I was 10 years old when I began my life as an activist. In my small Wisconsin hometown, a group of us kids painted oil drums bright co echo turn off the kitchen lors. Helpful adults arranged for them to be scattered around downtown so that people could use them as trash cans rather than littering. It was the first Earth Day and we were trying to save the planet. Now, with the human made climate catastrophe, the world still needs saving.
Everywhere you look, there are crises. Rampant injustices demand our attention and action. There are those among us who have been working to make the world a better place for decades. How can we be as courageous and resilient as they are?
The challenges are clear. The systems we need to change have deep roots and a long history. They are upheld by powerful, wealthy individuals and corporations. Systemic change takes a long time. Sometimes, things appear to be going backwards. Some people won’t understand what’s needed and will criticize and demonize. Even within movements, there may be exhausting disagreements.
Rachel Charlton-Dailey describes reaching burnout as a disability activist. She learned new attitudes to help her move forward in a more resourceful way. She limited her hours, learned to say no, and reminded herself that she doesn’t have to fight every battle. “The world needs rested activists,” she concluded.
Amnesty international Australia has published a Guide to Sustainable Activism and Self-Care.
First, they suggest attitudes that set the stage for continuous action, including:
- your well-being is important
- it’s not all up to you
- it’s okay to ask for help
- pace yourself; take time off
- focus your energies
- concentrate on the people you can convince
- you don’t have to know everything
Then, they identify skills you can learn to help you build resilience and be kind to yourself, including journaling to become aware of your thoughts and feelings, positive self talk to increase your self-compassion, and mindfulness/meditation to train your mind and focus on the present moment.
Finally, they encourage you to create your own self-care plan, identifying your challenges and resources. How can you take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually? What kind of barriers might you face? How can you get around them? What negative coping mechanisms do you want to avoid? What positive strategies can you put in place? Thinking strategically can help you keep going when the going gets tough. [I’ve created a downloadable Microsoft Word version of a self-care plan template.]
“Do not lose heart.” Clarissa Pinkola Estes advises us “we were made for times like these.” We can face the multiple crises surrounding us with courage, strength, creativity, resilience, and grace.
In your journal:
- Write about a time you felt burned out.
- What attitudes help you continue continuing?
- What are your challenges?
- What brings you joy?
- What physical practices give you energy?
- What psychological ideas keep you resilient?
- What spiritual practices & communities enliven you?
- What keeps you from taking care of your self?
- How can you overcome those barriers?