By Zerline Hughes
Speaking from experience as a former full-time communications director at justice-related nonprofits, working to change minds, laws and lives is a very stressful job. Being a part- or full-time activist and/or advocate brings anxiety-filled days, weeks, years, and if you stick with it, decades.
Social justice and human rights work is full of joys, wins, let downs and disappointment. Even the good days can bring tears of relief and gratitude. And then there’s the bad days – like when you’re scanning the newspaper in hopes to see your organization highlighted, and instead, there lies an editorial that spotlights an opponent’s view that discounts your organization’s mission. Or worse, feeling defeated after learning that a law has been passed that will cripple the livelihood of thousands of families. Why not add another one in there: spending countless late hours at the office on a grant report only to learn weeks (or months) later that your organization didn’t get the funds needed to pursue that big, break-through project – or even worse – you can no longer fund staff salaries?
My job was particularly stressful. Those days, weeks, years – just about a decade, in fact – were absent of a consistent wellness program. You know, something that staffers could turn to during the darker moments – and even during the really good days (and I don’t mean happy hour at the bar, but that works, too, in moderation). If advocates and activists could have a built in, in-office, or even near-office fitness schedule to help relieve nerves and release stress, our jobs would be that much easier.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.”
Further, according to New Tactics in Human Rights, self-care for activists should be required in order to protect organizations’ “most valuable resource.”
“From those working directly with survivors of human rights abuses to those working indirectly on human rights abuse issues, the need for taking care of one’s self is extremely important. We all know that the work is precious and valuable, and yes, we need to be strong, healthy and balanced to do it well – but we take care of ourselves first and foremost because we are valuable.”
As a communications consultant still working on criminal and juvenile justice reform issues, I’m now able to pick and chose projects and carve out time for self care. But self-care should be adopted in all offices as staff-care.
Preparing for long days on Capitol Hill to lobby, testify during hearings or briefings can be an anxiety-ridden process. Checking and refreshing screens to monitor whether or not a bill is introduced, signed into legislation after months or years of pushing it can be unnerving. And pounding the pavement in protest or being arrested for peacefully demonstrating can be taxing on the mind and body.
Remember to practice self care. Ask your place of work to incorporate a fitness program that includes yoga for meditation and stretching out the kinks, kick boxing for stress relief, and especially Zumba for a fun, call-and-response, celebratory cardio dance party.
Really, it makes all the difference.
To schedule a one-time visit or a regular Zumba with Z class for your staff, contact me! I’d be happy to conduct a 30- or 60-minute Zumba class, and/or connect you with a yoga professional.