As with any high paced, emotionally charged, or stressful job, activism is among one of the most highly taxing jobs there is.
Activism is a job that not only taxes one’s body and mind, but it usually pays little to nothing in the form of financial compensation for all the dedicated hard work one does.
As any dedicated activist within the MHRM will tell you, activism takes its toll both mentally and physically. Being aware of one’s limits is crucial to being an effective activist, as well as maintaining a healthy and positive life outside of your activism.
Burnout is quite high within the field of activism. Activists tend to take on the wrongs of the world and shoulder that weight on a daily basis. They tend to give so much time and energy to their cause or movement that they can easily become consumed by it and forget to take care of themselves while acting on behalf of others and for the cause.
In short, activists can be such dedicated, caring, and concerned individuals that it is easy to pour their heart and soul into their activism which can sometimes lead to frustration, mental and physical exhaustion, and even a sense that they are struggling without gain. Simply put, they suffer from activist burnout.
It’s easy for those of us within passionate and intense activist communities, such as the MHRM, to forget to take care of and look out for ourselves, our family, and even our colleagues.
But what is burnout? And how can you spot it before it’s too late?
Burnout is: *a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress accumulates, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to become an activist in the first place. It reduces your productivity and saps you of emotional energy, leaving you to feel increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give, not only to the cause, but to all other things in your life as well.
Burnout not only affects you mentally, but can also affect you physically which can make you vulnerable to illnesses such as colds or the flu. Because of the many negative consequences of burnout, it’s important to recognize and deal with it right away.
Knowing how to spot burnout is key to catching it before it’s too late to effectively treat it.
Because burnout is a gradual process that builds up over a prolonged period of time it is essential that you be aware of the signs and symptoms and remain vigilant, as burnout has a way of slowly creeping up on you when you are not paying attention.
So, what are the symptoms of burnout?
*Physical signs and symptoms:
- Feeling tired and drained most of the time, even after a good night’s sleep.
- Lowered immunity, feeling sick quite often
- Frequent headaches, back pain, and/or muscle aches
- A change in appetite and/or sleeping habits
*Emotional signs and symptoms:
- A sense of failure or self-doubt
- Feeling helpless, trapped, and/or defeated
- Detachment, feeling alone in the world
- Loss of motivation
- Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
- Decreased satisfaction or sense of accomplishment
*Behavioral signs and symptoms:
- Withdrawing from responsibilities
- Isolating one’s self from others
- Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
- Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
- Taking one’s frustrations out on others
- Skipping tasks and duties, arriving late and leaving early
Of course you may not have all of the symptoms mentioned, but If you recognize more than a few of these occurring on a regular basis, meaning more than one day a week, remember that it will only get worse if it is left unchecked. By taking positive proactive steps towards bringing your life back into a healthy balance, you can prevent burnout from becoming a full-blown breakdown.
These are a few simple and positive things you can do to maintain a healthy balance between your activism and life, and to help keep burnout from creeping up on you.
- *Start the day with a relaxing ritual. Rather than jumping out of bed and rushing headlong into your work as soon as you wake up, spend at least fifteen minutes meditating, writing in a journal, doing gentle stretches, having a warm shower, or reading something that inspires or motivates you. Any activity that is non-stressful and enjoyable should be worked into your early morning routine.
- *Adopt healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits. When you eat right, engage in regular physical activity, and get plenty of rest, you have the energy and resilience to deal with life’s hassles and demands. Make time to sit down and eat your meals at the table instead of on the go, schedule a 15-30 minute walk into your day, and make a sleep schedule for yourself that you will stick to.
- *Set boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to say “no” to requests on your time. If you find this difficult, remind yourself that saying “no” allows you to say “yes” to the things that you truly want to do.
- *Take a daily break from technology. Set a time each day when you completely disconnect for at least 30-45 minutes. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking your email. Use this time to take a walk, meditate, read a book, or any other enjoyable activity.
- *Nourish your creative side. Creativity is a powerful antidote to burnout. Try something new, start a fun project, or resume a favorite hobby. Choose activities that have nothing to do with work.
- *Learn how to manage stress.
When you’re on the way towards burnout, you may feel quite helpless. But you have a lot more control over all that stress than you may think. Learning how to manage stress with the above mentioned tips will help you prevent burnout, but sometimes it creeps up on you so slowly that it becomes too late to prevent it once you realize what has happened – you’ve already past the breaking point.
If this is the case, it’s important you take burnout very seriously. Once you go past the breaking point you are on the verge of a total breakdown, and trying to push through the exhaustion to continue on as you have been will only cause further emotional and physical damage, most usually in the form of a severe depression, anxiety or panic disorders, or even suicide. Trust me, it’s not a nice place to be.
While the tips I mentioned previously for helping to prevent burnout are still beneficial at the initial burnout stages, recovery at the breaking point of burnout requires additional steps and timely intervention by medical professionals.
When you are at the breaking point of burnout you need to:
- STOP! Stop everything stressful you are doing immediately
- Get support, reach out to others and do not isolate yourself
- Locate resources to help you cope and re-focus
There are many resources available online for coping with burnout, as well as on-line self-assessment tests to see if you are indeed on the verge of a burnout. But if you find that you, or someone you know, has slipped past the initial stages of burnout and into the zone of the breaking point, I highly suggest seeking professional help as soon as possible. Contact your local clinic, hospital, or call a 24 hour crisis line immediately in order to get the help you need. They can refer you to local professionals who are capable of helping you through it.
No one is immune to burnout, but we can all take steps each day to help promote a healthy lifestyle, positive outlook, and less stressful environment for us to maintain balance, and in turn that will make us all more effective as activists and champions for the cause.
*Sourced material via http://www.helpguide.org/mental/burnout_signs_symptoms.htm