Take a break: Why less engagement now can mean better engagement in the long run

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By Sophia Pan, Co-Managing Editor

I love taking baths, perhaps to an unhealthy degree.

There’s just something about soaking in hot water for an absurd amount of time while watching a cheesy, poorly-written drama that really tickles my fancy. It’s hard to describe to anyone who isn’t a bath aficionado, but the atmosphere and the mood is a complete change of pace from the rush of my normal life. Sitting in a bath for so long that the water goes cold and I emerge with pruny fingers and toes is my personal brand of self-care.

And now, more than ever, self-care is important. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, a political nightmare and a state of civil unrest. Self-care should be a priority, especially — to quote every advertisement from the last few months — in these uncertain times.

Yet, as uncertain as these times might be, they have helped forge something strong and beautiful: a new wave of activism in America’s youth.

The protests against police brutality that began in the wake of George Floyd’s murder were the first time I ever really opened my eyes to the injustice in the world. Before then, I was sheltered, privileged enough as a naive Asian girl in the Philadelphia suburbs to go about my daily life blind to all the hurt and hatred. I was apolitical by choice. When I finally processed that the world around me was far less kind than I had been led to believe, the seed of social justice planted itself in my mind, and I began to immerse myself in news about the ugly underbelly of the world. Thus began my journey — which echoes those of many young people across America — into activism.

I am by no means the perfect ally or the perfect activist, but I try to inform myself, to sign petitions, and to call out prejudice and bigotry when I see it. The effort to educate myself on social issues has effectively become my new normal, and, as a result, it is ever-present in my social media, from my Instagram feed to my TikTok “For You” page.

But activism is exhausting. And participating in it often means experiencing a constant downpour of every grimy and despicable injustice in this world.

The news cycle in general has become exhausting — it’s always pandemic this and politics that. Positive stories quickly become buried in the maelstrom of news covering the pain and suffering in the world. The near-endless flood of harm is even harder to escape as quarantine drags on and our phones become our lives. Don’t get me wrong: having coverage of all that negativity is vital. Raising awareness and placing the weight of the public eye onto an issue can help hold people accountable, from school administrators to national governments.

That constant negativity, however, also takes a toll on our collective mental health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found on Aug. 14 that nearly three in four surveyed Americans aged 18–24 reported struggling with mental health and that one in four reported having seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days. 

So please, take a break. 

Whether it means scrolling past those posts and videos or whether it means completely turning off your phone, I beg you to take a break from it all. Periodically disengaging from the negativity in the world will help you engage better in the long run.

I know, I know. It seems counterproductive, but the best way to enact change in the world is to have a stable foundation to work from. It’s the same reasoning behind those exam tips about sleeping well instead of doing last-minute cramming — any information you shove into your brain won’t help if you’re exhausted.

Burnout is real, and it affects everyone. You are not at fault for feeling fatigued. Our constant exposure to acts of violence is desensitizing and traumatizing, and no one should feel guilty for needing a rest from it. After all, we’re people, not robots. The expectation that you must continue to advocate for change even at the expense of your health and mental stability in order to be considered an activist is harmful and dangerous. Overextension will only hurt you and your activism in the long run. At the end of the day, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

It’s a privilege to be able to turn away from the news cycle. For many people in the world, that news cycle is a day-to-day reality, and they can’t turn it off with the switch of a button. But if you are in circumstances that afford you the ability to step back, it is your duty to yourself and to the cause you are fighting for to use it. Use it to calibrate and ground yourself. Use it to take a breath of fresh air before you step back into the fray.

Use it to replenish your energy and channel your efforts toward more effective activism so that one day, we can live in a world with fewer injustices to be fought against and fewer breaks to be taken.


Sophia Pan can be reached at [email protected]