When the #MeToo campaign started and my Twitter timeline and Facebook feed began to fill up with accounts of sexual harassment and abuse, I felt exhausted. #MeToo, of course, and every other woman I know.
But instead joining in, I felt myself moving away from the sharing. Instead of feeling solidarity I felt exhaustion, and then guilt.
I spoke with Dela Gwala, who runs the student organisation UCT Survivors, about what to do when you don’t want to do anything but feel like you should.
She gave me some useful advice from her own experience.
Pay attention to the warning signs of activist burnout
“The biggest sign of burnout for me was a stubborn exhaustion I literally couldn't sleep off, where I was doing my activist work from a place of dread, numbness and obligation rather than the deep sense of belief, will and purpose I had before,” says Dela.
These signs of emotional burnout can manifest physically – illness over a long period, a lack of sleep, or feeling on the verge of tears all the time – and can contribute to adrenal fatigue, making it more difficult to recover.
Physical rest is critically important.
For Dela, “sleeping more than five hours a night has really made a difference.”
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Take breaks, focus on yourself (#SelfCare)
Your body and your heart are not machines. Don’t treat them that way. You can’t give if you have nothing left to give.
For Dela, “taking some time away from social media was an important step.”
It gave her time to speak to loved ones, seek professional counselling, and pursue things that made her feel energised, like writing workshops.
She also suggests reading things for comfort and enjoyment, rather than to fulfil an activist agenda. Buy a book from a local indie bookstore, or visit the library.
Trying a meditation practice or being mindful of your feelings without judgement also helps to deal with the anxiety by taking the focus away from the outside ugliness of the world, and focusing it inwards.
Although it might sound hard to look on the bright side when it feels like there isn’t one, a gratitude practice can help to remind you that there is hope in the world.
“I always journal, mostly during tough times, and writing what I’m grateful for on post-it notes everyday has also been helpful,” says Dela.
Nourish yourself with good food and choose ingredients that help you sleep well too. Your microbiome and body will thank you for it. Basically, treat yourself like you would a very good friend who is in need of comfort.
When are you ready to get involved again?
You are not giving up, you are resting. But how do you know you are ready to get back at it?
Dela explains: “If the burning desire to get involved returns, you need to decide whether it's coming from internal/external pressure that tells you that it's your duty or a sense that your ready to continue with activism.
"Make sure you pay attention to the warning signs that another bout of burnout is imminent.”
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