.

1. Access the body. Meaning, slow down, breathe, get present to the sensations in your body and what you feel. Get distracted, return to the breath.

2. Listen without attachment. After accessing the body, get present to what you’re thinking—but without getting attached to believing or taking action based on those thoughts. In short? We’re talking mindfulness. You’re aware of the thoughts, but you aren’t believing that they are true. You’re not getting attached.

3. Reframe limiting stories. This is where we get into cognitive-behavioral techniques that are highly effective. You label thoughts as Stories, filing them away as possible interpretations of reality without being an ultimate determination of reality. I’m not talking about the “Law of Attraction” and brightly telling yourself “Everything will be okay!” even as you watch this new administration strike another blow towards the people.

I’m talking about noticing the Stories you have such as, “I’m not political” or “I don’t know where I’d start” or “It’s all so overwhelming, so what’s the point”? You reframe those into truths that give you more resilience: “I can start by learning more” or “I’ll take this one piece at a time.”

4. Reach out and create community. Get yourself to the march or protest event. Join the political group on Facebook. Decide to read at least one article, daily. And if you arrive at the event, and feel overwhelmed? Actually talk with someone else and lean on them for support (create community!) or repeat steps 1-3, above: Breathe and access the body. Listen without attachment. Reframe limiting Stories that you shouldn’t be there or that you can’t handle it. Keep coming back to the body.

My Facebook Feed Is Not What’s Overwhelming You

One of the smartest things I saw someone post in the days after the most recent presidential election, was this:

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the goal [of the Trump administration] is to create “resistance fatigue,” to get Americans to the point where they’re more likely to say “Oh, another protest? Don’t you guys ever stop?” relatively quickly.” Yonatan Zunger

Exhausting the resistance is the primary tool that people in power, who don’t want to give up their power, will use.

If you get exhausted from what you’re reading, from the ways that different political activists lob grenades at each other for not doing social justice correctly in each others’ estimation, from the sheer number of things that are out there, then eventually…most people just quietly go away in the face of that.

It’s the system of oppression that is trying to overwhelm you, not your friends who are posting about how to engage in political resistance or how to be more aware.

The powers-that-be who don’t want to see equitable change are counting on you checking out.
They are counting on you, never having identified with being “a political person” suddenly feeling inept at how to take any action.
They are counting on you not knowing what to say or being afraid of saying the right words.

Any system that wishes to oppress, will rely on activating your fear.

Self-Care is not Checking Out

When people are afraid, they tend to “check out.” This is actually a really normal thing to do, and sometimes in cases of extreme trauma or re-stimulation, it’s what people do to survive.

The problem is that this doesn’t work.

Self-care is not “checking out.” Self-care is doing what builds resilience.

If you need to step away from your social media feeds, that’s okay—but if you step away and check out, numbing yourself with a haze of bad reality television or trying not to think about what’s happening, then you’re not actually practicing true self-care.

Self-care is not checking out. Self-care is doing what builds resilience.

Checking out means that not only are you not one of the voices who stands up against injustice, but you’re also not equipping yourself to come back later feeling better. Checking out doesn’t help you to feel better. Building resilience helps people to feel better. Given the stakes, we need you to build resilience. Lives are counting on you building resilience.

Build Your Psychological Courage, Building Resilience

Try it out, right now. You’ve got this browser window open. Scroll back up to the four steps listed: Access the body, listen without attachment, reframe limiting stories, reach out and create community.

Open a second browser window—your Facebook feed, a news feed, a series of political stories about what’s going on.

Read a paragraph, then stop and try out the four steps. Read another, and try out the four steps. Then do that again, tomorrow and the next day.

I get overwhelmed, too. But instead of trying not to feel overwhelm, I’m trying to build resilience.

Resilience is built one stepping stone at a time, and trust me please when I say that we need your voice, your commitment to action.

Self-care is not checking out. Self-care is doing what builds resilience.

Make building resilience your first act of resistance.


* I am very aware of the frustration that many groups are expressing over white fragility, people who are already privileged needing to take time for “self-care” in the face of the ongoing and systemic issues that marginalized voices are dealing with every day. I understand, or think I do, this frustration: how can people be throwing up their hands and saying they are overwhelmed, at times like these when so many people who are impacted by daily oppression never get that privilege? In this piece, I’m trying to pragmatically address the very real fact that people who have never before been politically engaged, trying to get politically engaged, don’t know what they are doing and this could be a barrier to engagement. They don’t know where the hell to start, and they’re afraid of doing it wrong, and they’re quickly overwhelmed. Rather than critiquing that or calling them out for a prior lack of social justice engagement, my hope is to give those people real tools for navigating what they feel as they step into this totally new arena of being conscious and engaged.