Self Care for Community Activists

Self-Care for Community Activists

Coping Tips & Resources for Support

Written by MultDems Community Action Chair Christian Burgess
Design by Lisa Dorn

Download a PDF version booklet of this material for printing. Distribute it to your activist community!

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Engaging in community activism is in & of itself a form of self-care, but nonetheless carries its own unique pressures that can lead to temporary or persistent feelings of distress, or possibly trigger new (or exacerbate pre-existing) behavioral health concerns such as anxiety, substance misuse, and/or depression.

The concept of self-care is highly individual. It means different things to different people. These tips & resources aren’t intended to be comprehensive nor should be thought of as a substitute for professional healthcare. Rather, this resource sheet should be used a guide, to promote thinking about the overall topic of self-care & raise awareness about services available for follow-up care & support.

Coping Tips for Community Activists

1: Recognize the value of what you do

Whenever you contribute any amount of volunteer time to community activism & in any form, from helping to staff a table at a community fair or selling tickets to a fundraiser, keeping social media accounts active to regularly attending & participating in committee meetings, take stock of the value in the service you’re providing & the difference it’s making in the lives of others, from the micro to the macro level. It’s okay to feel good about & congratulate yourself & others for a job well done!

2: Strive to maintain balance 

Work to maintain your regular routines outside of volunteer commitments to the extent possible, even during those occasions when you put in extra time such as during elections or other special events. Strive for a balance that supports your important work as a volunteer, while also not sacrificing the time you need for all the other things that may be important for you to lead a healthy life. 

3: It’s okay to take breaks, including extended breaks if necessary

No matter what role you have as a volunteer community activist, of course it’s okay (and a good idea) to have days when you can’t be reached. If you feel like you’re at risk for compassion fatigue or burnout, or if other ‘life’ obligations are overwhelming you, perhaps stepping away for an indefinite period of time is a good idea. Pro-actively communicate with others what your needs are in terms of limits for what you can/can’t do, including your overall schedule & availability at any given time.

4: Engage in ‘active’ coping

What usually helps you relieve stress & cope with the daily pressures of life? Whatever that is – being outdoors, music, pets & other animals, art, spirituality, games, exercise, cooking, gardening, meditation, reading, dancing/movement – keep up those routines on a regular basis! They’ll help you build and maintain your physical, mental, and emotional resilience & overall well-being.

5: Develop ways to deal with overwhelming emotions

Another important part of self-care is using techniques for times when you feel overwhelmed. Controlled breathing, stretching; progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), taking short breaks, screaming into a pillow…Do whatever may work for you, your abilities, and comfort level ‘in the moment’ to cope immediately before, during, and immediately after particularly stressful activities.

6: Build & sustain a support network

In community activism and volunteering, as with almost any other aspect of life, there are people out there who can understand what you’re going through even if they can’t know what you’re going through (only you know & live your own unique experiences), and who can offer empathy, encouragement, and other forms of support. Seek them out, whether within your circle of volunteer community activists, family and friends, or trusted healthcare providers. Whether within your cultural and affinity groups or the community at large (see resources, below), work to build and sustain a support network which can help you during stressful  – and celebratory – times.

7: Recognize the warning signs of distress & know when to ask for help

Distress warnings signs can include (but aren’t limited to):  

  • Trouble getting through the day and consistently having a hard time performing regular tasks at school, home, or work
  • Too much or too little sleep; not eating enough or eating too much
  • Feeling isolated, numb, or like you don’t care about anything
  • Worrying a lot; feelings of anxiety that seem like they stay with you all the time
  • Substance misuse, incl. excessive use of prescription meds, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, etc.
  • Thoughts of hurting or killing yourself and/or others; suicidal gestures and/or attempts

If you or someone you care about exhibits these or other warning signs of distress, you’re not alone.

Local and national crisis & emotional support resources are available 24/7/365, including: 


Lines for Life / call 1-800-273-8255 or text 273TALK to 839863 /

  • Portland, Multnomah County, and Oregon’s 24/7 crisis support, intervention, & resource line also operates an Alcohol & Drug Helpline at 1-800-923-4357 or text RecoveryNow to 839863

2-1-1 Info for Oregon & SW Washington / dial 2-1-1 or 1-866-698-6155 /

  • Help for identifying, navigating, & connecting w/ local resources (assistance with food, shelter, financial crisis, and many other issues & concerns)


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline / call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) / Veterans, press “1”

  • Para Español (Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio): llame 1-888-628-9454
  • 3rd party interpretation services connecting callers & counselors in over 100+ additional languages also available
  • Connect with a crisis counselor via Chat

Trans Lifeline / call 1-877-565-8860 /

  • Peer support hotline available 7am-1am Pacific Time offering emotional and financial support to trans people in crisis; for the trans community, by the trans community

Deaf LEAD national videophone crisis line / 1-321-800-3323 /

  • Support for individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, have speech disabilities, or otherwise for whom American Sign Language is the primary/preferred language

BeThe1To (a campaign sponsored by several suicide prevention organizations & programs)

Take care of yourself, everyone!

Download a PDF version booklet of this material for printing. Distribute it to your activist community!