Engaging in work that seeks to improve some aspect of the lives of others, society or a particular area of society is healthy on many levels. Aside from lending yourself to a particular cause, this type of work enable individuals to get out of their own heads, the benefits of which are countless. Despite this, avoiding burnout is no small feat after going at the daily grind for months or years. So how do you know if you you may be burned out from activism?
Symptoms of burnout may include any of the following:
Your symptoms of burnout may include one or some of the following:
• Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness or cynicism
• Non-enjoyment of activities you once enjoyed
• Inability to concentrate or stay focused
• Difficulty making decisions
• Fatigue, lethargy or other physical effects
• Inability to get motivated to work
Remedies for Burnout
The following are just a few measures and attitudes you can adopt and hone to help prevent or cope with activism burnout:
• Maintain meaningful relationships with activist colleagues.
• Live one day at a time so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. You can only accomplish so much in a day, so set realistic goals.
• Make sure to use your unique set of talents in your activism work.
• Engage in those work activities that you find enjoyable and those at which you are effective so that “work” becomes more like creative play doing work that is transformed into creative play.
• Engage in those work activities that you find enjoyable and those at which you are effective so that “work” becomes more like creative play.
• Prioritize your activities and start on the more important items first
• Avoid spreading yourself too thin. Cut back on certain commitments and activities so that you can do those you choose to focus on better.
• Focus on where your work started for particular cause and the progress you have made, as opposed to where you’d like to be in your activism work. Bill Moyer’s Movement Action Plan outlines the progress in social movements not always recognized over the course of change. His plan calls attention to how little progress would have taken place without our efforts, thereby underscoring we do have an “influence,” if not always so-called “success.”
• Accept that feelings of sadness or despair around your work and/or causes are legitimate and normal, Maintain hope by recalling your personal, group or movement accomplishments.
• Participate in a workshop related to activism in general, or one more specific to your cause.
• Accept that is not always possible to control everything in your work and personal life.
• Take time to participate in activities that rejuvenate the self.
A Call to Prisoners’ Rights Warriors: Fighting the Burnout
As a prisoners’ rights advocate I get tired. Some days, the projects I work on seem so large and unwieldy. They just seem too troublesome or cumbersome to get off the ground. And worst of all, it becomes harder and harder to convince others — those who will benefit from the movements I work on — that the movements are actually in their best interest. Suffice it to say, I get tired and worn down. At times I suffer from the type of burnout that even Red Bull and a pack of Marlboros won’t cure (since my prison’s commissary sells neither, imagine the state that I’m regularly in!).
When I feel like this it can be easy to take a day off. Heck, a few days off. But when I do, I feel bad about being lazy and unproductive. I take a look around after sleeping in and realize that the extra time in the rack was a failure, not only a failure to my morning, but a failure to those around me who are in need. I realize that as a prisoners’ rights advocate — one who certainly agitates for reform — my life and my time are more than just mine. They are a collective property. And as a collective property, personal whims or feelings (like fatigue or boredom) shouldn’t even enter the equation when scheduling my day and week. Thus, I push myself to get back to the grindstone. But sometimes the grindstone grinds not the sword, but my very being.
I have heard from others in the prison reform movement that they get worn out too. A friend recently shut down a longstanding prisoner newsletter because she just couldn’t summon the energy to sort through another batch of prisoner letters, most of which wanted something from her. She was burnt out, she said. And now the newsletter is on hold after five years of successful outreach.
To combat this burnout, I try to vary my projects as much as I can. For example, when I’m working on a book project and just can’t stay focused, I’ll switch to a blog project. Or, when I’m neck deep in a huge blogging project and just can’t take it anymore, I’ll pick up a content aggregation project. And when I can’t stand reading other’s articles on prison reform, quoting from them, and analyzing them, I’ll work on my own studies. After all, the best resource that I have to offer is me, and the knowledge which I possess. Thus, developing my knowledge and skills is an investment in the movement, an investment in those I serve.
What I’ve found is that variety helps to keep me going. Asking for a helping hand also helps tremendously. Even collaboration can be a lifesaver. The point is simple: when you feel the effects of burnout approaching, vary your routine. When you want to lay it down, find a different angle or a different project that also fulfills the overall mission. And when you just don’t know where to go or what to do, ask someone you trust — someone in the prison advocacy community. Chances are, those of us out there in the trenches with you will have just the right spot for you to fill.
Read the entire article on Prison Law Blog.