Activism can be very satisfying, especially when change for social causes becomes visible, even if its minuscule. This is because in most cases, policy or attitude changes take a long time but there are stepping stone advances along the way.
Unfortunately, even with the minimal gains, sometimes these gains come almost to naught when retrogressive phases take us back ten, fifty, ninety steps backwards depending on the ever changing environment.
As activists, we push ourselves beyond limits in order to keep the momentum by not letting up. We derive satisfaction by staying on top, pre-empting possible setbacks and staying steadfastly proactive. Sometimes all the tides suck us in and when a breakthrough doesn’t come, we conclude that we are not working hard enough. So we put in even more.
To a great extent, burnout is sometimes generally accepted as a by-product of being involved in activism. Burnout can manifest itself in forms of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion which come about after long term involvement in situations that are emotionally demanding.
As is human nature too, we as activists have a tendency to dip into sometimes, feelings of near helplessness and exasperation. In those moments, life goes sour and we lose our spark, we stop having a life, or any fun, and we stop being any fun to be with.
However, we can look at burnout as a sense an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-prioritize, in order to develop more sustainable and fulfilling expectations. Taking small bites and lowering expectations also reduces chances of burn-out.
It is easier said than done, but once in a while we need to take a break from work and get away from all the madness. No emails, phone calls, facebooking, google alerts and all the shebang. Impossible? Maybe. But it can be done. These breaks are best timed, before, during or after big actions and work sessions. This is in order to aim for a balance that is right for your needs.
Another way which is almost impossible, even for me, as I write this down, is to stop feeling like you have to be involved in every action, that touches your heart and makes you want to pull your hair out.
For example, currently happening for me right now, there are various calls for international action that I am joining in; the stoning to death of a pregnant woman in Pakistan by her family in the name of ‘honour killing’; the gang rape and hanging of a 14 and 15 year old girls in a village in India; the imprisonment of a Sudanese woman on charges of refusing to denounce her Christian faith for Islam (she has subsequently given birth to her baby in a prison cell); continued imprisonment and witch-hunt of LGBT people across African states from Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon and Zambia; the impunity of terrorist militia – from Boko Haram in Nigeria to Al Shabaab in Kenya …..and a few other petitions.
Last but certainly not least, is adopting sustainability coping mechanisms. As activists, we invest in long-term involvement and demanding situations. We can cope by releasing emotions that these situations create. This can be through support networks, co-counselling, sport, sex, being in nature…basically anything that takes your mind off work and helps bring out the best in yourself and those around you.
When we do this, we are able to face-up to disappointment, anger, pain, stress, fears…all the while, being compassionate about our causes and about others.