Tap with Strength – Mental Health and Online Activism
By Aayra Angrish (UG22) and Akanksha Mishra (UG22)
While the pandemic has affected the social, economic and environmental spheres across the world, it has also decapitated the avenues of activism. However, activists quickly turned to social media platforms to voice their protest, refusing to relent in the face of adversity.
An article published in The Atlantic mentions how “Online movements can burn out faster than campaigns that spend months or even years forging in-person connections.” Many assumed that this shift would also cause movements to fizzle out faster than ever, but activists have been persistent in their work to ensure that movements do not die down. Donation drives are being utilised to make a difference.
While social media’s expansive network aids in a movement’s outreach, its lack of accountability and transitory nature posits limitations to the sustainability of the movement. This paradox of the online world can leave an individual feeling overwhelmed due to the information overload, or guilty for being unable to accomplish more. These emotions can radically affect one’s psychological well-being. In such situations, it’s important to take a break to recuperate. Thus, we bring to you a guide of when and how to best take a mental health break from social media activism, with insights from Ashokan activists.
When should you take a break?
First and foremost, you know it is time to take a break from social media activism when you start feeling drained from the information overload on social media. “Social media is the only avenue I’m exposed to right now and seeing how everyone has turned to it for activism during the pandemic, it can get really overwhelming”, said one activist in conversation with us. Since this feeling is not unique, it is essential for your own wellbeing to recuperate and rejoin the cause you are working for when you feel better. It may not be the best idea to work your fingers to the bone as you tap away online to aid a movement.
When does online activism become ineffective?
Activism on online platforms starts getting ineffective largely due to the culture of reposting that we tend to fall prey to easily. We gravitate towards reposting despite knowing several members of the Ashokan community or other followers online may have seen the same story multiple times already. While we may have a well-placed intention, and spreading awareness through online platforms is necessary, repetitive stories tend to create echo chambers that are not very helpful to the cause itself. Moreover, it is always better to take breaks when necessary and participate in robust activism rather than being inefficacious at any given time.
How should you take a break?
When you’re overwhelmed, the first step is to withdraw yourself from any information that might further saturate your mind. Vaishnavi Shinde aptly put forth how “flexibility in getting to disengage when needed is one of the pros of online activism and this is what allows so many people to participate and is also accommodative.” A handy tip from other activists is to have a group of reliable friends to bring you back into the loop of activism when it’s absolutely necessary. This will save you from feeling guilty or anxious about neglecting the cause when you take a break.
You can also start working on initiatives that require minimal social media engagement but leave a huge impact – keep in mind that Project Safar was an online donation drive started during the pandemic that greatly impacted migrant workers’ lives, offline. Additionally, the Women’s Football team’s ‘kilometres for a cause’ initiative also raised money for various on-ground causes.
What can you do once you have more energy?
There can never be a fixed amount of time everyone needs rest for – it could range from days to even weeks. Do not hold yourself up to any existing standards, and remember that you do not need to forego your mental wellbeing just to match someone else’s level. If you have regained some energy but are hesitant to dive into the online world of activism right away, you can utilise this time to look up resources and read about the issues you’re fighting for. Not only does this help increase your awareness but also puts you in a better position to educate your viewers online. If it gets too overwhelming, you can always decide to stop reading or limiting yourself to a certain amount of news a day.
Additionally, if you’re comfortable with it, start discussing matters of pertinence with your family – engage with them in a respectful manner so as to ensure you are heard too. In this way, not only will you be taking a break from online activism but also be making a change through much-needed offline conversations. Finally, take the time you need to regroup your energy as much as you can. When you believe you’re ready, return to online platforms with more vigour and information.
Lastly, it is not wrong to say that the ability to opt-out when it gets overwhelming is a person’s privilege at play. Some people do not choose to, or simply cannot afford to take a break from their activism. However, working towards any cause, big or small, can get tiring. The important thing is to recognise when it happens and how it affects your ability to work. If you ever feel the need to take a break, do not feel guilty because others don’t or can’t. Remember that a well-rested person can contribute to movements much more than an anxious, tired person.
As Sukanya Janardhanan rightly pointed out, “I took a break because I needed it, and I realised that the world didn’t collapse. The revolution won’t stop because of you, but if you don’t take care of yourself, you will not have a place in the revolution.”
Through all this, keep in mind that even on the days that you’re not fighting it out on the streets, your belief in your cause still matters. You cannot move mountains in a day, so rest, recuperate, and live to fight another day.