Feeling powerless? Here’s what you can do now

Devasted. Depressed. Scared. Angry.

These are the words I’ve been hearing from inside my middle-class, liberal bubble. The “depressed” one was actually my own, which is particularly upsetting, given how hard I’ve worked to overcome my mental health problems recently. (To clarify: I feel depressed right now but I’m not actually depressed).

It’s awful to see what you believe is terrible and terrifying, and feel that there’s nothing you can do about it.

So here are some suggestions for what you can do to help yourself, and others, now and in the future.

Firstly, take care of yourself

This is the most urgent thing to do. Partly because you probably feel like a sack of crap and you deserve to feel better. And also because you are no position to help others if you lack energy, focus or drive.

Taking care of yourself looks different for everyone. When I went to work on Friday, I told co-workers how I was feeling, and the simple act of sharing my feelings helped. I had real trouble focusing so I increased the background noise to help. I even chose to do my least favorite tasks. That seems counter-intuitive but it actually works for me. I think that I can’t feel any worse so I might as well crack on and do it.

So yeah, work – good, productive, useful work – is part of my self-care. I also had a load of kids to the house (they’re a brilliant distraction) and drank prosecco with their mums. We stopped talking about politics after a bit and started talking about other, good things. Then I ate Ben and Jerry’s out of the tub.

So this is what my self-care looks like. Yours might look similar or it might look different. Maybe you’ll go for a run today, or tidy the house. Or you will sit on the sofa all day. Whatever works for you is fine, as long as its making you feel better.

Read or don’t read the news and opinions

People seem to fall into one of two camps when it comes to post-election fall-out. Some get off Facebook and Twitter, refuse to look at the news, and go and do something else. Others devour everything they can get their hands on, dissecting and analysing what happened, commiserating with friends, retweeting and sharing words of comfort, or warnings of terrible things to come.

As with the self-care above, do what works for you. If you don’t know what that is, log your mood on a scale of 1-10, set a timer for half an hour, then dive into the internet. Choose whether to stay in your bubble of people who think like you do, or head on over to right-wing places and see what people are saying there. When your timer goes off, log your mood again. You will be able to see if reading about it makes you feel better or worse. Whether you’re comforted by hope, or if you feel angry and are driven to create change. Or if the whole business makes you feel depressed and hopeless.

If you fall into the last camp, take these words to heart. They are from a holocaust survivor.

“I look where it is good.”

Do something to help others

When things are going badly, we need to do something immediately, then work to fix things in the medium and long term as well. Right now, our vulnerable people need us.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Donate to your local food bank. If you don’t know where that is, you can find a list here.
  • Donate money or things to other support services. There are ones for babies, women’s shelters, poor families, etc. Ask them what they need then bring it over. Wood Street Mission, Early Essentials, and Mustard Tree are three charities in Manchester which take donations.
  • Bookmark the website for Streetlink now, so you can refer a homeless person to them if you find someone who needs and wants help. When the temperature drops below freezing, the council has to find somewhere for the homeless to sleep. Put the relevant council phone numbers in your phone now, so they’re ready in case you need them. For Manchester, that’s 07930 867 663 (or 0161 234 5001 outside office hours). You can also report rough sleepers to Manchester’s council here.
  • Look after the people who look after others. If you’re friends with someone who works in the public services, make them dinner, pick up their kids from school, invite them out. If you’re using the services, send a thank you card. I hear so many times from NHS staff that it’s demoralising, frustrating and hard, but the appreciation of their patients makes it worthwhile.
  • Volunteer for a local charity or hospital. You can find a volunteer opportunity here. Or just Google what you want to do or who you want to help, with the word “volunteer” and where you live.
  • Donate to your favourite charity. If you don’t have one, the Samaritans is always a good bet.
  • Stand up for yourself and your friends. Minorities have been telling us for ages that racism is getting worse, anti-immigration sentiment is more vocal and people are emboldened to express their views freely. When we see and hear this, it’s our responsibility to say “that’s not OK.” It’s not always easy but it’s more important now than ever.

Get out of your bubble

I think this is one of the biggest problems people like me have.

I live in a nice, middle-class area of a diverse city. My Facebook friends are almost all left-wing. My carefully-curated Twitter feed is almost a parody of liberal ideology. Most of my family live abroad and I don’t even have a racist uncle.

I am guilty of being lulled into a sense that this is all there is. I don’t know the people who voted Tory, or why. I don’t understand why they want to leave the EU when they’ve benefited so much from it. I haven’t engaged with anyone who doesn’t think like me, mainly because I don’t want to.

OK, the autism is part of it, and so is being clever (what’s the point in arguing with people who aren’t very bright?). But that a not all of it. The truth is, I like my echo chamber. It’s comfy. It means I don’t have to face uncomfortable truths about myself and my values. I don’t have to accept the fact that other people might – just might – have a point.

We’re not going to make long-lasting change unless we engage with others. We need to understand where they’re coming from, why they believe the things they believe, and what they’re afraid of. We can find common ground. We can stop seeing them as “them” and “us”.

I’ve seen a lot of hate from the Left since the election – and I understand that we’re angry with people who didn’t vote the same way we did. We’ve got good reasons to be angry. But that anger needs to be channelled appropriately – in productive debate, in criticising immoral actions rather than irrelevancies, in standing up for what we believe in. We can’t call out someone else’s behaviour if ours is no better.

Use fullfact.org to make sure you’ve got the right information, so you can share it when needed.

Take action to effect long-term change

This is where the work starts.

Join the Labour party if you want to get involved in choosing a new leader and bringing about the changes to the party that you want to see.

If that’s not for you, join the Green Party or the Lib Dems. Or the political party of your choice.

You can join the campaign for electoral reform as well – this is to replace the current system with one that is fairer. There’s the campaign for votes at 16 as well – giving more young people the opportunity to vote – and one to keep the NHS public.

A lot of the big charities, like Shelter, Stonewall and Mind do campaigning and lobbying alongside supporting people. If you have a particular special interest, search for that topic and see what campaigns are going on that you can be part of. Climate change, for example, has a lot.

Another thing you can do over the longer term is to complain when you find something that’s not right. It’s no use complaining to your mates in the pub when you read a false news story, or you’re unhappy about election marketing. Complain to the ICO for data protection issues, and to the Independent Press Standards Organisation if you think a paper (or similar) has broken the rules. You can complain to the ombudsman about a government department. If there’s political advertising that you believe is a breach of the rules, you can complain to Ofcom (not the Advertising Standards Authority).

You can also write to your MP, go on a protest march, take your story to the press – there are loads of ways of exercising your democratic rights beyond voting.

Do anything – do something – but don’t do nothing

There’s a lot you can do and it can feel overwhelming. You’re not expected to do everything!

You can either choose to take the action that’s easiest and most appropriate for you – for example, that might mean writing to your MP if you’ve got the time and don’t like going out. But that could mean joining a group if you feel that working with other people would help motivate you.

And you can choose to focus on the topic that concerns you most, whether that’s education, climate change, the NHS, or something else.

But you and I both know that doing nothing is not an option. Not just for our country but for how we feel as well. Taking action removes that awful feeling of powerlessness that contributes to our disappointment, and it can help bring back hope.

Let’s do this together.

If you want me to add more links to this page, please drop me an email.

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