NILC’s Immigration Policy Advocate Shares Tips for Coping with Holiday and DACA-related Stress

NILC’s Immigration Policy Advocate Shares Tips for Coping with Holiday and DACA-related Stress

By Ignacia Rodriguez, NILC immigration policy advocate
November 21, 2017

In this week’s podcast episode from the Butterfly Story Collective, DACA recipient Deniss talks about the importance of finding joy and laughter during times of high stress.

Since the 2016 presidential election, I’ve heard more and more people talk about “self-care” and “wellness.” I’ve struggled trying to achieve both since well before the election, so I’ve had to think through what they mean for me, and I hope what I’ve discovered may be helpful to you too.

First, it’s noteworthy that the month of November marks the following:

  • A year since the 2016 elections
  • A year of fighting to protect DACA against real threats
  • Eleven months under the Trump administration
  • Four months of fighting for a clean Dream Act of 2017
  • Two months since the termination of DACA was announced

These markers make wellness and self-care more important than ever. Thanksgiving Day, whether you celebrate with your biological and/or chosen family or not at all, provides a chance to pause and to reenergize for the fight ahead, because December is bound to be a month packed with activism.

Congress must pass a spending bill by December 8 for the federal government to continue operating as normal, and several members of Congress already have stated that they won’t vote for an appropriations bill unless Dream is attached to it.

Congress may delay the process a few days or weeks (as it sometimes does), but it’s currently scheduled to recess for the year on December 22. And as immigrant youth around the country go into this holiday season wondering what their fate will be, some members of Congress seem to be operating based on the March 2018 deadline President Trump gave them to pass a bill that would protect DACA recipients. But the reality is that many people have already lost—and others will lose—their DACA work authorization and protection from deportation well before March.

In addition, negotiations will be underway and compromises in the works. Given the makeup of Congress, we’re unlikely to get a clean Dream Act out of it without a fight, because some members will demand that onerous immigration enforcement provisions be attached to any Dream bill.

Just reading this might make some people anxious, so I’d like to suggest some ways to cope, based on my own experience. Remember, though, nothing can replace the advice and recommendations of mental health professionals. Also, I’ve concluded that when it comes to self-care and wellness, it’s all about finding what’s right for you.

In my case, I realized I couldn’t do it all on my own, so I sought help. I’ve found that hypnotherapy and somatic therapy work best for me, rather than conventional talk therapy. As you seek what’s best for you, here are some other self-care and wellness suggestions to consider:

Take Thanksgiving Day (and the weekend, if possible) to disconnect. Avoid reading the news or worrying about the outside world.

If DACA or Dream comes up in conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table and you choose to engage, keep these points in mind:

  • Try to stay calm. Breathe. Whenever someone in my family brings up a controversial topic, I count to 30 and if, after that, they’re still on the topic, I weigh in with my careful, calculated opinion. If I’m not in the mood or if they’ve moved on from the topic, I don’t say anything. Instead, I text a trusted friend and vent to them. You know the dynamics of your family best and can decide what method works for you.
  • Find a way to relate to the person raising the topic. Has that person ever wanted something that was unattainable for reasons outside of their control? If they became lawful permanent residents or naturalized citizens after coming to the U.S, was it because of a bill that was passed by Congress? Why not let others have that same opportunity?

Mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness involves being present in the present. You can follow your own breath, or follow a guided meditation. For example, UCLA has mindfulness guided meditation recordings available for free at http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations.

Visualization:

  • In their responses, our bodies and emotions often don’t differentiate between an actual physical situation and a scenario that we imagine or visualize on purpose—their response to either, whether the scenario is unpleasant or pleasant, is the same. So if you take some time to visualize your favorite place in great detail, you can trick your body and emotions into feeling like you’re there—which provides a break from stress.
  • Visualize your ideal world. During the ten-plus years I’ve been engaged in the Dream fight, there’ve been times when I’ve become skeptical, jaded, and even cynical. It helps to stop and visualize what it is I’m working for, to imagine the world I want to see some day.

Do what makes you happy. Go back and enjoy whatever you loved doing before life got so complicated. For me, it’s music and dance. I’ve been taking dance classes, watching dance videos, and even dancing in my room.

For Deniss, laughter has been a refuge. Whether listening to her father’s jokes over the phone or having fun with friends over some boba tea, Deniss reminds us that it’s important to reconnect with the joyfulness of life, because this is where we find our strength … and we need to stay strong!

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