Activist Burn-Out Is Real

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You’ve lost your voice three weekends in a row, following Obama across the country, protesting the Keystone Pipeline. You are tired of feeling obligated to explain your identities to privileged audiences. Your soul hurts every morning when you watch the mainstream media glorify perpetrators and shame victims. The skin on your hands are raw from sustainable urban farming part-time after your 9 to 5 job. You feel like a hypocrite for not always living your values 100% of the time.

You’re frustrated with our political system, consumerism, racism, sexism, able-ism, look-ism, transphobia, violence, nationalism, reproductive justice, restrictive definitions of sexuality, the 1%, labor exploitation, immigration reform, bi-partisanship…..

You are tired of seeing injustice everywhere you look — and its quite possible you might explode.


Breathe! This is quite normal (and I don’t throw that word around carelessly.) Your voice is needed, and the best way to ensure that you will stick around for your cause(s) is to rejuvenate. Activists have a tendency to take-on a role of strength. But being strong all the time is surely exhausting. Managing your activist psyche will help prevent burn-outs that can result in giving up, anxiety and depression. Remind yourself of the wise words of Audre Lorde:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Whether your exhaustion is mental, physical or emotional, here are a few tips to help survive bouts of activist burn-out:

1. Disconnect and Unplug:

Twitter and Facebook prove to be effective tools for organizing movements and sharing information. The constant connection to the happenings of the world surmounts to a stimulation overload in which one article leads to the next and, before you know it, you’ve covered most of the global news. As activists, we see injustice in many places, which makes wandering around the Internet an especially dangerous activity. Maybe you can go without it for a weekend?

2. Remember Why You Love What You Do:

This may appear obvious, yet, I think this is indispensable to happiness. Think about it. Come up with  something other than “because it’s the right thing to do.”

Is it the sense of community? Is it the poster-making? Is it the political aspects? Is it the phone-banking? The graphic design? The excitement? The rallying? The planning? The brainstorming? The fundraising?

3. Sleep:

And plenty of it. Liquids, too.

Listen to your body and give it what it needs.

4. Make Sure You Have Support Both In & Outside Activist Communities:

How can you complain about your non-profit’s CEO if you don’t have friends who work outside of the company? How can you rant about institutionalized racism if your friends do not understand the language you are using?

Maintain networks of support!

5. Baby Steps:

If all of the world’s problems could be solved with the wave of a hand, it would have been done. As an activist, you are up against strong forces such as money and bigotry. Things will not move forward as fast as you want them to. Appreciate the small gains. In fact, celebrate them!

6. Why So Serious?:

Yes, there are a lot of awful awful forms of oppression happening in this world. But don’t forget to unwind, kick it with the homies, and watch bad television. Go ahead, read Tina Fey’s Bossypants.

“If we want a world in which you can tell jokes and get massages and have sex and dress however you fucking well please, then we have to create a form of activism that reflects that, and have fun while we’re doing it.” –Gloria Steinem told Mother Jones



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Here are some helpful links about activist burn-out:

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