How to Avoid Activist Burnout

by | Dec 10, 2021 | Lifestyle

Picture this average weekday as a college student. A morning full of classes, followed by a 6-hour long shift at a part time job. Then, you rush to catch weekly staff meetings for organizations, clubs, and causes you care about. Finally, you head home to complete piles of homework and study for exams. Being a full time student and an activist working for important causes can lead to burnout. Everything in this hypothetical weekday is important, but what’s missing is rest! Proper rest means you can avoid activist burnout and also maintain your academics.

Rest is absolutely essential to sustaining any semblance of balance in your life. Though some may initially think that resting or taking a break is a lack of productivity, that’s actually very far from the truth! While working tirelessly without any form of rest or time for self-care seems “productive” at first, it’s not as productive as it can be when work is paired with rest. Rest supports productive work.

A student rests on the ground, laying against a bench, with a textbook opened over their face.

Photo by Tony Tran on Unsplash

Taking time to rest can improve how well you work by helping to prevent burnout, especially when you’re pitching in to help all of the causes you care about — this is called activist burnout, and it’s a major problem in the advocacy community. We all want to help, but we need to know when to take a step back too. 

Resting improves productivity, contrary to the belief that it is lazy or unproductive. Through rest, you can ease your mind off work-related matters and come back the next day feeling motivated, energized, and ready to start strong. Imagine how sluggish, tired or unmotivated you may feel every single morning if you’re constantly working day and night! Furthermore, resting is self-care. Doing the things you enjoy and reflecting on how you feel can help shape how you view life and where your intentions lay.


Resting makes you a better activist

A close up of a sign at a protest that reads "Climate Justice Now!"

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Especially as it relates to advocacy and activism, rest is important to sustain efforts in changing-making work. Whether it be climate, social justice or any other kind of advocacy, working for a cause is an ongoing, long-term process. Oftentimes, we can feel so passionate that we constantly work as hard as we can to raise awareness and mobilize. That drive and passion to build a better world for our communities and our future generation is inspiring, and continues to inspire me every day! 

However, it can feel overwhelming and lead to burnout at times, if you work endlessly without rest. As you are standing up for others and the world, make sure to take care of yourself along the way. For everyone, and especially for those who advocate for sustainability, setting and maintaining a sustainable workstyle for yourself is key!

To any aspiring advocates, the idea that you are expected to do it “perfectly” can make it seem daunting. But the truth is that if everyone around the world were to advocate for climate action and justice “imperfectly,” it would be far more notable and impactful than if only a select few people did so “perfectly.” We are all in this together, and it’s okay to rest while others work, and then step back in to let others rest in turn.


Small steps add up

Small advocacy steps matter just as much as big steps, so don’t let fear or intimidation deter you. And keep in mind that starting small doesn’t limit you to staying small. As you progress on your advocacy journey, take note of the amazing and inspiring self-growth, and let that motivate you to take bigger and bigger steps along the way! Here are a few examples of small steps for climate advocacy that you can take today:

  • Inform and educate yourself about climate change, environmental justice, and sustainability
  • Be mindful of your energy, water, and purchasing consumption and reduce waste and overconsumption
  • Take public transportation, if possible and feasible, to reduce emissions and footprint
  • Reuse or repurpose items you already own before buying anything new 
  • Participate in community organizations, local government or related meetings to share your perspective 
  • Communicate with peers, friends and family about climate change and ways to take action

Some of the most effective ways to rest and rejuvenate your mind and body include taking breaks and getting plenty of sleep. Be aware of how you feel, and consider pausing when you feel tired. Stopping for the day does not mean stopping forever, and you will return with a fresh mind. A good night’s sleep is also critical for health and helps you function better during the day.


Practice self-care

Self care looks different to everyone, because it is solely based on you and your needs. Indulge in the things you enjoy, whether spending time with family, friends or yourself, going outside and connecting with nature, exercising or engaging in a hobby. Whatever self-care looks like to you, regularly practice it to feel more relaxed and less stressed. 

Allowing the space to rest and focus on you is not unproductive or lazy; it’s sustainability in action and should be a priority for wellbeing. Taking care of the planet and people begins with taking care of yourself!



  • Jenny Nguyen

    Jenny is a fourth year student at the University of California, San Diego, majoring in Environmental Systems (Earth Sciences) and minoring in Psychology. She is passionate about understanding the impacts of climate change and what solutions can be implemented to address it as well as promoting sustainability within communities and the environment. Her sustainability journey began with her love for nature's beauty, and since then, she has been dedicated to learning about how she can practice sustainable living and help others learn more as well. On her campus, she is an active member of a few sustainability and climate change related organizations, working to raise awareness about these topics and uplift student and community voices. In her free time, Jenny enjoys dancing, exploring new places, and spending quality time with family and friends.