There are many benefits to using social media to engage in activism: there’s no cost, it’s readily accessible to many, it’s instant, and you can get the word out about what’s happening in your community.
But what about those moments when you see something on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or other networks you participate in, and you immediate react, and not in a good way? You can feel your body begin to tense up, your breathing becomes deeper, a slight headache starts to form, and your fingers start firing off status updates or tweets.
You may believe that you’re at your activist best when this happens. You’re passionate, enraged, and ready to take action. However, while using social media can be fun, educational, and a great way to mobilize others around your cause, it can also lead to feeling overwhelmed and burned out.
I’ve had multiple conversations with activist friends, spanning a wide array of social justice causes, and they tend to share the same sentiment: They want to make their voices heard to as many people as possible, but it often comes at the price of taking the time out for self care. They feel overwhelmed because they feel pressure (directly or indirectly) to have something to say in order to show their knowledge and leadership. They feel the pressure to always be on. They also feel guilt when they want to take a break from social media, especially when something crucial is happening in their movement.
Is the use of social media affecting your ability to be not only effective in your activism, but also to be mindful of your self care? Here are 4 ways to make sure you’re still socially engaged but also keeping activist burnout at bay.
You might be thinking, “Well, I know this stuff already.”
That’s good. But are you doing it?:
Choose a day (or days) to be off completely: I typically refrain from using social media on 2 planned consecutive days during the week, typically Saturday and Sunday. I share, engage, and tweet as much or as little as I want during the week, then I tune out on the weekends and do something completely focused on me. Test out a number of ways to log off. If consecutive days seems extreme for now, try logging off every other day, or choose one day to disengage. Being away for a day can be refreshing. And take the Facebook or Twitter app off your phone if you feel the temptation.
Be on without being “on”: If you can’t log completely off, try staying logged in, but do so without any engagement. You can see what others are saying about the causes you care about, and you can use this time to really think about your position on the issue, rather than just going purely on emotion. This is really beneficial is you’re someone who likes to blog about issues and you want to gather your thoughts. One thing to note about this: If you’re logged in with the intention of just observing and gathering information, most likely you’ll be tempted to respond to someone who mentions you in their status or in a tweet. If temptation isn’t a problem, you can always respond back when you’re “on” later.
Don’t be everywhere: Participating in activism across multiple social media platforms can be draining at times. Even with the convenience of social media management tools like Hootsuite and TweetDeck, you still have multiple social pages staring back at you. Try focusing on one platform at a time. For example, you can log into Facebook in the morning, and save Twitter for later in the day. Or choose one platform to be active on for that day. Being focused on one platform at a time allows you to be more present and can result in feeling less scattered.
Focus on quality, rather than quantity: Four well thought out tweets or one succinct Facebook status is better than multiple tweets or status updates that seem all over the place. Your thoughts are more articulated, and it’s less noise for your followers to see. A plus is if those tweets or status updates are free of misspellings and use correct punctuation. One of the worst things ever with social media is seeing a retweet or shared status that has a lot of misspellings in it, or doesn’t make sense. Not only will you have some followers commenting either on the grammar or the meaning of what you’re saying, there will be others who will retweet you or share your status update (and your misspellings will be seen by more people). A tweet or status update that looks more thought out and grammatically correct is more likely to be retweeted or shared.
Social media is a great way to raise your voice and to help others raise their voices as well, but always make sure to check in with you self in the process. It’s more than ok to take a day or two off from tweeting or sharing a status update or to take your time in responding. Your cause will still be there when you log back on.