Why Taking Care of Your Mental Health is Vital When Advocating for Sustainability and Social Justice

September 19, 2020  •   4 min read

This post has been written by our guest contributor: Joanna Molloy


2020—the year of global Climate Crisis marches across thousands of towns and cities, Black Lives Matter rallies and demonstrations, a worldwide health pandemic, some of the worst wildfires in history across Australia and California, and this all before the heightened tensions of the United States Presidential Election.


Although it’s been a year so far many of us will want to but will never forget, one thing that sticks out for me is the resilience of human beings all over the world—the determination of millions of people showing up to support the environment, confronting white supremacy to support equity amongst Black people and People of Colour, and the selflessness of many government officials and health practitioners showing up day in and day out to support people who need it the most.


However, as 2020 moves into its final quarter, a larger, quieter issue looms—mental health. Mental health is a state of being. We all have it. Mental health directly impacts people’s thoughts, behaviours and emotions and therefore, their actions. People’s mental health can be affected by a myriad of factors. There is an urgent need now more than ever, to visit the intersectionality between sustainable development and mental health.


The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and to ensure all people enjoy peace and prosperity in their lives by 2030. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that in 2020, the world’s biggest disability will be depression and anxiety—pre-Climate Crisis, pre-Black Lives Matter urgency and pre-COVID-19 pandemic. 


How can we approach sustainability issues such as these as well as keeping our mental health in check? How do we tackle global health and wellbeing, clean water and sanitation, and animal rights if people are overwhelmed by personal mental health issues? How do they have the energy, the drive, the emotional regulation to actually take on these enormous endeavours?


This all comes back to having the ability to look after ourselves first so that we have the strength to be an advocate for sustainability without the risk of burning out, making poor decisions or the inability to take necessary actions due to a severe lack of energy.


Studies have shown that environmental issues have a negative effect on an individual’s mental wellbeing, showing that a climate crisis contributes to anxiety and depression levels. Paradoxically, being surrounded by nature, birds singing and clean air enables people to feel more at ease, more calm and able to relax. It’s this deep connection to the earth and the world around us that settles our nervous systems, so how do we stop ourselves from crashing with efforts to save it? 


Take time to go into nature. Understand it. Its beauty, its flaws, its perfections and imperfections. Then sit quietly and take the time to understand yourself. The better we understand ourselves, the better the decisions we make in how we show up for ourselves and in the world. 


Activism and mental health work are life-long and urgent. I don’t believe this work will ever be completed. Just like yoga or other traditions that are life-long practises—we are always striving to do better and never really “finish” this work. Instead, we show up every day and do our best to look after ourselves first and then others. Life is about listening, learning, sharing and practicing and repeating it all again, the next time, with experience. 


Here are some things you can do to ensure your mental wellbeing is looked after first and foremost so that you can do the necessary work to help build a sustainable future:


1. Meditate. Not sure where or how to start? Try a loving-kindness meditation. Loving-kindness meditation helps with empathy towards others and ourselves.

2. Get out in nature. Don’t have time? Take off your shoes and go stand on the grass/sand/earth for a few minutes. It will have an almost instant grounding effect.

3. Journal. Write down how you feel, even if it doesn’t make any sense, at least it’s now out of your head and on a page. Write down things that ‘fill your cup’, and do them.

4. Move your body in a way that feels good for you—yoga, walk, run, bike, dance to whatever music makes you feel alive. 

5. Filter your news and social media consumption. This one is important. Too much of this can really send us into a downward spiral, especially when articles have been taken out of context. Remember, the news generally offers bad news which can pigeon hole us into thinking the world is falling apart. It’s not. Go look for some good news then put down the phone!

6. Eat well, sleep well. This seems obvious but life seems to be getting busier and busier so remember to take the time to nourish yourself properly and prioritize sleep over Netflix and TikTok.

7. Switch gears and do something totally unrelated. Activism fatigue is a real thing, and when we’re too much in one space for too long, it can not only be incredibly overwhelming and exhausting, but our minds tend to fry, leading to burnout. Switching gears and doing something completely unrelated is so helpful to reset. Redecorate a room in your home, read a juicy novel, bake your favourite cookies, foster a puppy for a week, or do a YouTube tutorial on a DIY craft you’ve always wanted to try.

8. Find humour. Humour is so important for our mental wellbeing. Yes, saving the planet is by no means a barrel of laughs, but remember one person cannot take the weight of the world on their shoulders. So hang out with good friends, watch a comedy, play a board game and celebrate life’s goodness, the wins and the progress—not just the end goal.

Remember, you can’t pour from an empty glass, no matter how clean the water is. 


About the Author

Jay is a yoga and meditation teacher (Jay Molloy Yoga) with a background in business and advertising—a Jay of many trades, master of some! Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Jay has been exploring the great outdoors of BC, Canada, for the past 4 years and currently lives in the Northern part of the province. Jay is passionate about wellness and everything that can contribute to making people’s lives and their interactions with the environment better.


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