Is Burnout Inevitable?
How to Avoid Burning Out as an Animal Rights Activist Articles from All-Creatures.org

FROM

By Dallas Rising (Animal Rights Coalition) as posted on In Defense of Animals (IDA)
January 2015

Every social justice movement loses activists to burnout because they experienced these feelings for too long and just couldnít take it anymore. That is why the Council of Sustainable Activism (CoSA) was formed.

Dallas Rising activist

IDA invites you to read this column on our Sustainable Activism Blog by guest blogger Dallas Rising, executive director of the Animal Rights Coalition and member of IDAís Council of Sustainable Activism (CoSA).

Have you ever felt so exhausted that it feels like you have nothing left to give? Youíre almost too worn out to care about much of anything and your activist life seems to have devolved into nothing but constant stress and seemingly insurmountable challenges? Have you ever given up and walked away because even if you know thereís an answer to the problems, youíre just too drained to figure it out or to execute the steps necessary to get there?

Thatís what burnout feels like. Like youíre a shell. Or a robot, barely functioning. Or at the bottom of a really deep pit. Itís awful. And a lot of us have been there.

Every social justice movement loses activists to burnout because they experienced these feelings for too long and just couldnít take it anymore. That is why the Council of Sustainable Activism (CoSA) was formed. We want to help reduce the number of activists lost to burnout by creating an activist culture that takes the symptoms of burnout seriously with tools to address them effectively.

I have a particular interest in this issue as I have suffered from these feelings at several points throughout my nearly two decades of animal activism. As part of CoSA, I have spent more time thinking about what sustainable activism looks like and started seriously wondering if burnout simply wasnít inevitable.

I donít believe burnout is a permanent state. There are activists who continue their work for decades. We can recover from burnout, succumb to it again, and continue that cycle for decades. Although the conditions that create an environment for burnout are inevitable for most activists, we are capable of making choices to get ourselves off that path.

Activism is stressful. Weíre aware of pain, violence, injustice, and suffering in places where many people donít see it. Weíre constantly challenging forces that feel bigger than ourselves. We donít have the enormous resources our opponents do and sometimes we struggle with finances or health issues due to our choices to make our activism a priority. It feels like a stacked deck, because it is.

We know this work is difficult and often painful. It exposes us to trauma and we are re-traumatized again and again as we do our work. Whether itís the exposure to documentation of animal abuse, the looming threat of government repression, or dysfunctional dynamics within an organization composed of people struggling with these stresses, the pain can sometimes escalate to aguish.

If we acknowledge that experience of stress and trauma, while messed up and unfair, is likely to occur, we can release the feelings of guilt or shame for not circumventing them. We can minimize the time spent being alarmed that this is happening to us and simply recognize it as part of the package. If we let go of the notion that thereís something wrong with us if we canít manage to escape all of those daunting obstacles, we can start taking steps to address the symptoms before they propel us into full-blown, walk-away I-canít-handle-this-anymore burnout.


Dallas Rising serves on In Defense of Animalsí Council of Sustainable Activism and is the executive director of the Animal Rights Coalition. She lives in Minneapolis with her interspecies family, pictured here with Xavier.


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