Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute(please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus.) We welcome faculty, clinicians and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
99 percent of us are overworked and underpaid, but it’s especially absurd for us millennials. We’re underemployed despite being overeducated, underrepresented in politics, and increasingly queer or otherwise comprised of marginalized groups. Despite this, we’re shockingly resilient and adaptable (possibly due to avocado toast).
The last two years of Trumpism were cataclysmic for a lot of people, myself included. Even though I’m ideally more of a progressive or Social Democrat (think Sanders, not Clinton), I’m a pragmatist. That meant I couldn’t in good conscience sit on the sidelines from 2016-2018. So, I found myself finally diving deeper into Democratic Party organizing, on top of a part-time Master’s in Public Policy and switching jobs. That might sound like a lot, but I know I’m not alone in having to juggle multiple work, school, and volunteer commitments — including campaign work or other civic engagement. Here are five things that kept me sane in the 2018 Midterms.
1. Support something you believe in.
While it might seem counterintuitive, for those of us who cannot ignore politics, it is remarkably empowering and validating to find community through political organizing around a common cause. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it is almost impossible to feel fulfilled if you don’t ever help to organize your community (variously defined).
I had helped on a really easy campaign in 2016: electing Kamala Harris (D-CA) to the U.S. Senate. I more or less sat out the 2016 Presidential (like most people) because I foolishly assumed America was screwed up, but not that screwed up. After the election, simply scrolling through hopeless news feeds was just avoiding the elephant in the room and making me feel worse. Rather than just supporting some campaigns here and there, I decided to really spend time joining the people in my community who were committed to showing up and putting in work to make things better.
I dedicated what little spare time I had to demonstrations, committee meetings, conference calls, precinct walks, and phone banks. I could still carve out some free time through 2017 and most of 2018, although it did reach a fever pitch this September-October. For six weekends straight, I ran phone banks from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. While I was certainly exhausted by November 7th, 2018, I can look in the mirror and say “I did something that helped” with pride (and relief).
2. Argue in class or at bars — NOT at work.
I’m against sitting by while many people are denied equal legal, economic, and/or interpersonal justice. However, I have to keep that to myself while at work! We live in polarized times where tensions run high. Even discussing solutions with like-minded people often leads to disagreement and debate.
Quite frankly, a lot of us can’t afford to risk our livelihoods (heck, a lot of us can’t afford to live even with our livelihoods…). This means that it’s pragmatic to avoid rehashing the 2016 Primary or General election with raised voices near your boss, no matter how tempting it might be to do so. No matter how much you want to shout about how our democracy is crumbling and we better vote for this or that Party of Initiative right now, before our dark slide into dystopia is complete — it’s probably not worth it.
Odds are, you won’t be able to change the minds of the people you spend 40+ hours a week with. Odds also are that you will encounter coworkers with wildly divergent opinions. Even if most folks agree with you, there’s a chance that at some point in the future they won’t. What then? What if you share an opinion with somebody who doesn’t respect your First Amendment right to free expression?
There’s a time and a place to try and change folks’ minds about deeply personal policies. Being in a Public Policy Master’s certainly helps, but college classes in general should be one safe space to passionately discuss political perspectives. Another alternative is when you’re out on the town. If you’re tuned into politics and really need to talk in person about the pressing issues of our time, public houses are historically the place to argue about taxes, unions, candidates, and The Party (whichever one you belong to). I have personally found that imbibing and getting into the nitty gritty of commercial property tax loopholes is much more satisfying than just watching the same sports team lose again on six huge TVs at the local sports bar. (I applaud, but also warn, those brave enough to start political debates with other bar patrons who just want to watch sportsball.)
3. Find an apolitical escape.
At the same time, everybody needs a break. A fellow Thrive writer has noted how important it is to embed a non-work activity into your routine. If you’re already neck deep in policy and politics, like many of us who do work for public institutions, then adding on campaign work after hours can be too overwhelming. Like the above point, boundaries are hugely important for not getting sucked into reading and writing 24/7/365 about how our human rights are being systematically stripped away.
