In the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc, forcing people to become advocates for their health and well-being. Issues such as inequalities in distribution of vaccines, and access to healthcare, have also come under the spotlight. Moreover, the last two years have seen a renewed push for movements such as the Black Lives Matter movement, after George Floyd was killed by a police officer in the US, the end SARS movement, and in protests against sexual harassment. Large scale public participation marks the wins that these movements have seen. People have come together to try to make the world a little better—but people are also tired. Many people are facing advocacy fatigue and burnout.
Often, burnout and advocacy fatigue is accepted as an inevitable part of being involved in activism. However, this is not true, and burnout should be seen as a warning sign that your body needs to be respected. It can be seen as an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-prioritise, to develop more sustainable and healthy working methods. Here are some ways of doing this.
For Nisha Anand, a human rights activist, taking out time for self reflection is paramount to her well-being, “Plain uninterrupted space to sit with ideas and think through hard things is what I’ve discovered really helps my fatigue”.
For some, it is easy to get caught up in the action of things, be it organising, attending protests, advocating for policy changes, and more. The identity of being an activist can be all-consuming. For others, burnout can manifest as losing track of their priorities, and starting to question whether there is any point to engaging in the work that they do. In such situations, setting out some time to reflect on one’s actions can be useful. This can help one come up with ideas on how to further the cause they are working on, as well as plan how they can balance their well-being with their work.
Taking a Break
Activism, especially when it pertains to one’s own identity, can be exhausting. Constantly having to explain to others that you deserve to live a fulfilling life and have the right to access the same facilities is difficult and sometimes demoralising. The idea that one has to be fully committed to their work at all times to be a good activist is an easy trap to fall into. However, it could not be farther from the truth. Taking breaks is a great way to cope with the fatigue that this kind of work can bring.
Haben Girma, Human rights lawyer, author, and speaker, feels that advocacy fatigue is a “dangerous mix of isolation and exhaustion”. For her, connecting with friends, dancing, playing with her dog, and eating delicious food are some things that help her recover. “Schedule activities that bring you joy into your calendar. Don’t wait for advocacy fatigue to set in. When you practice self-care, you are also role modelling it for others”, she adds.
Talking to people in one’s community, who are passionate about the same issues can be immensely helpful. It can help make one feel less alone in their fight, and be a good way to share resources, be that contact information for therapists or their best self-care tips. Finding community can also help further your cause immensely. According to Anand, being kind to oneself and all the people who are working alongside is paramount, “We must build a beloved community on a national and global scale – but that ultimately starts with each of us, with our fellow activists, and in our own communities.”
The fight for justice involves immense emotional investment. But one needs to draw boundaries essential for their well-being. “Social justice is a lifelong pursuit. Pace yourself”, concludes Anand.
Written by Nayanika Guha