How to Create Change While Burnt-out

Activism, Burnout/Mental Health

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Our goal is to provide you with the support and resources you need to avoid or heal from burnout. But with overwhelming animal abuse and exploitation; endless activist work; and poor support systems, it’s understandable why so many people experience compassion fatigue/burnout.

When you’re feeling burnt-out, the solution is not to ‘just push through it.’ This will eventually make the problem much worse. We need to understand the unique causes of our burnout and create adjustments in our lives. Even though pushing through burnout is not the solution, it can also be counterproductive to completely stop your activism. We want to find a happy middle ground: engage in activism that is effective and fulfilling, that also gives you the time/space to heal. Below are some ideas of ways to find that balance.

1. Take a moment to think about why you’re feeling burnt-out. Have you been working too many hours without taking time to care for yourself? Have you been doing work that you don’t really enjoy? Have you been doing work that doesn’t seem to fit with your skillset? Is the work you’ve been doing too emotionally or physically exhausting? Are you lacking a strong support network?

Understanding the reason behind your feelings is crucial. It points to whether the solution is self-care, different types of activism, stronger support networks, or something else.

2. Experiment with different types of activism. Many activists fall into a particular type of activism when they first get started (usually legal direct action campaigns or outreach) and often stay with that same activism for years. This can be fine, but it can also mean that activists aren’t doing work that is most suited to their personality, skillset, and life. Our movement needs a diversity of tactics. There is nothing wrong with some people finding protests draining; there is something wrong with sticking to that form of activism out of habit or pressure and then burning out.

Broadly speaking, there are four different types of activism (you can read more about them here):

  • Direct action. Ex: protests, targeted campaigns, animal rescues, economic sabotage, etc.
  • Outreach. Ex: leafletting, postering, workshops, movie screenings, etc.
  • Support. Ex: providing support to the movement through activist trainings, free legal/graphic/web services, etc.
  • Organizing. Ex: focusing a group of activists to make them more effective.

Try your hand at different types. If you are a skilled graphic designer, you may find that your time is better spent doing support or organizing work than it is holding a sign at a protest. If you’re someone with a lot of energy, you may find direct action or outreach to be more your shtick.

3. Diversify your passions. Many activists find it helpful to become involved in other social justice causes as well. Exploring other issues and causes can be refreshing and can help to create more balance in your activism. From a strategic standpoint, it is also important for the movement. Involvement in other social movements can help inform our animal rights activism; can inspire new tactics and approaches; can make our work more well-rounded; and can help us reach new demographics.

4. Focus on small, concrete accomplishments. For most people, starting a huge campaign while feeling burnt-out is a quick way to empty your tank. Instead, do small things that you know are helpful and that you’ll see an outcome for immediately.

Bake a cake for another activist. Go hand out 100 leaflets. Talk to a friend about going veg. Write a letter to a political prisoner. Volunteer for the day at an animal sanctuary. Organize a potluck for your group. Notice and celebrate these accomplishments.