Activism & Burnout: The Cliff Notes
Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in situations that are emotionally demanding. Burnout makes you a less effective activist, and it can adversely affect those around you and the organizations we work within. While burning out is part of a process of growth and involvement and is often accepted as a byproduct of activism, we can work to support ourselves and others so we are more effective and healthy. Burnout is the way your body and heart communicate your limits to you, and it is important to listen to and respect that. We can use burnout as an opportunity to reevaluate, prioritize and to develop more sustainable and healthy working styles—burnout doesn’t have to be a break down; it can be a break through!
Symptoms of Burnout: The Rating Scale*
Think over the past 3 months and score the following questions according to how often you have experienced these symptoms.
0 =Never 1 =Very rarely 2 =Rarely 3 =Sometimes 4 =Often 5 =Very often
1. Do you feel fatigued in a way that rest or sleep does not relieve?
2. Do you feel more cynical, pessimistic or disillusioned about things you used to feel positive about?
3. Do you feel a sadness or emptiness inside?
4. Do you have physical symptoms of stress, eg insomnia, stomach pains, headaches, migraines?
5. Is your memory unreliable?
6. Are you irritable or emotional with a short fuse?
7. Have you been more susceptible to illness lately, eg colds, flu, food allergies, hay fever?
8. Do you feel like isolating yourself from colleagues, friends or family?
9. Is it hard to enjoy yourself, have fun, relax and experience joy in your life?
10. Do you feel that you are accomplishing less in your work?
0 - 15 You are doing well.
16 - 25 Some attention needed, you may be a candidate.
26 - 35 You are on the road to burnout. Make changes now.
36 - 50 Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
The symptoms of burnout, or even of self-care, are sometimes interpreted by ourselves or others as “being a bad activist”. Withdrawal, disillusionment, short emotional fuses, and opting out of some activities can become stigmatized. Recognizing burnout and supporting each other is integral to a long-term, sustainable movement.
*Taken from ACLU’s Social Change Training, by Katrina Sheilds.
Strategies for Self-care
Strategies to Create a Sustainable Activist Culture
In the end, no individual solution fits all situations. Find the combination that suits your needs and the needs of your group, experiment, invent, enjoy.
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