How to avoid activist burnout

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How to avoid activist burnout




I'm an activist in my early 20s who is involved with No One Is Illegal (NOII) and the community of people advocating for those with no legal status in Canada. I spend my free time helping out in many ways and I feel I'm starting to get burned out. Lots of actions are coming up, and we also respond to various crises as they occur, like people being arrested and deported.
My problem is I've committed to a number of tasks, such as preparing press releases, flyering, and organizing some upcoming actions. I find I have no time to chill out anymore, since all my friends are involved in this too, we never just hang out. At the same time, there are people who need us and I can't just ignore them.

Help me!

[url= is on the way![/url]

sister roots

What a great topic! Story of my life these days, though I'm not in my early 20s! One really important answer - not that I'm very good at achieving it - is to work on delegating the work. It serves the dual purpose of relieving some of your workload AND it builds the movement! Figuring out how to do it effectively is another matter entirely... [img]rolleyes.gif" border="0[/img]


Welcome, sister roots!

Skinny Dipper

It's nice to read that you are involved in several things. Don't feel as if you have to do everything. Do what you do best and let others do the rest. Do take a time out once in awhile. Take a break from two months to a year. Sometimes you will find that the causes that you support either are or not making headway when you observe them from a distance. When you decide to re-participate, you can inform your collegues on their progress from the outside.

Pogo Pogo's picture

For me I find it very tough to say no. However I have found that when I spread myself too thin I am doing nobody any favours by committing to projects and then not having the energy or time to see them through.

On the other side though volunteer groups need to make sure that they are also considering the needs of the volunteers. It is in their self interest to make sure the volunteers are not burning out.


I think keeping the work load manageable is important but there are factors as well. People work on issues and need to see result and if there are not enough people to take on pieces they feel they have to do the work to get result.

The other factor is the existence of forceful oppositions that they have to constantly battle with, on the way to achieving a goal. If there isn’t the positive force to at least offer few words of support it can get difficult.

Few people (youth) close to me are working on few very important social justice issues ( I am trying to help them) but I can see how forceful negativities can impact them.

In the past they have been involved in organizing letter writing campaigns and protests to stop deportation of two Jarvis students and the amount of abuse they had to put up with was huge but the positive support wasn’t coming as easily as the negative forces were coming.

Just few words of support can be very helpful to reduce burned out at the time that all they are getting are negative and accusatory forces.

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

As activists, it's important that we keep our activist workload sustainable. If our physical and mental health suffers from our activist workload, then we need to cut back. Provided there are enough activists in a group to carry out the tasks of the groups we're involved in, this shouldn't be a problem.

The big problem is when everyone in a group is overextended and/or burning out. This is nearly the case in the group I belong to, the Vancouver Socialist Forum. We try to meet once every two weeks, with the intent of holding one public forum a month on issues relevant to radical, socialist politics.

Of the 15 members in the group, I'm the only one who is not involved in other groups. So many other members have other activist meetings they attend on a bi-weekly or monthly basis, that it becomes hard to set a meeting time. It's hard to find a time for a meeting that doesn't conflict with meetings of other groups that multiple members are involved in, or some members who go out of town for work or activist stuff, or one member who gets bogged down with school work. Plus, some members will argue against certain meeting nights because of important activist events that one or more members want to attend.

When we do have meetings, we usually only have half the group in attendance, so enough people are absent such that we can't set a time for the next meeting that won't conflict with too many other things. So we wind up trying to organize many of our meetings over the internet. What often happens is that one member sends an e-mail suggesting time for our next meeting, a few other members replying that they can't make it, and then one member suggests we postpone the meeting because too many people can't make it. Which results in the meeting getting cancled, because the inertia created by the suggestion to cancel the meeting can't be overcome.

We've been trying to establish a 3 person coordinating committee that would have responsibility for setting meeting dates, but every time we have a meeting we put off the vote on who will be on the coordinating committe because members want to nominate people who are not present.

[ 05 June 2008: Message edited by: Left Turn ]

hali hali's picture

I am finding that the traditional model of sit-down meetings just doesn't work for activism. Demands on people's time, meeting burnout, etc. Email conversations and discussion boards work much better. Then when it is time for action, you are glad to see the other people! [img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img]

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

How do you choose between events? I am becoming pessimist. Are there wide-view left-wing rallies?

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

Or do we concentrate on our pet issues?