Self care in turbulent times

A soothing scene of Lake Superior.

Overwhelmed with tragedy, demoralized with protest, and too exhausted to engage in dialogue on social media, I reluctantly decided to shut off the world and watch “Finding Dori” last weekend.

The premise of a lost surgeonfish with short term memory loss was entertaining for kids while the allegory of migrating diverse sea life in a vast borderless ocean was thought provoking enough for adults to connect to our current state of immigration and xenophobia.

At first I was ridden with guilt for not being in St. Paul and doing something at a time when silence is violence. But I realized I’m no good to anyone if I’m not well myself. We must take care of ourselves if we are to take care of each other.

I know too many people that spread themselves too thin. I worry about how this affects their mind, body and spirit. We are all experiencing trauma simply by being citizens of this broken country, and for those who are out fighting for change every day take care of yourself. I’ve learned to grant myself the serenity to accept the things that I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. I’m not preaching self help, nor am I suggesting I know better than anyone. I’m just hoping that within the chaos we all can find moments of beauty and hope.

Turn off social media

It’s hard, but we have to do it. It’s a strange compulsion to feel the constant need to connect to information that only makes us feel bad, but if you allow yourself some respite sadly there will still be internet trolls to argue with tomorrow. Start with a day and see if you can work up to a whole weekend of unplugging.


Once the barrage of stress from your Twitter feed is out of your life you will immediately slow down. Instead of scrolling through the world in constant search of the most vitriolic thing you can repost you will search for calm. Breathe, meditate, do nothing and bask in it.

Be alone

Do you ever notice that people can’t just sit or stand in line by themselves without looking at their phone? When is the last time you sat on a bench and just felt the sun on your face, went for a walk to nowhere in particular, or did whatever you wanted to do by yourself? We feel like we constantly need to be with others or connected to others on our cell phones, but it’s amazing how much you heal when you allow yourself to be in tune with you.

Be with others

Call your sibling. Have lunch with your grandmother. Make a surprise visit at your parents. After you’ve allowed yourself to be still with you be with those who do not take more energy than they give. I’ve tried to balance out the people in my life who help me keep balance in my life. Energy is neither created or destroyed, surround yourself with people who bounce positive energy between you and them. This one is even more important for those who are feeling hopeless about the state of our world. Be with those you trust, speak unapologetically about what you are feeling, and process it. Don’t go through it alone. We are in this together.

Make art for nobody

When encouraging people to make art a lot of people say they are not an artist, but everyone is an artist. Art is relative, and is creation. Whether you paint, make music, write, perform, make people laugh, whatever just do it. Creativity uses a part of our brains that, for many, has been in hibernation after years of cubicle conditioning. When we create we wake up an area of the brain that makes us feel human. Make art for someone or no one. It is the process that is what’s important.


I’m sure most can relate to the feeling of physical exhaustion and emotional well-being after a night of dancing. The vibration of sound moving through your body is visceral, and like art, connects us to our raw humanity. Dance like nobody is watching.

Be outside

It’s summer in Minnesota. As much as the violence we are witnessing every day can make you want to curl up in a ball and watch Netflix all day get outside. Listen to music in the city, go hike around a state park or lay on the beach. There are a hundred things to do on any given day right now, and in a few months we will be stuck inside again. Allow yourself the time to be outside and soak up some vitamin D.

Spend time with youth

Youth are everything. I am not a parent but am around youth in my work and my life. Last week I was lucky enough to spend some time at the river with a friend and her 4-year-old nephew. His light and love was a reminder that we all enter this world without judgment, cynicism, or hate. His ability to be joyful in such dark times was a reminder to me that we can find moments of hope and embrace it. It is ok for us to take time to turn off the world, appreciate what is in front of you and smile. Whether they are talking or not, listen to youth. They can teach us a lot.

I’m not self help expert, and I’m not telling anyone what to do. I just see a lot of people in pain and want things to change. Despite everything we still live in a beautiful world. Fight to make it better and take the time to enjoy it.

Ryan Stopera is a social worker and community organizer in Minneapolis. He is on the board of directors of MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.