If you care about your community and get involved in movements that aim to achieve social change, you are an activist! Welcome to the club! To be an activist is an endless search for a fair and equitable world for all of us. Many times, our struggle is tiring, sad, and frustrating. Activists are constantly exposed to human rights abuses and violations, and this can be draining. Yet, I have decided to keep going because I know that we can create a world where the dignity of all is respected.
I have never judged other activists for leaving this low-paying and sometimes unpaid “job.” Activism is exhausting, but it seems to me that those who strive for peace the most often have to go without it. Simply put, it’s a part of the job. However, in all this chaos and struggle, I have also learned that, in order to continue fighting, I must take care of myself. Taking care of myself can only strengthen my movement and my thoughts. Even the greatest ideas and efforts begin as simple thoughts, but oftentimes those thoughts are hard to come by and in some cases difficult to process. And that’s when we need to be able to pause, to listen, to understand, and take action.
We should not always trust our impulses, especially if they can have a negative impact. It is important to embrace our emotions, since they present countless opportunities for us to learn and grow. Do not focus on trying to control them, but rather on observing them and not judging or overreacting to them.
Let’s examine the role of emotional intelligence (EI) and how it can help you control your emotions in challenging situations, such as in humanitarian crises or in your own activism. Aside from helping you manage your feelings and ideas, EI can also help you focus on what you can do in such situations.
What is emotional intelligence?
The term “emotional intelligence” was coined by researchers Peter Salovey and John Mayer, who define it as “the ability to control emotions of oneself and others, to distinguish them from each other and to apply this information to guide one’s own thinking and action.”
The book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman redefined the term and the relationship between reason and emotion. Goleman argues that EI helps us respond effectively to humanitarian crises; it gives us the ability to manage and apply emotions properly and in a balanced manner.
Why do we need EI?
Everyone can manage their emotions, but it is easier for some than it is for others. As we grow, we also learn and develop different ways of thinking. EI helps you put your feelings in order, to name them, and see them. In this case, having a good EI is of utmost importance in crisis situations, as it can help you think of possible solutions.
EI also calms the mind and allows you to face difficult decisions, unpleasant situations, and stages of change. It improves your concentration and lets you think much more clearly. A stronger and more developed EI can help you think, rethink, plan, and respond positively.
What makes for better EI?
There are many factors that influence how we handle our feelings, but it is important to keep in mind that no matter how difficult this can be, your dedication and efforts will pay off. This journey is not always easy, but don’t despair. No one is able to control emotions the first time they try; training comes with practice.
It can take a long time to understand and control our feelings. It’s worthwhile to look at different techniques and figure out what works best for you.
Keep a diary of your emotions
Knowing how to control your emotions can help you feel more capable of facing different challenges. In order to control your emotions, you need to know what they are: are you feeling happy, angry, or sad? Writing can help you stop for a second, reflect on your emotions, and find the cause behind what you are feeling.
Take a deep breath
Deep breathing helps us to reduce agitation, stress, and anxiety. Breathing well to live better is a principle of physical and mental wellbeing. Additionally, focusing on breathing in moments of emotional stress can calm you and help you formulate a response rather than overreact.
Know your limits
Remember that you are a human being and that your mind can sometimes become overloaded. When your body tells you it needs a break, listen to it. Putting limits on what you can and can’t do is essential. Emotional intelligence can thus prevent the negative consequences of pushing yourself too much.
One thing is for sure: you should not try to eliminate emotions; you need them. In fact, emotions aren’t good or bad; they are neutral. Emotions have a unique function: they give you information about what is happening inside of you. All emotions carry valuable information and it is important that you embrace them, connect with them, and understand how they influence you. Suppressing emotions means that we are blind to them, and don’t know how to react.
Don’t judge the way you feel
If what you feel is a wave of immense anger and frustration, don’t ignore it: listen to everything that emotion has to say to you before making a decision. Even anger is a valid feeling. This would only require patience and holistic introspection as you reinforce and validate those feelings much better. Thus, you must understand all of your feelings, even the “bad” ones, and get as much information as possible to face the challenges you are being alerted to.
In the meantime…
Start by focusing on your feelings; prioritize who you are, reflect on your values and who you want to be. Here are some tips on how you can still be an activist while working on your EI:
1. Follow the right leaders
It is important that our social media is transparent and realistic. Don’t follow an account that pushes you to give more than you can, nor one that overloads you with information.
There are thousands of associations that work in the defense and promotion of human rights; the best do it assertively, without demanding or asking too much from you.
2. Share, comment, repost, and support
Once you can identify the accounts that you want to follow, support them. When you share information, the important aspect is that the message becomes more accessible to everyone; it doesn’t really matter how many followers or friends you have on Facebook. Even a single click matters.
Most NGOs survive on donations, and they are always open to receiving contributions. This doesn’t just mean monetary contributions, but also food, clothes, toys, and health products, among many others.
If you are not sure how you can help, just ask them directly: maybe they need that blanket you’ve been keeping in your basement for years.
4. Plan, plan, plan
Together with your community or your friends, you can organize panel discussions where you share your opinion, reinforce it with studies and if you can, invite an expert on the subject.
You could also plan a documentary night with your friends. Through film screenings, you can learn a lot, question, and dialogue about the issue presented in the films.
5. Look around you
We often think that problems exist only in certain countries, but they exist all over the world. Look at your own community and see what can be improved.
Regardless of your willingness to help others, your holistic health has to be a priority. Knowing and understanding your emotions, managing your stress, and moving assertively are all crucial to successfully achieving the changes you seek. Remember: as you focus on your own feelings, you may begin to find ways to address even larger issues.
“No one should give up their physical and mental health while working. We should practice what we advocate. For our own sake, now it’s time to start to take good care of ourselves!” – Su Wei, Amnesty International youth activist.