Have you ever noticed that the more you engage with social issues the more problems you seem to uncover? The more you learn about how interlaced all these issues are, the more they seem to proliferate before your eyes. Feeling overwhelmed about human rights issues and climate change is natural; our minds aren’t programmed to cope with such existential and complex topics.
Say you have an interest in veganism because you are against the unnecessary slaughter of animals, but the more you learn about veganism, the more you learn about how humans are ravaging the environment. And the more you learn about this environmental destruction the more you learn about how marginalized communities are already bearing the brunt of climate change. And the more you learn about climate justice the more you learn about other racial injustices, colonialism, and how white supremacy is inherent to the foundation of America.
You have now been effectively red-pilled (which, by the way, is a concept created by transwomen that has now been largely co-opted by incels…more despair). What you choose to do with your new worldview is important. For many, self-education and sharing posts online are the only forms of ‘activism’ accessible, particularly during a global pandemic. While this type of activism is not dangerous or physically demanding as compared to other types, rapidly acquiring such knowledge and learning about the vast horrors of the world can be overwhelming and lead to burnout.
The four stages of burnout are easily mappable along the lines of online activism.
Stage 1: Enthusiasm. The individual possesses a virtuous desire to learn about the issue or issues in question. They might spend hours reading theory and statistics on the topics; they might share this information with their friends and family on social media or in conversation. They have an intrinsic desire to help.
Stage 2: Stagnation. The individual might continue learning about the issues, but less rapidly as their mind becomes oversaturated with new information. They might start to realize that their peers and family aren’t as receptive to these ideas as they are. They may stop posting as much.
Stage 3: Frustration. The individual’s frustration might stem from a lack of interest in the issues from their peers and family. Alternatively, the frustration might be a result of the individual’s own perceived powerless or the perceived futility of their desires to see change.
Stage 4: Apathy. The individual may stop posting about the issues and researching new information about them. They might give up on conversations with others and give up hope for change.
If you catch yourself going through the stages of burnout, here are some tips to help remedy the feelings of frustration and disillusionment and prevent those feelings from accumulating so quickly.
1. Understand your privilege
If the recent Black Lives Matter protests were your first instance of learning about racist police brutality or if the COVID-19 was the first you’re learning about America’s perilous healthcare system, you are privileged. Yes, you might feel overwhelmed learning so much new information about racism, classism, transphobia, and all the other problems plaguing humanity – and that’s okay. Just remember that if passively learning about these issues through social media or dialogue is overwhelming, think about how exhausted and dejected people who actually have to live through these experiences must be. While the rest of these tips can help you overcome this sort of “compassion fatigue,” let your privilege be a reminder to keep pushing yourself to learn more, have difficult conversations with your family, and attend more protests.
2. Practice regular self-care
This one is a classic – and for good reason! As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself so you can help others. The best part of self-care is that it can be specific to your own tastes: paint, call your friend, exercise, bake bread. Take part in any activity that reminds you of the joy of life. The control self-care gives you might also make you feel more in control and optimistic about the future. Here are some other ideas of how to treat yourself!
3. Periodically surround yourself with people Cameron Thomsenwho share similar values
No, this doesn’t mean get lost in an echo-chamber! Difficult discussions with dissenting opinions are crucial to activism. However, sometimes dealing with so much negativity and bad faith arguments can be draining. Give yourself time to discuss issues with people who share your opinions on animal rights, racial justice, and healthcare. These conversations can reinvigorate you and remind you why you began caring about these issues in the first place. Similarly, they’ll remind you that you are not alone, change is possible. If you are struggling to find people who share similar values, there are plenty of online communities that can be a great space too.
4. Similarly, know when you are wasting your time
Sometimes it’s hard to know when to draw the line. Of course, we should push ourselves to have critical conversations with others, but be mindful of whether or not someone is actually receptive to listening to your ideas. If you are feeling drained and can tell someone is dragging out the conversation with no intent to actually listen and learn, just don’t waste your time. You’ll end up feeling dejected and frustrated.
5. Learn opposing facts and talking points
Learn your argument so well that you can recite facts and stats unemotionally. Although many of the issues worth fighting for are emotionally charged, giving into that emotion makes debating more difficult and can ultimately weaken your impact and stress you out. Emotional argumentation can actually activate the fight or flight response of your sympathetic nervous system. This activation can lead to increased heart rate, sweating, and release of stress hormones like cortisol. Chronic stress can lead to serious complications such as mental heal issues, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Trying to take some of the emotion out of the conversation can benefit your health and stress levels and also make you a more effective debater. If you are engaged in a heated discussion with someone, you can activate your calming parasympathetic nervous system by switching to slow, modulated breathing.
When you need to get your emotions out, try journaling. Journaling has proven to be extremely beneficial to one’s self-awareness. Reflecting on why these issues matter to you will reinforce why you are fighting for them and will inspire you to keep advocating in favor of them. Similarly, writing out your feelings and emotions is incredibly cathartic and has been shown to reduce stress.
Remember that you can be kind to yourself and attend to your personal needs while continuing to deal with difficult issues. With so many injustices in the world feeling overwhelmed and powerless is understandable, but it’s imperative that we all keep learning about these issues and fighting for justice.
- What Is Compassion Fatigue and What You Can Do to Avoid Burn Out
- #BlackLivesMatter: Black Climate Activists Share their Struggles Amid Protests
- New Zealand to Include Climate Change, Activism, and “Eco-Anxiety” Curriculum in Schools
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