Managing Anxiety and Emotional Overwhelm in the Fight for Social Justice

These are the visualizations, practices, and tools I use to help me manage my anxiety and empathic tendencies while I fight for social justice.

In two days, I leave to join the Women’s March on Washington. I should be feeling exultant. Over 500,00 people in 33 different countries are standing with me.

But instead I feel nervous. Anxious. Maybe even a little afraid. There are so many things that could go wrong, and I’ve watched all of them of them on social media and the news over the past few years.

And then there’s the issue of being an empath, of soaking up all the emotion swirling around me. I remember standing in Ferguson on the 2015 memorial of Michael Brown’s death, feeling completely overwhelmed and hoping I wouldn’t throw up on my neighbor’s shoes. The emotions surrounding marches are unbelievably intense.

I have so many more resources now than I did then – visualizations, practices, and tools that help me manage both my fear and my tendency to pick up emotion like a sponge. If you’re heading out this weekend to join one of the marches across the world or even just trying to manage the anxiety and emotional overwhelm that come with working for social justice, here are a few things that may help you.

 

“I am in the driver’s seat of my life, not fear” visualization.

Courage doesn’t cancel out fear. It just doesn’t allow fear to control the situation. I’ve actually found the more I try to ignore my fear, the more power it has over me.

When I realize I’m feeling anxiety, I’ll picture myself in a car with a person that represents my fear. It’s not an evil thing. It’s just a concerned part of me that’s trying to help keep me out of harm’s way. I say, “I see you, I acknowledge you, and I need you to move to the passenger seat now.” Then I’ll visualize this Fear Person moving to the passenger seat of the car while I get behind the wheel.

 

“I contain oceans” visualization.

I don’t always take in every emotion that comes at me. For example, if I’m dealing someone I know is a narcissist, I’ll ignore or deflect their attempts to make me feel inferior.

But I don’t want to deflect everyone’s emotions. I want to help carry their burdens. (I wrote more about that here.) So I’ve had to find a way to do that without becoming overwhelmed.

Thus, the ocean visualization: I see a giant, bottomless ocean in myself. When I experience someone else’s difficult emotion, like pain or anger, I see that emotion as a stone. The stone drops into the ocean and sinks down, down, until it’s no longer visible in the depths. It causes ripples on the surface, but they spread out into this infinite ocean. Then, everything is quiet again. I know the stone is there, but I have more than enough capacity to contain it without upsetting my balance.

 

Helpful crystals.

My defenses are significantly stronger than when I went to Ferguson (when I literally knew nothing). One thing I started doing after that experience is carrying stones or crystals with me. I’m fairly certain the results are at least 99% placebo effect, but for me, the key word in “placebo effect” is “effect”.

I use kyanite, obsidian, rose quartz, clear quartz, and green aventurine regularly. But to me, the two most helpful stones in this kind of work have been smokey quartz and aquamarine.

When I hold the smokey quartz, I visualize negative feelings or feelings of overwhelm draining out through my hand and into the stone. (Black tourmaline is actually a more popular crystal to use for this, but I have a bad reaction every time I touch it. You may have the opposite experience though, and it’s worth trying out.)

When I’m wearing aquamarine, I visualize still, quiet waters. It’s especially helpful when I’m doing the oceans visualization.

 

Helpful herbs.

Anxiety and emotional overwhelm become disruptive in my life only when I let them build into a crisis. These herbal allies are helping me manage day to day.

(I’m not an herbalist though, so please consult a professional – or at least do your own research – before you use herbs. Everybody reacts differently, just like with crystals.)

I’ve been using blend of milky oat tops, catnip, skullcap, passionflower leaves, and chamomile to manage anxiety, and I notice a difference when I forget to drink herbal tea for a few days. I also use nutritive herbs to support my body, like nettle, dandelion, and raspberry leaf.

(Some people like to use St. John’s Wort to manage similar symptoms. I choose not to because it can interfere with medications. It causes some bodies to metabolize medication faster, so, for example, my 24 hour dose of birth control might not last 24 hours.)

One herb that is not helpful, unfortunately, is coffee, which is sad because I really love it. I’ll still have a few cups a week, but when I drink it every day I start to notice myself getting anxious for no reason. The caffeine content is just too high.

 

Tarot and journaling.

Just about every morning, I pull a tarot card and journal about it. Often, the card will relate to something that’s been bothering me or a situation I’m anxious about. Getting those feelings out on paper is one of the ways I manage emotional overwhelm on a daily basis.

When I’m feeling particularly anxious about something or feel stuck in an emotional loop, I’ll deliberately pull a card about that situation. The reason this is helpful is that it helps me get out of the emotional panic loop and into problem solving mode. Tarot cards are always about action, even if it’s just internal action.

If learning the meanings of 78 cards sounds more anxiety-inducing than calming, you might want to consider an oracle deck. It’s the same concept and they’re used the same way, but there’s no set system oracle decks follow – it’s just whatever the creator wanted to make, and they’re often self explanatory. (Check out the Earthbound Oracle to see what I mean.)

If you would like help, I offer one card tarot readings in my Etsy shop. I always include journaling questions along with my interpretation so you can explore your feelings on the subject further.

 

Other helpful practices.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found any herb or crystal that can replace sleep, sunshine, and the woods for me. If I don’t spend quality time in bed and out in the forest, my mental and emotional health suffers, period.

Meditation has also been helpful, even though I’m pretty bad at it. If nothing else, it helps me be mindful of what my body is trying to tell me. Often I’m not aware I’m experiencing anxiety until I meditate.

Lastly, I’ll often carry a frankincense oil blend with me during emotional times, like around a full moon. It has an immediate positive effect. When I smell it, I can feel my anxiety and negative emotions swirling down a drain somewhere in my stomach and disappearing.

 

I hope you found some of these helpful. If you have any practices to share with me, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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