There are plenty of ways you can be an activist — even as a highly sensitive person — without having to go to an overstimulating protest.
With everything going on in the world right now, activism is more important than ever. From climate change to women’s rights to gun violence, there are so many injustices and issues today where you can stand up and take action. However, when you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP), being an activist isn’t that simple. (Hello, overstimulation — we tend to go into overdrive mode quite easily.
While there are causes that I’m passionate about and want to take action on, I often find that being highly sensitive makes it hard for me to be an activist and stand up against injustice. But then I’m reminded that my feelings of discomfort are nothing compared to the atrocities that so many people are going through.
So I’m going to share my top tips on how to be an activist — even as an HSP. But first let’s talk about why it can be a challenge.
Why Being an Activist as an HSP Can Be a Challenge
1. News overload is real — and it affects HSPs a lot.
With the 24-hour news cycle, the internet, and smartphones, we are bombarded with news all the time, from the first moment we wake up in the morning to the last moment before we go to bed. Also, the news is rarely positive — it’s rather depressing, heartbreaking, sensational, and shocking. When you turn on the TV or pull out your phone, the stories often focus on topics like deaths, natural disasters, shootings, crashes, hate crimes, graphic violence, or atrocities. While life is already stressful as is, this high quantity of devastating news only makes things harder for HSPs.
While most news stories are pretty short in length, as HSPs think and process information deeply, these stories stay with us. Often if somebody tells me about a sad news story, sure, they can forget about it, but I’ll think about it and feel horrible for the rest of the day (or even the rest of the week). This idea of being swarmed with negative news all the time can be overwhelming, and can affect us both physically and mentally.
2. Violence and cruelty deeply upset you.
Obviously, no one likes hearing about or seeing violence and cruelty, but for highly sensitive people, that idea really kicks into overdrive. Similar to how we feel when watching scary movies, when we see a disturbing news story or an upsetting social media post, it’s hard for highly sensitive people to not be deeply affected by violent or cruel content.
I often find that as a highly sensitive activist, I’m stuck in a tough spot. On one hand, I want to educate myself by learning more about certain injustices, so I will consume content that covers some heavy topics (like violence-related ones), whether that’s with news articles, books, movies, or documentaries. On the other hand, being an HSP, after consuming this kind of content, I will feel absolutely horrible for hours or days afterward.
For example, last summer, I watched countless documentaries on Netflix on everything from residential schools to mass incarceration to the abusive toxic culture inside USA Gymnastics. Even days after watching these documentaries, I felt so sad and depressed that some days I had a hard time getting out of bed.
It’s hard to find that balance between staying informed as an activist and taking care of yourself as an HSP. (But we’ll get to how it’s possible in a bit!)
3. Activist events can be overwhelming (all the people, sounds, you name it!).
Huge activist events, like protests and marches, are powerful and can do a lot of good. But, as highly sensitive people are prone to overstimulation since their brains are wired differently, these types of events can feel pretty overwhelming and exhausting for an HSP.
When I attend protests and marches, with all the chants, cheers and noise, I always get so overstimulated that I almost always get a pounding headache that will only go away when I go back to my quiet apartment, sit in silence and darkness, and practice some self-care.
4. You absorb other people’s emotions (very easily).
As highly sensitive people are extremely empathetic — to the point where we don’t just feel other people’s feelings, but we feel their feelings ourselves — it can make things harder when it comes to activism. As most of us can walk into a room and immediately pick up on people’s emotions, whether it’s anger, sadness, depression, tension, and so on, this same idea often applies to hearing about horrible injustices people go through.
So when I hear a story about a sexual assault case, my heart aches for the survivor. When I hear a story about Indigenous children’s bodies being dug up from residential schools, I am overwhelmed by sadness and imagine the pain their families must be going through. When I hear a story about another Black person getting killed by the police, I feel crushed, devastated, and hopeless. Since we HSPs absorb other people’s emotions, we feel the emotions of the story almost as if they are our own — something that is hard to deal with (and really screws us up at times).
So, yes, being an activist as a highly sensitive person is hard — but it’s not impossible. Here are a few ways you can be one, highly sensitive and all.
5 Ways to Be an Activist — Even as an HSP
1. Educate yourself — but on your terms.
To be an effective activist, educating yourself and staying informed is important. Researching credible sources and staying up-to-date on what’s going on in the world makes a difference. It helps you be a better ally and a better activist.
For a long time, I was so paralyzed by my emotions that I wouldn’t consume the news at all, almost as if I was living in a bubble. While that’s a little bit too extreme, as an HSP, it is okay to reduce how much news you consume and take breaks (if necessary) in order to maintain your sanity. Try limiting your news intake to 10-20 minutes a day (at the same specific time every day). That way, you can still be informed, but you’re not drowning in bad news all day long.
2. Communicate what you need from friends and family, like limited news recaps (or none altogether).
You can still be an activist and have boundaries (which can be difficult for HSPs to set). As news often comes up in conversation, sometimes it feels unavoidable. If you have friends and family who love sharing news stories with you, let them know how much the news affects you and politely ask them if they cannot share news stories with you unless absolutely necessary.
If they don’t listen, request that if they need to share news stories with you, that they at least avoid sharing news on topics that trigger or deeply affect you. For example, while my mom will share news stories with me, I have asked her not to share sexual assault stories, as they really affect my mental health.
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3. Find ways to help that work for you and your sensitive soul.
Many people think that to be a true activist, you have to go to protests and marches all the time. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are plenty of ways you can be an activist without even going to a protest. You can sign petitions, donate money, volunteer, vote, read, listen, research, and support marginalized-owned businesses. You don’t need to go to a highly stimulating event to be a good activist.
4. Practice self-care as both a way to remind and restore your energy.
Self-care doesn’t make you any less of a social justice warrior. From consuming gruesome news stories to processing other people’s emotions as your own, being an activist can take a lot out of you as a HSP.
So it is okay to take breaks and practice self-care. Listen to music. Journal. Read a book. Have a nap. Play with your cat or dog. Go on a walk. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so do whatever you need to do for you to feel good. Plus, afterward, you’ll have more energy to put toward activism.
5. Find the positives within all the negativity.
With all the devastating news stories out there, it can definitely feel hard to find the positives in the world sometimes. After watching the news or a sad documentary, try watching something funny, like an episode of a sitcom you like. Or call up a funny friend. Or, if you feel like you’re being bombarded with sad news articles, try balancing out the negativity with some uplifting news websites, like Positive News, Good News Network, or The Optimist Daily.
Also, even though the news can feel incredibly bleak at times, a positive way of looking at these stories is to use them as inspiration. If you see a heartbreaking news story about a cause you’re passionate about (like animal cruelty), use it as inspiration to push yourself to do more for that cause (such as volunteering at a shelter).
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