Last Friday millions of people worldwide: children, workers, volunteers, parents and friends of the planet of all varieties took part in the climate strikes. I attended a local one here in Bristol, marching with many others from College Green. I tell you this not so you know about my political or ecological beliefs but because what I saw and felt on Friday demonstrated to me (yet again) how taking part in collective action can help us with our feelings of powerlessness and anxiety. Like many people on this planet, not just our children, I have felt anxiety and despair about the possible future that lies ahead of us. I haven’t known what I can do about it. And I don’t know what the future will look like, I only know what some of the media and many of the scientists are predicting. It’s difficult not to feel anxious in the face of that. Living in the present with those feelings and finding a way to sit with them can be really hard.
As a counsellor I obviously advocate talking about our feelings and as a strong believer in writing for wellbeing I also think writing about them can be useful. Both these avenues can be useful to help us process feelings of grief and anxiety, to find ways to enjoy the present and to envisage possible positive futures.
Taking part in the march and strike on Friday got me thinking about the power of taking action too because it felt good to be part of a collective action, surrounded by people who cared about the same things, who were prepared to make their voices heard on this day, in this way, together. That march won’t magically fix everything I’m worried about in the world, but it showed me there are a lot of people out there who care, it helped me feel a little less powerless, a little less alone and a little more positive about the future. That is the power of taking action, no matter what form it takes.
In a similar way, volunteering on a women’s helpline really helped me with feelings I had of my own powerlessness to change some of the worst experiences women and children have in our society. It was an incredibly rewarding and empowering experience. Even though I know I can’t prevent every woman and child from being abused, what I learnt on the helpline was that what I had to offer, fifty minutes of listening support, was something valuable that made a difference in the lives of the women who rang in. I became a volunteer because I wanted to help other people but what I gained there helped me with my own feelings.
I see a lot of people who are struggling with their feelings not just about personal issues or their past, but with Brexit and with the state of the environment and the world in general. It can be truly overwhelming. We can feel really small and powerless, like there is nothing we personally can do to change things, that the future is hopeless and those feelings can sometimes seem to be too much to bear. Taking part in some way can help with that.
If you’re reading this online then you have internet access, why not google the stuff that really interests you and see what’s happening locally?