The Stress of Saving the World
There’s a reason superheroes are so popular—deep down, we all want to save the world. Some of us advocate for endangered species, while others focus on improving public schools. Yet no matter which worthy cause we support, we’re all vulnerable to a common danger: activist burnout.
The threat of burnout is particularly strong when we’re bombarded with multiple problems at once. There’s no doubt that the past few years have given us plenty to be worried about. The rise of #MeToo and several recent shootings have sparked major activity in the fights against sexual assault, unregulated gun ownership, and institutionalized racism. Political dealings, no matter which party we’re affiliated with, have been regularly disrupted by disagreements and scandals. People have more to fight for than ever, and we can see this in the high rates of activism across the nation.
Those of us living in DC might remember that in 2017 alone, there were 19 major protest marches, covering subjects from scientific policy to immigration reform. That’s in contrast to the 1-6 annual protests that took place in previous years.
All of this activism can take a heavy toll. As Greater Good Magazine notes, “many of us are feeling a sense of fatigue, after months and months” of advocacy. Publications like the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and Everyday Feminism have all recently published pieces about activist fatigue, demonstrating that it’s become a major concern. So how can we keep fighting the good fight while protecting our wellbeing?
What is Activist Burnout?
First off, we need to recognize what activist burnout feels like for us as individuals. For one person, it may look like anger and trouble sleeping. For another, it may be anxiety or an upset stomach. Learning to recognize the physical and emotional symptoms of burnout is crucial because it helps us identify when we’ve reached our personal limits. Allowing ourselves time to rest and recover between protests, letter-writing campaigns, and/or volunteer shifts will make us stronger and more capable when we choose to take on our next cause.
Develop a Coping Bank
What can you do when you notice symptoms of burnout popping up? One source recommends developing your own personal “coping bank,” or a “go-to list of activities and behaviors that give you a sense of fulfillment, relief, and replenishment.”
These activities can be simple, like taking a hot shower or going for a walk, or even ambitious, like enrolling in dance classes or writing workshops. The important piece is that they help “fill up” your stores of energy and satisfaction.
For those of us looking to shift not only our activities but also our attitudes, “How to Sustain Your Activism” suggests that mindfulness is a potential solution to activism-related stress. By practicing mindful self-compassion, which involves recognizing our thoughts and emotions and responding to them kindly, we can develop healthier outlooks on both our activism and our need for self-care.
For example, a person may mindfully realize that while they are dedicated to reducing violence in their community, reading infinite articles about violence each day is causing them to feel depressed. Instead of judgment themself as “weak” or “not dedicated enough,” they can compassionately recognize that their response is normal and okay. They can then work on a way to maintain their activism in a manner that causes less emotional harm. Ultimately, this attitude shift will make them a stronger and more capable activist.
You can find several free self-compassion meditations and exercises online, such as these from Dr. Kristin Neff. You can also develop more personalized practices with a therapist trained in mindfulness practices (many of whom we have right here at the Viva Center). If you have any questions on how to incorporate mindfulness into your life, feel free to shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Find Ways to Save the World…That Won’t Deplete Your Wellness
You don’t have to dedicate your entire life to a good cause just to make a difference. There are hundreds of ways to put positivity into the world without drawing too deeply on your personal stores of wellness.
Here are a few relatively easy, casual ways to make a difference. Engage in as many or as few as seem right for you!
- Make sure your opinions are heard by registering to vote for the midterm elections: https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote
- Collect old clothes and items you don’t use anymore and drop them off at Goodwill
- When you notice that a loved one has been hit hard by recent events, check in with them. Just listening to their concerns can make a world of difference
- Find out who your local representatives are and what policies they enforce: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative
- Write to your representatives with any concerns https://www.nationalpriorities.org/take-action/contact-your-representative/
- Find a charity you trust and set up a one-time or monthly donation. It doesn’t have to be much. Even $5 a week, less than many of us spend on coffee, can make a huge difference
- Learn more about quick and easy ways to live in an environmentally sustainable fashion
- And so much more!
How do you fight for your beliefs while avoiding burnout? We want to hear your tried and true techniques. Tweet us your thoughts, or share them via Facebook! In the meantime, keep making the world a better place!
Reaganne Hansford is a Texas native studying Psychology at George Mason University. She has been published via National Geographic and Advanced Energy Economy. Her passions lie in asking the right questions, sharing those answers, and finding the best hiking trail in Northern Virginia.