Discussion of self-care in social justice movements has become a regular topic of social media feeds, blog posts, and workshops. And my response is: FINALLY! I don’t raise this issue to dismiss it. Data shows that those who work on social justice and human rights issues face high levels of burn-out. Ministers and religious professionals also experience high levels of stress that require better practices of self-care. This time of year adds extra burdens to the commitments and justice needs that face organizations, churches, and individual advocates.
Stress increases have also been linked to digital technology. Simply reading a twitter feed can raise one’s anxiety because of the flood of (bad) news as well as the very real experience of internet trolls. Some blogs suggest social media and news coverage breaks to de-stress. That is good advice and works for some. But most activist use social media as a tool to share their advocacy and build communities of commitment. They can’t quit or even take a break.
Are there ways to work toward self-care that do not require disconnecting? Yes, many activists help one another online and offline by adding counter messages that are hopeful and supportive. What about spiritual practices that might strengthen us for the long term work that advocacy requires?
A few years ago, I realized that I was spending significant amounts of time working to support non-profits, my church, and national justice movements. These labors of love came in the form of teaching, speaking, writing, donating, and so on. I love this work, but it meant I was not paying attention to my own spiritual health. A friend and fellow activist invited me to do a Lenten challenge! A lenten challenge, I thought, how will that help?! We joined together to do the #LentPhotoADay campaign on Instagram organized by Rethink Church.
Well, I was surprised by the small ways participation in this campaign changed my days. [You also need to know that I’m hyper competitive, so when I said I would do a challenge, I was going to post everyday!] I took time throughout my day to notice things around me and contemplate the meaning of a word and its relation to the theological season. Since that first challenge, I have participated a few more times at Lent and Advent. I now “challenge” others to join me. Part of the practice can involve following the hashtag and seeing what others post. This connects me shared spiritual contemplation.
As activists, educators, and religious professionals, we can use a moment or two in our days that ground us and contribute to our spiritual growth. If you find the need for spiritual self-care this Advent season, I invite you to join the #AdventPhotoADay challenge with @rethinkchurch. Make sure to tag me so we can grow this network of spiritual support @kates_take.
Dr. Kate Ott is a feminist, catholic scholar addressing the formation of moral communities with specializations in technology, youth and young adults, sexuality, pedagogy and professional ethics. She is Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics at Drew Theological School. In addition to numerous articles, chapters, and two co-edited books, she is author of Sex and the Seminary: Preparing Ministers for Sexual Health and Justice, Sex + Faith: Talking with Your Child from Birth to Adolescence, and the forthcoming, Christian Ethics for a Digital Society. To find out more, visit www.kateott.org.