If you are like me, you know you might be tempted to check your phone for organizing emails right after you wake up. Or, as you drink your morning coffee, brush your teeth, kiss your partner goodbye, commute to work, on your work break, between work and school, at dinner, after dinner, before bed, in bed, when your breaking news notification buzzes loudly and wakes you up at night.
You get the point. Finding an escape from the constant deluge of bad news is essential. What form this takes will vary, and in the final eight weeks of a campaign, it might be impossible. But to survive for the other 22 months of a two-year electoral cycle, one MUST take time to stop thinking about the existential dread that some policies threaten us with. Even if it seems impossible for us hardcore politicos, maintaining sacred apolitical moments is achievable and rewarding.
For me personally, rescuing a shelter dog has improved my mental and physical well-being immeasurably. He takes me for walks, helps get me out of bed on time each morning (since he demands food, promptly), and most importantly: has no idea who the President of the USA is. This little snaggle-toothed bread loaf impersonator has become another best friend for life with whom I not only do not discuss politics, but with whom I can not. For maximum doggo-pick-me-up time, I leave my phone at home when he takes me for a brisk little trip outside.
4. Use website blockers and other tech constraints.
For those of us who feel we really can’t ever set down our phones or laptops, there is, in fact, an app for that. Using a few useful add-ons can not only limit your time spent staring into the dark abyss of constant bad news. In fact, blocking time off so that you must focus on fewer things can increase the quality of your work. Below are a few options to make sure that you’re at least being nudged to avoid addicting social networks. I’ve ordered them from gentlest to most aggressive.
Notifications (multiplatform): Just turn your notifications off for various apps. This is shockingly helpful for less staring at your screen.
Screen Time (iOS): This lets you set time frames some apps won’t be useable, limits for each apps per day, and the option to require a code to use an app longer than you said you would. It also gives insights into how often you pick up your phone each day, average use of apps by category each day, and so on.
Digital Wellbeing (Android): This is the Android equivalent of the above, but it’s a little more blunt in how it shuts down your apps after you run out of time.
StayFocusd (Chrome): This Chrome extension lets you block specific websites. You can even require a difficult word-typing challenge to modify settings! Hint: that’s really frustrating, actually (probably a sign I need this service).
Cold Turkey (Windows): This is an app that will block other apps or websites on Windows.
Self Control (Mac): This is the the same as the above, but for Mac!
Freedom (multiplatform, paid): This is a paid service that syncs across multiple platforms, including Chrome on Android or iOS.
5. Meditate — or something.
An awful lot has been written about the recent growth of wellness culture into a major industry. There are a lot of important classist critiques about the inaccessibility of yoga classes that require time, money, and physical ability to participate in. At the same time, there is also a lot of truth in how helpful it is to take time for ourselves to focus on healing both body and mind.
Research suggests that meditating even for a small amount of time each day, especially after work or before bed, can help with that most essential ingredient for well-being: sleep. Unfortunately, it can feel intimidating (or, perhaps worse, silly) to “meditate”, even if it’s just for five minutes. Once you’ve decided to try it, though, it can also be challenging to get into the habit and commit to even a very short five minute routine every day.
For me, what I’ve found works best is using an app on my phone after a shower. I prefer Breathe; two other popular and free options are Calm and Headspace. This worked especially well for me given my bad habit of dragging my phone into the bathroom with me. In this case, that made it easier to take a very short break to simply breathe mindfully each day after showering.
Figuring out what works for you will take time. I went through one phase where I successfully meditated every day for two weeks, another phase where I did deep meditation on weekends, and of course the ongoing phase of “Oops, didn’t meditate for a whole week… How do I get back into the habit?”
These five things helped me make it through what was arguably the hardest political months of my life. Hopefully, for my fellow politicos out there, this might help, too, or just remind you that there are others also working on finding this balance.
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