Activist Burnout

Top tips for dealing with the stress of the struggle.

By Sally Thompson

Spreading compassion is no easy task on the soul. It can be physically, mentally and emotionally demanding – sometimes all at once. So it’s really important that we take time now and again to replenish, re-energise and re-assess in order to keep moving forward in our quest for equality and respect for the oppressed and exploited.
Often this is something which as activists we forget to do. Our minds, bodies, hearts and souls are filled with such passion, such care, such rage, and such love that we neglect ourselves in the process of our outreach efforts. Often we become so overwhelmed with pain or with anger, that we get disheartened or disempowered. We burn out. Given the situations and issues that we are confronting, this is totally understandable.

So, here are some tips and tools that I’ve used to help me get by or pick me up during the tough times.

  1. Relax
    Whether it’s getting out in nature, listening to or playing some of your favourite tunes, this is so important. It may sound simple but taking time out to relax and ‘just be’ really helps with winding down after a hard day or night. It can help you to rest your body after a strenuous day working on a sanctuary, or calm your mind and it’s racing thoughts after a day of vegan campaigning.
  2. Take care of your body
    Make sure you eat well balanced meals if possible. Have at least one proper sit down meal each day. Keeping an element of structure within your meal times can really help to ensure you are keeping yourself nourished. Whilst it isn’t realistic to be able to plan all of your meals within a busy schedule, take time to plan some ahead to make sure you have a good stock of nourishing foods and ingredients available when you need them. Add to this some regular exercise, ideally a few times each week, such as jogging, swimming, cycling, or the gym. This will help boost your mental health, clearing the mind, releasing mood-boosting chemicals and keeping your body strong.
  3. Visit a sanctuary
    See the good in the world, amidst all of the bad. This can help to restore your faith when things just get too much and you feel like giving up. Seeing animals living free, improving in their health, and regaining trust can really help to show you that your efforts are worthwhile.
  4. Surround yourself with others who share your vision for a better world
    It’s very important that you have a good support network of compassionate people around you to help stop you from feeling alone. Being an activist can be very draining and isolating. There are many ways to get to know other liked-minded folk, from social events in your local area, networking and volunteering opportunities, to social media and online communities or forums. Check out: Vegan Forum, Veganuary and Vegan Village
  5. It can be a real help talking through your thoughts and emotions with another person
    Whilst you may have friends and family around for this, you may not wish to offload it all on to them. Or you may be quite isolated and seeking someone to confide in. Visiting a talking therapist can be a good step, whether you see them regularly or just on a one-off basis. You may wish to find a private counselling service or access some of the free services, available through charities such as Counselling for Social Change and MIND.
    If we’re to be in this for the long haul, then we need to be well in mind, body and soul. So take the time to help yourself. If you’re in need of an extra boost, then try combining some or all of these tips, for example, getting out in nature, jogging in woodlands or by the sea, whilst listening to some of your favourite sounds. It can help you to ease the pain, anger and channel the passion and to use it effectively.
    Don’t ever feel guilty taking time to be with yourself. That’s not always easy, but it’s a lesson we must learn if we are to be here in good form for the billions of animals that need our support. Acknowledge what you’ve achieved. Take a moment to look back on what you’ve done, to appreciate your efforts, and to plan your next steps forward for helping make this society a better place. This will help to empower you and keep you going.
    Know that you are not the only one out there with the vision for a better world for animals, for a world filled with compassion. Know that it’s okay to break down at times. It’s what your soul needs to do in order to get back up and carry on spreading compassion. So keep striving for what is right and keep helping to create that change.

Useful activist resources

There are some fantastic activist resources out there to help you get by. Here are just a few books to check out:

  • ‘Striking at the Roots’ by Mark Hawthorne. An excellent book, including information on the ‘Active Approach’ to cope with burnout, which encompasses many of the suggestions made here
  • ‘Helping People Help Activists’ by Kim Stallwood
  • ‘Our Hen House’ blog, podcast, TV show and online resource for activists:

Sally Thompson is a freelance writer and activist

See also 20 Tips for Budding Activists

Taken from March/April 2015 (Issue 4) Vegan Life Magazine