Reflecting on Embodied Activism and Overwhelm

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of embodied activism and how it relates to eco-aware activities that give us the most stress and sense of gloom, doom, and overwhelm.  If there was a way to make changes to your activism so it feels good, it’s uplifting, and joyful, wouldn’t that be a great way to live?

Feel Good as you Nourish a Resilient Earth

The point is NOT to add more activities that increase your stress but to shift your focus to increase those actions that feel good or are easy to do and to reduce, reframe, or release/remove activities that make you feel weighed down and distraught.

One way to make this clear is through a simple exercise…

Let’s call it:

Four Steps for a Resilient Life!

Get a large piece of paper, whiteboard, or spreadsheet and make four columns.

Image credit: Phoebe Mussman

Step 1: “What Actions Am I Taking Now; What Do I Want to Do?”  

  • List everything you do or have done to support the planet and all its beings. Make this list as extensive as you’d like, from small to massive impact/effort.
  • Then add to the bottom of that list any activities that you want to do, wish you could do, or feel like you should be doing but are not doing now.

Step 2: “Which Actions Make Me Happy or are Easy to Do?”

  • Go back through the items in List 1 and put a check in List 2 next to each item that brings you joy. If it’s an activity you are not currently doing, just imagine how it would feel to do it. Don’t overthink this – when you read a line item, notice if your breath is open and full, if your heart sings, and you have a hint of a smile on your face. If it makes you happy, add a checkmark.
  • Take a few moments to recognize, honor, and celebrate this list – it’s good stuff! ✨✨✨

Step 3: “Which Actions are Stressful or Difficult?”

  • List 3 will give you a sense of some of the stressors that arise when you do these activities. Include any concerns that impact your family, finances, time, energy, personality, passions, and heart as you take on each list item.
  • As you go through the items from List 1 that you did not check off in List 2, take a breath or two on each item and notice if your breath constricts, if you furrow your brow, clench your teeth, or grip through your gut.
  • Then, in List 3, check off each of the items from List 1 that fit in this category and make a note about why it is stressful, why it is NOT joyful. How is doing this activity draining, uncomfortable, or upsetting? Try to be as nonjudgmental as possible – make it an honest assessment.

Step 4: “What Can I Shift to Support My Well-being?”

  • One list item at a time, review the activities from List 3, and reflect on all the effort that goes into each one. 
  • Then ask yourself these questions:
    • Reduce: Are there any changes you could make that could help you reduce the level of stress that arises when you do this? Can you reduce the amount of personal effort you take on this topic or activity? Could someone else help with this? Could you change when or how often you do this?
    • Reframe: Is there some way to reframe this activity so that you know you’re still having a comparable impact but in a way that feels more comfortable for you? For example, maybe you shift from showing up in person for an event to sending an email, making a phone call, writing a letter, or engaging a friend to go in your place. 
    • Release/Remove: How would it feel to simply stop doing this one activity altogether? One aspect of Embodied Activism is paying attention to your internal wellness gauge. Tune into your breath and body and ask again: “How would it feel to stop doing this one activity?” What time/effort/funds would this free up for you to take care of yourself or explore new ideas for your activism? If you look at the number and depth of items in the list in Step 2, is there a possibility that you could offer yourself some grace in accepting that even if you give up this one item from Step 3, it would still be ok? That what you are doing – what feels most resilient – what makes you happy – is perfect?
Graphic showing 4 Steps for a Resilient Life

The Grace of Letting Go

So how can you rationalize actually letting go of a cause or community you’ve been passionate about, invested time, energy, and finances in, or have made close friends and allies with?

It all boils down to asking the question “What is mine to do?”

Remind yourself that for every single cause and need in the world, there are many others who are also working on it. If you step away from that one commitment, others will step in to fill the void.

In the past couple of years I’ve met activists who had been completely immersed in political activism yet were so burned out they switched their focus to the environment. And I’ve met environmental activists who decided that carrying their grief about environmental destruction was too heavy a burden and shifted their activism to the political arena. Take my word for it, you CAN step away from any particular activity and release any guilt you may feel – or that others may try to heap on you.

But don’t just step away. Share your insights from these Four Steps for a Resilient Life with others as a heartfelt, compassionate parting gift.

That’s it – four steps to help you reimagine what is yours to do and how you can accomplish your deepest passion in ways that bring you joy, a sense of well-being, and the heartfelt knowledge that you are contributing in a most vital way to the long-term resilience of Earth.

Sending deep gratitude for all you do while cheering on your resilient life!

Sami Aaron

Sami Aaron is the founder of the nonprofit, The Resilient Activist, a nonprofit resource to build resilience, optimism, and hope in response to the impact of the climate crisis through community-building and deep nature connection. Contact Sami.