Whether you’re protesting in rallies, organizing walk-outs, or educating yourself and others, advocating against factory farming can be exhausting work. Due to the emotional nature of activism as well as the magnitude of the issues that activists are fighting for, burnout—or the loss of motivation and capacity to continue working—is common in activist groups. People with plant-based diets experience stronger empathetic reactions to animal suffering than omnivores and, with a recent case study from Sweden identifying five different types of emotional labor typical in the lives of animal advocates, it can be easy for activists to feel overwhelmed.
Taking care of yourself is a vital aspect of preserving your health and capacity to work for positive change. Self care can be defined as “taking steps to tend to your physical and emotional health needs to the best of your ability” and is incredibly important, especially for activists. Let’s dive into a few key ways that activists can practice self care:
Quite often, I find myself multi-tasking by checking emails or working on projects while eating or watching TV, activities that I’ve designated as unproductive. As activists, a lot of us feel pressure to constantly be making progress. In fact, a 2018 study of activist burnout found that the majority of animal activists reported that “their personality and dedication to the cause led them to overwork themselves, and they generally found it hard to stop thinking about the level of animal abuse that occurs on a daily basis.”
That’s why it’s crucial for us to take time to clear our minds, rest, and recharge. Spend an hour a day watching a TV show you love, sharing a lighthearted conversation with a friend, or settling down with a good book.
You are absolutely not alone in your activism; there are so many incredibly motivated people who are fighting for the same cause as you are. Look locally or online to find activist circles that you can join and share your wins, struggles, and doubts with.
For me, being able to lean on my communities for support in my activism as well as bond with others over shared experiences has enhanced my journey as an activist and helped me better my mental health. I feel so reassured knowing that there are people I can talk to who care about the same issues as I do.
Time management is a difficult skill to master, especially when you have urgent tasks on your mind. It can feel tempting to avoid spending precious time on activities you deem as less important than your activism. But, splitting your days up and allotting time for both work and fun is vital to allow yourself the space to relax. Spend time working on hobbies, bonding with loved ones, and being spontaneous in addition to your activist work. Don’t feel guilty for spending time away from activism or even taking breaks: knowing your limits and prioritizing yourself makes you a better activist.
Practicing mindfulness is also a key way of fighting burnout. Mindfulness is the practice of being aware and present in the moment as well as acknowledging your thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness helps us be intentional about how our thoughts and actions are contributing to our goals and overall well-being. Taking time to pause throughout the day and be mindful rather than rushing from task to task can help you feel more centered and allow you to better balance everything going on in your busy life.
Social media sites are specifically designed to keep you hooked and scrolling for hours on end. Harvard University finds that social media platforms “take advantage of [a] dopamine-driven learning strategy” by “implement[ing] a reward pattern optimized to keep you engaged as much as possible.” This creates a dopamine loop of internet users seeking the instant gratification provided by Instagram likes, attention-grabbing captions, and shocking photos. Breaking away from this feedback loop requires distancing yourself from these dopamine-inducing online interactions.
Step away from social media every now and then to clear your head. While you can find many supportive, like-minded people online, the internet is also full of haters and trolls that can easily drain your energy. Make sure you avoid getting stuck in the rabbitholes of Instagram or Twitter and, instead, spend time away from social networking sites. Setting screentime limits on certain apps can be a helpful way to remind yourself to unplug. You can also get rid of notifications for social media apps to avoid distractions or make your account private so only friends and family can reach you. No matter how you go about it, disengaging from the internet is a great way to cleanse your mind from the stress and negativity found in some parts of the online world.
Overworking yourself will always take a toll on your health—both mentally and physically. Saying no can be difficult, but don’t feel guilty when you have to decline certain opportunities or asks. Make sure you understand what you’re capable of and set boundaries for yourself to ensure that you remain comfortable with what you’re doing. Spreading yourself thin will only result in less time spent on each of your tasks and in lower quality work.
All in all, it’s imperative that you prioritize your own needs and take care of yourself so that you can continue to be the inspiring, changemaking activist that you are! Allow yourself the time to relax, refuel, and recharge in order to be your best self. You deserve it.