Dealing With Activist and Cultural Burnout

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Currently, we’re experiencing an influx of world news which makes us feel helpless, unsafe and impassioned. To remain neutral through ignorance, acquiescence and denial is a dangerous folly which forfeits our power. However, overstraining our mental and emotional balance recklessly can also induce burnout.

How do we engage in cultural dialogue and socio-political activism without sacrificing our own well-being?

  1. Know What Your Limit Looks Like

“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.”
–Sylvia Plath

One way to know when we’ve overworked our personal and mental space is to remember what the status quo feels like. On some level, we must set a standard for our quality of life which cultivates experiences and behaviors we desire. When these behaviors and external patterns change, we can then feel the shift and recalibrate our daily lives.

For me, observing my sleep schedule and productivity level are two ways I gauge where I am on the pendulum. And it’s not just one extreme. Too much sleep or overworking are just as alarming for me, because I know what my norm feels like. There are tests out there which can help you evaluate whether your current state is indicative of burnout. In the end, however, only we can decide when we have activist or cultural burnout, and when we are engaging in a sustainable way.

  1. Get Curious, Ask Questions

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
–Albert Einstein

“What am I doing right before I go to bed?”
“What are my thoughts when I’m just lying down?”
“What is my social media activity looking like? What headlines, pictures and videos can I not get out of my head?”
“What am I avoiding when I wish I’d rather be doing nothing at all?”
“Which friends, family members or acquaintances am I thinking about a lot?”
“How are they doing? How are they making me feel at the moment?”
“When I think about changing something, what do I wish for? Is it my job? Is it where I live? Is it a relationship? Is it my diet? Is it just how I fucking feel?”
What am I feeling? Am I worried? Scared? Hopeless? Angry? Resigned? Overwhelmed? Depressed? Anxious?”
“Am I experiencing burnout?”

“What am I grateful for right now? Who am I grateful for right now?”
“What’s the smallest observation of my life that I enjoy exactly as it is?”
“Who do I want to talk to right now?”
“What’s my status quo again?”
“What am I like when I’m in my norm?”
“What are the books, the projects, the food and the habits that have comforted me before?”
“What small action can I accomplish that can be positive for me?”
“What small action can I accomplish that can be positive for the people I love?”
“Am I ready to think even farther or do I need more time?”

  1. Set Boundaries

“‘No’ is a complete sentence.”
–Anne Lamott

Once we initiate our litmus test, we can begin setting boundaries on our triggers, habits, reactions, and schedules. None of this requires an absolute dissolution of our engagement or participation. The world can feel like a sudden onslaught of negativity, but we can counter with far less dramatic moves, which tend to keep our functioning positive wheels in motion.

It’s not a betrayal to attend fewer events or digest fewer headlines, if we use the opportunity to recharge with a sense of purpose. As Suzanna Bobadilla and Kate Sim of Know Your IX attest, activism, information-sharing and cultural engagement is for our self-care. But so is meditation, rest and having fun. How and when we choose to cross those wires is up to us, and spectators should not have the final ruling.

  1. Be With Nature

“The earth has music for those who listen.”
–George Santayana

“I’ve learned that for the sake of self-care, sometimes I need to unplug and back away from news and social media,” said artist Jessi Jordan in an interview. “I go hug a loved one, count my blessings and go be in the quiet of my garden.”

The sentiment of disengaging from man-made concerns and immersing into nature has been repeated by more than a few mindful friends. Marianne Williams always muses that the reason we love yoga so much is because we don’t have to talk to anyone. That opportunity is free and it’s not incredibly difficult to obtain by some measure in our day. In this writing about burnout for cross-cultural workers, diagnosing the cause is broken down into three branches—social, system and self. So take them out of consideration for a bit. It can be the best motivation to get back into the arena.

  1. Get Back in the Arena

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”
– Audre Lorde

I kind of enjoy dichotomies. They’re very juicy and tend to be spiritual hotspots. The thing is, once I have cured burnout, I will want to challenge myself again. I will want to participate and contribute in a passionate and purposeful way. I can use my resources when they are in my deck, ready to play.

We are not alone and we are not wrong when we experience burnout. The ability to make empowered choices and attend to our self-care is exactly what we need when outsides forces want to strip it away from us. For that, we can begin again.

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