How to Stay Sane in Difficult Times: Tips from the Experts

Stay calm with the 11th Avenue Buddha and active with pointed protests

You wake up in the morning. Your phone is close by. You can already tell there’s an avalanche of notifications about the latest gaffe from the current presidential administration. Will it be depressing? Horrifying? Or is it just too much to bear at 7 a.m.?

The call to action is unavoidable for most of us. We’ve marched, protested, written post cards and argued over drinks for weeks now, but the fire hose of troubling news just keeps blasting. The real challenge is how to sustain one’s energy in the coming weeks, months and years. How do you keep pushing on when the obstacles seem overwhelming?

It’s time to ask the experts. Oakland is no stranger to activism or people who have dedicated their lives and careers to helping their communities. Here are some pointers from a few local social changers to help us keep going in the months ahead:

1) You’re in it for the long game.

“It can take a long time to get the ball rolled up the hill, and there will be times you want to give up — don’t!” says Sasha Esposito, a community organizer and professional therapist. Elena Serrano, program director of EastSide Arts Alliance, says “it’s like motherhood. You get up and you do it every day, and the only time you’re done is when they turn 18 and move out of the house. There is no getting burned out on it because it’s a commitment you have made.”

2) Create time for your friends and loved ones. Strengthening a community sometimes just means reinforcing the bonds of family and friendship so that we all have the resources we need to stay strong.

“We supported friends who were parents with child care so they could go to work and go to meetings,” says Teresita Cataag Bautista, who was active in the Anti-Marcos campaign that persisted for 14 years. “Weekly family days were important to honor and to keep that part of our political responsibility balanced in the big picture.”

3) Stay healthy and get outside.

“A good walk around the lake or up in the hills, or taking photos and editing them when I get back is very relaxing,” says Pamela Drake of, a political blog.
Karin Langer, an Ironman triathlete and political writer puts it this way: “I get on my bike or go outside for a run. It’s nice to get away from the endless cycle of talking points on cable news and rage-inducing feed on Facebook and connect with my own thoughts, my body, and the world outside my door.”

4) Embrace diverse leadership.

“Let everyone’s gifts shine,” says Esposito. “I like to be flexible and open to let it all go, and things organically present themselves in a way that is often far better (than my idea).”

5) Allow yourself to recover. “Somehow drill into yourself that recovery is a part of the work,” says Andrew Park, executive director and founder of the Trybe youth organization. “There is tremendous guilt that builds in self-care sometimes. But one must move past the guilt and sense of privilege to be able to take a day off.”

6) Connect with bigger institutions. You can’t do it all alone. “There are a lot of activists who talk a lot but don’t have a base. The “base” is hundreds, thousands of families that are directly served on a weekly/monthly basis that give a foundation for the work being done. They are the reason to keep going,” says Park.

7) Representation is invigorating. “Try to steer clear of chauvinism and patrimony so as to achieve mutual agreement in purpose and process,” says Bautista. In other words, if you are a woman, don’t let the men dominate the conversation. If you are African American, Asian, Hispanic, don’t let your perspective become buried.

And just for fun, here are a few bonus nuggets of wisdom from the folks I spoke to:

• Get off social media.
• Find something to do with your hands.
• Go out and see live music, take a dance class, sing karaoke.
• Seek out communities of faith.
• Travel.
• Pick an event to help produce and put it together.
• Meditate.
• Delegate, delegate, delegate.
• Find a different tactic if one isn’t working out right.

Hopefully some of this advice resonates with you. Although some of us may be new to the world of activism, it seems clear that the resources of our city, and the Bay Area, run deep. Stay strong out there.

Author Profile

Sara is a proud resident of the Clinton/East Lake area of Oakland, where she enjoys her current gig as a stay-at-home mom. She grew up in Minnesota and Colorado before moving to the Bay Area in 2006. She has a background in art and worked as a graphic designer for many years. She feels her connection to the community is best held by exploring new places, asking people about their stories, and bearing witness to the changes surrounding us all.

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