Sustain your activism.
Take care of yourself.
Burnout is natural and understandable for activists of color.
And because burnout can undermine your well-being and activist work, here are some strategies to prevent burnout, take care of yourself, and sustain your activism.
1. Is it really okay to take care of myself?
Activists can feel that they must always be selfless, especially activists of color who are resisting racism and systems of oppression.
“Time that I’m using for self-care is time that I’m not resisting these oppressive systems.”
But could taking care of yourself also be part of resistance?
Could taking care of yourself promote well-being and fuel your activism?
Yes and yes! Taking care of yourself is very important for people of color who deal with the consequences of oppression everyday. And taking care of yourself means you're better able to sustain effective activism!
2. Practice noticing signs of approaching burnout
Awareness of burnout:
Sometimes we go into autopilot and forget to notice how we're doing. We may not even realize we're burnt out until the impact forces us to notice.
- Practice identifying signs of burnout (see section: What is burnout?)
- Practice noticing your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and behaviors.
- How do they relate?
- How do your daily activities affect them?
- Notice activities or responsibilities that push your limits.
- Everyone has their own well with different levels of water.
- We all have limited water in our "wells."
How much water are you using?
3. Refill your well: Nourish yourself and your activism
Here are some potential strategies to refill your well, take care of yourself, and resist approaching burnout.
Given the nature of oppressive systems, it's only natural for activists of color to feel pressure for their work to be “everything” or be “perfect.”
- Notice thoughts you have about what it means to be an activist:
- Are you hard on yourself?
- Does your work have to be perfect?
Can self-compassion be an act of resistance?
- Can your activist work be “good enough”?
- Can the small steps matter?
- Can you allow yourself to be human?
Make conscious choices about how you use your limited energy
You have limited water in your well. How are you using this water?
- Notice what areas of your activism, or life in general, make you feel most energized. Are there ways to maximize this energy?
- Do you see areas where you need to set some boundaries?
- Are there areas where you could say “Let me think about it” or “I’ll pass for now”?
- Make actionable goals, considering the "water" you have in your specific well.
- People have different contexts, but what goals are reasonable in your context?
- (See section: 4. Sustain your activism)
- Make your activism do-able and connected to your life. Are there ways to integrate activism and your activist values into areas of your life that already exist?
- For example, if you're a student and you already spend time at school, are there ways to integrate activism at school or in your schoolwork?
- Or, if you're an artist, could you create activist art?
- Intentionally find activities that feel meaningful or nourishing, and allow you to take space from your work as needed.
Refill your well. Nourish yourself.
Community and social support
- Surround yourself with people that you trust
- Do these people affirm your identity and values?
- Support may feel different when it comes from people who share our primary oppressed identities and those who don't.
- Notice when it's helpful to surround yourself with folks who share these identities (i.e., affinity groups)
- Notice when it's helpful to surround yourself with folks who don't share these identities but want to support them (i.e., allies)
- Healthy sleep as possible
- Healthy eating as possible
- Exercise as possible
- Watch a funny movie
- Listen to music
4. Sustain your activism
Noticing the thoughts, emotions, and environmental factors that contribute to burnout can help you:
- Consider the internal and external resources you have (i.e., water in your well)
- Make intentional, meaningful choices on where to put these resources
- Sustain your activism
Steps for sustainable activist work:
- Establish a long-term goal that could address some portion of the systemic issue you care about (e.g. racism)
- Define short-term goals and targets to address this long-term goal
- Consider choosing goals that connect to your values and will feel meaningful or nourishing, especially when you are already stretched so thin.
- Identify specific strategies and tactics (based on your internal and external resources)
- Try to see your activism work as important small steps, and notice urges to be "perfect" or "do everything"
- At every step, remember to take care of yourself and have self-compassion
- Model to other activists of color what it looks like to take care of yourself and "refill your well." When other activists of color can interrupt burnout and sustain their activism, we all win!