Boundaries are essential for the proper growth and functioning of all things. They are equally necessary for our healthy engagement with social issues that matter most. Social justice concerns, along with this year’s general elections, have forced us to take stock of where we are as a nation. For many young people, changing the course that we are on has become a catapult to activism. Whether you are moved to action on a local, national or global scale, there are ways to mitigate stress and the burnout that inevitably ensues over the long term if left unchecked. Whether you are a seasoned activist or new to the cause, if you are unable to set boundaries for your emotional health and wellbeing there is a higher chance for the onset of a physical or mental health crisis.
Burnout is a mental health issue that many of us may encounter in our work life. It is characterized by a depletion of energy and feelings of exhaustion. Moreover, there are degrees of emotional distance that develop impeding the work at hand to levels of crippling ineffectiveness in one’s capabilities. Burnout can eventually lead to overall cynicism. People that work against the social grain are moving against the current often in emotionally hostile environments, for there is always push back to change. For these individuals, burnout may come sooner than for someone in a “traditional” workplace. Setting boundaries that allow for a healthy detachment from one’s cause is essential for an activist; and for the movement itself, since these feelings can easily extend from the individual to the activist community.
Political activism is intense and can be short-lived if it follows election cycles. However, even for the “casual” political activist, the intensity and length of campaigns have grown over the decade making the possibility of burnout more acute. Especially in a campaign year when there exists a greater political divide. Activists that are pushing for larger changes in the political system experience a different type of advocacy and as such may be in ‘activist mode’ for a sustained period. It is important to recognize the signs of stress, whether acute or chronic. Individuals will react to stressors differently and over differing periods of time.
Social activists, such as those protesting for social justice issues that have directly affected their communities, are moved to action for deeply personal reasons and often layered existential threats in nature. The vulnerability to one’s emotional and physical wellbeing is felt immediately, and no doubt intensifies with time. And as one would imagine, setting boundaries for a healthy detachment may be more difficult, yet even more necessary to accomplish. Talking through one’s fears, hopes, daily struggles with those in the movement is crucial. A daily check of one’s mental and physical wellbeing is essential, and all facets of self-care should be in place.
There are some, such as environmental activists, who have been advocating for the global cause for many decades only to face more opposition in our current social and political climate than could have been imagined twenty years ago. For these individuals who may express that we are moving backwards rather than forwards as regards to the cause, the feelings of cynicism and disillusion can be devastating. But there are ways to establish the necessary boundaries to allow you the space to recharge and heal so that, if you so desire, you can carry on and refocus your energies on moving the needle forward.
The first step in establishing a healthy detachment is to take a daily assessment of the feelings that consume you. If you are feeling hopelessness, map out the issues that cause you anxiety and stress to visualize what you have control over and what you cannot immediately change. Then write one or two things that you can do, no matter how small, to influence only those things that you can change. Take stock of what you feel most hopeless about. Then remind yourself as a mantra that you can impact others to help you move the needle on those larger issues, but that you will put your immediate energy into the feasible changes first. Then visually let go of the stress regarding what you cannot yet change.
Recognize your physical stress signs. Do a daily scan of your body, mind and spirit. Identify your body’s stress reservoirs, those areas that absorb the anxiety and manifest it physically. Focus on releasing energy in those areas, for example by massaging a shoulder knot, running to release negative emotions, or doing something that makes you laugh and smile. Simply stretching each day is an important way to relieve stress reservoirs, relaxing a tense body. Make it a point to do meditative breathing exercises to help release anxious energy and breathe in calm, throughout the day, but especially right before falling asleep as you stretch out in bed. This will help mitigate the build-up effect of stress that leads to physical illness and burnout, and possibly mental health issues such as depression and addiction.
As with any career, you must allow yourself downtime, and more often for activists. The nature of the work makes one feel that you cannot stop until the desired end-result is achieved. But it is important to recognize, as history has shown, some activists will not see the changes come to fruition in their lifetime. Therefore, a measured perspective must be at the forefront, providing a healthy balance between expecting that one’s hard fought struggles will bear fruit with a realistic understanding that change may not resemble the imagined result, but progress is being made, simply by the act of your participation.
The general election may be wrapping up. But no matter the outcome, political activism will continue. Social justice movements will persist. And the effects of the pandemic and economic downturn of 2020 will linger. We all must take stock of how the events of this year has created for many of us the conditions for burnout syndrome. Let us be conscientious and compassionate with ourselves and with others, that we may create the space and necessary boundaries to recharge, to change perspectives when required, and provide the positive energy necessary to move our society forward.
As always, Ketamine Health Centers is here to help provide the tools and professional guidance to recharge and heal once again. Contact us today if you or a loved one needs additional support or alternative methods to address depression and feelings of hopelessness. We stand stronger together.