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What can you do when dismantling the system dismantles you?


COVID-19 changed a lot of aspects of our daily lives. During this pandemic, I didn’t realize I’d hate the phrases ‘unprecedented times’ and ‘late-night press cons’ with a burning passion. I didn’t know that I’ll be balls deep into reading and fighting socio-political injustices every damn day. Usually, I don’t complain about participating in the struggle. 

That was until the pandemic taught me a lesson. Apparently, activist burnout exists—and I have it. 

Burnout is apparently inescapable even when you’re standing up for people’s rights. With current events filling our feeds every day, it’s impossible not to feel fatigued. Our current struggle consists of the increasing plight of marginalized groups and our freedom of speech getting threatened by people-in-power.

I felt selfish for feeling exhausted every time I watched the news. Sometimes, I can’t help but think that things are getting worse. It’s like all of our efforts often go nowhere—even if that’s not the case. 

Activist burnout, also known as social justice fatigue, is defined as the physical, mental, and/or emotional baggage from advocating social change. “It’s the nature of activist organizing that defeat comes often and can seem irreversible, and those who do it find themselves weighed down by stress, anxiety and depression,” writes Marie Sollis of Vice. “Left unchecked, these bad feelings can accrete into burnout.” 

Fighting the good fight is great when it is. Still, there are days where we don’t see immediate results. The greater good doesn’t always triumph (no matter what Disney movies tell us). Sometimes, there are more battles we lose than win. It’s part of it—and it doesn’t make it less heartbreaking. 

If we leave our burnout unchecked, we can’t exactly fight causes we care about. What can you do when fighting the good fight burns you out? Here are some tips from us on how to address this unique kind of burnout:

Do a Q&A with yourself if you’re feeling a-okay

Burnout is a completely valid emotion that happens to activists as much as workers and students. “This state of chronic stress can cause physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment,” writes Rewire. 

This doesn’t happen overnight. As time goes by, it continuously increases while it’s left unaddressed. If you feel like you might be experiencing burnout, you should check these symptoms below provided by Lesley University:

  1. Exhaustion: Feeling emotionally and physically drained
  2. Cynicism: Having negative associations with work that once seemed so important
  3. Inefficacy: Doubting self-worth and lack of activist achievement

Venting to your homie is key 

We emphasized the importance of a vent buddy (or two) last year. On securing your 2020 survival, they are more important than ever. Keeping your stress and emotions to yourself doesn’t help anyone. Sure, you’re a strong, independent activist who can dismantle anything they set their mind to. But even someone as strong as you need someone to lean on.

“Talking about what’s stressing you out is the best way to release the tension and stay healthy,” explains Rewire. “Holding in stress can have negative effects on your mental health, but it can also hurt your physical health.”

Do some wellness planning (even if planning ain’t for you)

Checking in with your support system is amazing. Still, you have to check yourself on a daily basis too. Lesley University shared the LGBTQ+ non-profit organization The Audre Lorde Project’s wellness planning framework. With this, we get to check if our physical, mental and emotional needs are doing fine. 

These are the four must-haves according to their framework:

Heart: Motivational needs, spiritual needs and how you stay grounded

Body: Biological needs and physical needs

Mind: Emotional needs; thought process

Community: Interpersonal needs; need from social relationships

Say no for the time being, get back when you’re ready

It’s important to know when you’ve reached your limit. Recovery takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight and there’s no miracle cure for it. Sure, we all want to save the world but no one is immune to fatigue.

“Listening to your body and knowing when to say no could be the difference between preserving your mental and emotional health and suffering through the inherent stress that accompanies the role of a dedicated activist,” explains Rewire. “After all, a burnt-out activist isn’t much good to anyone.”

Allow yourself to say, “Today, I don’t have to be an activist”

Lower your pitchforks first. By saying this, we don’t mean to leave activism for good. Young folks like us need to fight for the future. Still, we also need to take care of ourselves if we want change to happen around us. Doing some digital detox and giving attention to hobbies are valid forms of self-care every activist should consider.

In Self feature on activism fatigue, they interviewed stricter gun laws activist Lucy McBath. “I remember that this movement is going to go on whether I take a little break right now or not. You have to give yourself a chance to breathe, to do the things you used to do before you took up this cause,” shared McBath. “It’s important to have a balance.”

Read more:
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Art by Mikey Yabut



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