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Protesting is good for your health!

As well as potentially changing the world, participating in protest marches and public demonstrations can actually be just what the doctor ordered.

THAT'S THE FINDING of a study recently conducted by psychologists at the University of Sussex. Led by Dr John Drury, lecturer in Social Psychology, researchers interviewed activists who had participated in over 160 collective actions. These included street rallies, foxhunt sabotages, industrial pickets and environmental actions.

The study found that participants involved in collective actions experience emotions that are not only beneficial for mental health, but can also lead to better health and longevity.

Dr Drury had been interested in the link between demonstrations and good mental health for some time before undertaking this current research. "Many published activist accounts refer to feelings of encouragement and confidence emerging from experiences of collective action," he explains.

"But it's not always clear how and why such empowerment occurs, so we aimed to explain what actions within a collective action event contribute to such feelings."

The study delved deep into the emotional experience of activism and, according to Dr Drury, revealed that the causes of the euphoria experienced by the protesters was, "the realisation of the collective identity, the sense of mutual potential, unity and mutual support within a crowd."

Even when the demonstrations involved violent clashes or frightening stand-offs, protesters still experienced positive emotions.

"Empowering events were almost without exception described as joyous occasions. Simply recounting these events in the interview itself brought a smile to the faces of the interviewees."

Apparently the feelings experienced in collective action were so powerful that they seem more able to be sustained over a considerable period of time.

Doctors have become increasingly aware of the role that positive experiences and happiness plays in physical wellbeing. Uplifting experiences are now widely recognised by the medical community as positively impacting on a person's speed of physical recovery, ability to cope with mental and physical stress, and frequency and severity of anxiety and depression.

While in today's high-pressure existence there is a growing interest in relaxation techniques and stress-relief exercises, Dr Drury would like more of his countrymen to pick up a placard and hit the streets. "Collective actions, such as protests, strikes, occupations and demonstrations are less common in the UK than they were perhaps 20 years ago," he says.

"The take-home message from this research might be that people should get more involved in campaigns, struggles and social movements, not only for the wider interest of social change, but also for their own personal good."
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Author:Ambrose, Margie
Publication:Habitat Australia
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 1, 2003
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