“Burnout is defined, and subjectively experienced, as a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in situations that are emotionally demanding. The emotional demands are often caused by a combination of very high expectations and chronic situational stresses. Burnout is accompanied by an array of symptoms including physical depletion, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, disillusionment and the development of negative self-concept and negative attitudes towards work, people and life itself. In its extreme form, burnout represents a breaking point beyond which the ability to cope with the environment is severely hampered.”
(Source: Career Burnout – Causes and Cures, Ayala Pines and Elliott Aronson, The Free Press 1998)
Here are some warning signs to pay attention to in yourself and in your colleagues:
- Low energy, exhaustion, a feeling of being ‘depleted’ or not having the energy to do work tasks you once were excited about
- A feeling of dread, anxiety and restlessness about your work
- A feeling of pointlessness or uselessness that you didn’t used to feel about your work
- Anger or feelings of crankiness towards colleagues that you didn’t use to have
Burnout is a real thing and frequently happens amongst those working on challenging issues, in difficult contexts, and in high stress environments. Burnout is a political and a movement issue. Committed activists drop out the feminist movement because they experience burnout. Besides, it is not something that only affects the person who suffers it, but it negatively affects the organization or collective as a whole. Avoiding burnout includes a mix of managing workload and engaging in good self care practices. However it is also an opportunity to be cautious, reevaluate, reprioritise and develop more sustainable and healthy working methods.
What can you do to avoid feeling burned out?
Avoiding burnout includes a mix of managing workload and engaging in good self care practices. In addition to the practices mentioned above (for collective and individual self care measures), see below some recommendations on how to avoid burn out:
- Re-evaluate priorities: Burn-out is a sign that something in your life may not be working. However, burnout can be an opportunity to rediscover what makes you happy, to slow down and to give you some valuable time to heal and reconnect with yourself. Take time to think about your goals, dreams, and hopes. Is there anything that you have neglected? Find balance in your life: Focus on the parts of your life that bring you joy.
- Unplug yourself: Technology is crucial to our work, but can also become your worst enemy. Being bombarded with emails from work on your phone causes unnecessary stress, especially in the evenings and weekend. Consider setting your email notifications on your phone so they require you to manually update, rather than getting automatic so YOU are in control.
- Consider joining a non-activist group/activity: If you have burnout, consider joining a group that does not include an activist agenda. It could be a book club, an eco-food consumer group or a yoga class. Whatever you choose it may be of an activity that allows you to take a break from your activist work and find rewards in a less political environment.
- ASK FOR HELP: You do not have to get over this alone. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it, seek it out, talk to your colleagues and friends for some advice and thoughts on how to overcome a tough stage of life. Join a face-to-face or online support group or visit a therapist. There is absolutely NO SHAME in seeking help.
- Eat healthy: What we put in our bodies have a big impact on our mood and energy levels. Try to follow a healthy diet, sit down and enjoy each meal and drink lot of water to keep hydrated. On the other hand, exercising is a powerful antidote to stress and burnout, despite it may be the last thing you feel like doing. Aim to exercise 30 minutes per day or more, you will see the positive effects in your mood and mental health!
- Remind yourself why the feminist cause is so important for you: Consider coming back to your initial roots as an activist. Why and how you did you become a feminist? When did you start recognizing oppression and inequality? What turned you into an activist? Reconnecting to your beginning as an activist may help you to keep working and pull yourself up, even if your initial cause and an current work have a different focus.
- Seek out the positive: When it comes to patriarchy smashing we are often surrounded by violence and negative emotions and stories. Thus it is crucial to seek out positive stories of our struggles and work in among the unbearable stories of injustice, inequality and violence. Every week find stories that reflect the positive effects of your work. It is really important to remember the victories resulting from the work and activism we do.
- Find feminist folks in the real world: We work and are connected in a virtual world. Everytime we meet in person as a team, we see the positive effects of being together as colleagues, friends and fellow activists. However, you might not be involved in a ‘real life’ community of activists. Spend some time with feminists and activists in your area and let them inspire you. Meet them, dine with them, debate and discuss some pressing issues; you will find the experience very rewarding.
Some additional readings:
- Trying to Avoid Burnout and Still Help Others? How Intersectionality Is the Key
- Stop The Glorification Of The Busy: Why Burnout Syndrome Is The New Disease Of The Century
- What I Wish I Had Known: Burnout and Self-Care in Our Social Work Profession
- Mirror, mirror on the wall: how did I get so f***ing terrified of it all?
- Five Myths that Perpetuate Burnout Across Nonprofits
- Mental Health Functioning in the Human Rights Field: Findings from an International Internet-Based Survey, Amy Joscelyne, Sarah Knuckey, Margaret L. Satterthwaite, Richard A. Bryant, Meng Li, Meng Qian, Adam D. Brown
- 7 Ways Major Gift Officers (and Anyone Else) Can Avoid Burnout
Do you have a story of burnout to share with us? Something that you, your colleague or a loved one experienced that should reach more people? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will publish it on our website.