Commentary

Being alive is your number one civic duty. Your mental health is as important as your vote.

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On the heels of the devastating glimpse into the Jan 6th Insurrection, shameful Supreme Court rulings, and the increasing political coverage as we enter yet another election cycle, we are forced to take a close look at balancing civic engagement and mental health.

It would be best if you listened to yourself when figuring out your boundaries. Incessant push notifications, social media messages, texts from well-meaning family or friends, political advertisements, and the like can all take their toll, especially when you are part of a community that is increasingly under fire—literally and figuratively.

Related: Nigella Lawson’s restorative “templefood” is what I need after celebrating Pride

It is ok to cope. It is ok to grieve. It is ok to be upset. It is ok to be angry.

It’s important to remember you’re not alone with this. Psychologist Dr. Nathan Brandon reminds us, “If you’re feeling that you’re struggling, reach out to friends, family, or mental health professionals. Talking to someone who understands what you’re going through can be incredibly helpful.”

Maintaining this equilibrium between your health and manifesting the world you want to live in can be terribly difficult. Dr. Paul Greene, a psychologist and the director of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, told LGBTQ Nation, “It can be very challenging to strike a healthy balance between maintaining mental health and working for the change we want to see in the world.”

“Remember that you cannot fix everything. None of us can. There will always be things in life that are frustrating, unfair, or dissatisfying. Even moving abroad won’t change that–so having some acceptance of those realities is healthy.”

Amid that caution, Dr. Greene recommends maintaining some involvement, “This can mean voting, joining community groups, running for office, writing your elected representatives, joining protests, or whatever is meaningful for you.”

Sometimes, though, it’s not possible to do those things. Sometimes, you need to give yourself permission to retreat—whatever that looks like for you.

“It is vital to know your limits. You can’t do everything—and you shouldn’t have to. Learn to step back when needed and take control of how you engage with your civic responsibilities,” Dr. Ryan Warner, a clinical psychologist at 1AND1 Life, tells LGBTQ Nation.

Ron Blake, director of the American PTSD Association, says, “Stop listening to all those folks who tell you that voting is the most important thing for you to do. That’s not for them to decide. Do whatever it takes to improve your overall mental well-being. It could mean turning off the news. Taking a break from social media.”

Blake continues, “You alone are the most knowledgeable person to listen to and trust in making the decisions about what you do. Or do not do. Being alive is your number one civic duty. Remember your priorities and act accordingly.”

Dr. Greene suggests that we “look for the things you can do to improve your day-to-day mental health. For many people, this involves turning off many news notifications (or all)—remember, if something important happens, you’ll probably find out anyway. It can also mean limiting news consumption. Often, we can find out the important things without spending endless hours consuming news. Figure out what amount of time spent reading news each day is healthy for you.”

Drs. Greene and Warner agree that doom-scrolling your way into anxiety is terrible. Dr. Warner says, “Now more than ever, we are constantly bombarded with bad news, and we are more conscious of all the improvement to be done. This can cause high levels of frustration and exhaustion, leading to anxiety and depression. Take breaks. Choose your battles. Remember, taking care of your health is always a priority.”

Choosing what to do when you get to the point of this is too much is paramount. Kassondra Glenn, LMSW, a psychotherapist with Diamond Rehab Thailand, tells us, “Creating balance is key. The course of action varies from individual to individual. Thinking critically about the reasons behind our actions or inactions is a solid first step. When we become more grounded in why we are doing things and are honest with ourselves about the impact of our lived experiences, we can choose from a place of responding rather than reacting.”

Dr. Betsy Chung, a licensed clinical psychologist involved in the XOXO dating app, reminds us that we can be creative—we don’t have to fit the established mold. “There are many ways to contribute to society. Rather than pressuring yourself to show up in the way others do, help in ways aligned with your circumstances. Sometimes the best you can do is to share a genuine smile with a stranger, and that’s OK too.”

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