Have you ever had any of these following statements in your head?
- “I feel like I’m never doing enough.”
- “I want to use my strengths without overwhelming what my heart, mind and body needs.”
- “I want to be part of this but I feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.”
- “I want to be part of these important conversations but feel overstimulated, anxious and burned out.”
- “I feel guilty that I need to take breaks to decompress or engage in self-care. I feel guilty about even having the privilege to take these breaks.”
- “I try to get involved, then get tired and go silent because I burn out.”
- “I want to make meaningful change but I don’t want to make small talk with others.”
- “When I hear or see other people angry or in pain – it is difficult to me to regulate my own emotions as I feel myself taking on their trauma and experiences.”
You may have heard a variation of these statements from a sensitive person or introvert (maybe you’re thinking of them yourself right now!).
Such inner thoughts are common as we process all the information, emotions and what’s being said – and not said – in the room.
Most people, when faced with inequality or out of a sense of injustice, often have an urge to speak up. But highly-sensitive people carry a deeper well of empathy and tend to be wired to process things on a more profound level of engagement.
In fact, it can affect such empathetic people to such a degree that it can impact our nervous systems (which leads us to “feel” the physical manifestations of our emotional turmoil).
Making a difference without burning out
As a community leader within the social impact space over the past 13 years, I’ve had to experiment, adapt and explore what ways I can make a meaningful difference without being burned out or feeling overwhelmed.
In San Francisco, where I’m based (and in the US in general), there has been an upwelling of anti-Asian sentiment, largely due to Covid, culminating in the killing of eight people, including those of Asian descent in Atlanta three weeks ago.
While there have been many heartbreaking stories of harassment, there are also many people finding ways to speak up against such hate.There has been much support for Asian American and Pacific Islander groups, as well as continued on-ground movements fighting for justice in the Black Lives Matter movement.
But not all causes may have such dramatic expressions. We all have our own causes that we care deeply for – it can range from anything from gender rights to work-life balance, from caring for people with disabilities to speaking up on social inequality.
I have seen many well-meaning people, while advocating for issues they believe in, burn out and lose sight of their goals. Here are some ways to help avoid these pitfalls.
Process your feelings
Injustice, racism, inequality and all the social issues of the world can be incredibly painful.
It’s important to feel the full range of emotions – anger, sadness, rage, frustration, and even joy, hope, love – and find ways to express them.
You can take a walk, write a journal, sing a song, move your body or share your thoughts with a trusted friend or therapist. I find the non-violent communication resources to be helpful in identifying the emotions I’m experiencing.
Take time to unplug
This will help you avoid burnout or getting overwhelmed with everything that is going on. That said, you don’t need to wait for the weekend to chill or dedicate every Sunday to self care!
Scheduling regular mini breaks throughout the day or week can be transformative and re-energising.
Taking time to process what you’re thinking and feeling will better serve you and help you show up in an intentional way rather than feeling pressured to act immediately and do as others do.
Run your own race
Remind yourself that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. Learn to act and contribute in ways that energise you.
Set boundaries around your time, energy, mental well-being, emotional labour and personal space.
This also relates to limiting how much time you spend on social media, watching the news or being part of conversations that can be triggering or emotionally draining.
Keep yourself grounded
As a sensitive person, you feel everything deeply. Knowing what keeps you grounded, what calms your nervous system, what helps you sleep, what prevents compassion fatigue, can be helpful!
It is different for everyone so you need a level of self-awareness to understand what replenishes your mental and emotional fuel tanks.
(P.S Mine are nature walks, cuddling with my dogs, a hearty nourishing meal and laughing with my husband.)
Connect with others
Whether it’s a significant other, a family member, friend or therapist, have a list of those whom you know you can reach out to when things are “feeling a bit too much”.
Create opportunities to connect with people who know your heart, can provide a safe space and help you navigate what the next best step might be.
Treasure the quiet
Speaking up doesn’t have to be with a loudspeaker. There are other ways of showing up that can be just as powerful.
There are many ways that you can support a cause that you care deeply about – like writing a blog post (just like I’m doing now!), donating money and time to organisations who are on the frontlines, offering back-end or behind-the-scenes support, starting a book club, or even having a conversation within your own community and social groups.
Find your focus
Find ways to focus your energy and time within your own sphere of influence.
Reach out to find like-minded collaborators to share resources and efforts for better results.
Learn to lead, your way
We all have abilities and talents that come easily to us. Identify them. Empower yourself by utilising those skills that energise you, that come easily to you, that others often remark are your superpowers.
And most importantly, lead from your heart. Staying true to who you are, celebrating your unique abilities and leaning in to serve from a place of love will take you far.
Make a move
So these are some methods that I’ve found useful to keep myself centred over the years of community service work that I’ve done. Before I leave, let me challenge you to do one (or more, the possibilities are endless!) of these ideas to spark inspiration and creativity in your own giving journey.
- Give financially to an organisation that works well for a cause you believe in
- Support charities, causes or individuals with supplies
- Engage in online activism: It can be as simple as contributing to a hashtag, sharing a post, signing an online petition. In your own online circles, share your thoughts and help amplify the voices and messages of other activists, community leaders and causes.
- Support from behind-the-scenes. It can be technical work like facilitating Zoom meetings, or administrative tasks like letter-writing or working with committees.
- Create something. Anything. Paint a picture, bake a cake, write a song, recite a poem. Find a way of creative expression that speaks to you and use that medium to share the messages that you believe in.
- Connect with your community. No matter where you live, chances are that you know at least one person you can have a conversation with on something you believe in. Your friends, family, a neighbour… start there!
- Consume consciously. Support small businesses, purchase from brands and companies that align with your values and impact the world in an environmentally positive way.
- Start a Book Club. You can facilitate it on your own or do it with a group of friends.
- Or, simply be a listening ear to create a safe space and be a sounding board for others on their own journeys.
I believe that you, dear reader, have a big heart and strengths that can truly change the world. It’s time to go for it – without burning out or being overwhelmed.
You can do it. I’m rooting for you!