Donald Trump has been president of the United States for 11 days, and I am exhausted. I spent most of Saturday night hunched over my computer, obsessing over the fallout from Trump’s executive order banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. I watched footage from protests that had cropped up around the country and scoured the internet to try to make sense of a federal judge’s temporary stay of part of the order. I stayed up late feeling sick to my stomach about how quickly America had succumbed to Trump’s authoritarian intentions, guilty for not being at the protests, furious that our government was turning its back on victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century so far. The next day, I went to a rally in Lower Manhattan, where local immigration advocates and politicians decried the ban. Then I came home to read more updates: conflicting statements on whether the ban applied to green card holders, Republican senators’ criticism of the ban, Trump’s response to the criticism.
When I woke up on Monday, I felt like I needed another weekend. I knew my feelings of depletion were vanishingly insignificant next to the feelings of the travelers who were still being detained, the visa-holders who were unsure whether they’d be able to follow through on their plans to come to the United States, the lawyers who’d tirelessly advocated for their clients, and the activists who’d organized the protests that dominated headlines over the weekend. Even so—I was tired. And I wondered whether the next three years and 51 weeks would be quite as emotionally draining as the previous week was.
If you, like me, feel like your stamina for resistance is already weakening, I encourage you to read a Medium post written a couple of weeks ago by lawyer and activist Mirah Curzer. In “How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind,” Curzer offers advice on staying sane and preventing burnout to the thousands of people who have committed to political activism since the election. All of her suggestions are worth considering, but I’ve found two of them particularly apt at this moment of constitutional crisis: unplug and take care of yourself.
“Stop refreshing Twitter and reading the news,” Curzer writes. “Stop feeling guilty when someone asks you if you’ve been following the latest story and you have to say no.” Unplugging isn’t just about protecting your mental health; it’s about making sure you don’t get complacent about Trump’s actions, Curzer writes. I wish I had taken her advice when I was obsessively reading about the travel ban on Saturday night. My anxiety did neither myself nor anyone else any good. (I promise this blog post isn’t an elaborate plug for Slate’s This Week in Trump newsletter, which summarizes Trump’s hebdomadal actions in a single missive. But signing up is a great way to stay up to date on the president’s actions without getting overwhelmed by the latest twists and turns.)
Curzer also champions the obvious forms of self-care that restore us when we are feeling overwhelmed by the world: sleep, exercise, therapy, good food, Netflix, books, time with friends. “It’s obvious and mundane, but this stuff is even more important when you’re living under the strain of an oppressive government,” she writes. I’ve never really gotten into the internet’s conversation about self-care, but the past couple of weeks have made me realize how vital it is. When your baseline level of mental health is lower—either because you’re going through a tough time personally or because your country has been taken over by a megalomaniacal bigot—doing the things that make you feel good about being alive become all the more important for keeping you going.
In times of geopolitical crisis, it’s tempting to deride discussion of self-care by those of us lucky enough not to be personally affected by conflict as a form of navel-gazing on the part of progressive “snowflakes,” as the right likes to call us. But self-care is not about self-indulgence. It’s about pragmatism. People cannot take useful political action—whether organizing their communities, going to protests, or calling their representatives—if they are feeling burned out, overwhelmed, or paralyzed. When we take care of ourselves, we are investing in our ability to meaningfully resist injustice. To that end, please excuse me; I need to close my laptop and go make a cup of tea.