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ASK VOX: How Do You Deal With Activist Burnout?

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Got a dilemma you need help solving? Want a teen perspective on an issue you’re going through? Introducing VOX ATL’s new advice column, “ASK VOX,” a forum for teens, by teens. Today, our team of teens addressed a common issue that many teens may be contemplating.

In a world saturated with news that demands our attention and calls for social change, how can we continue to be activists who push for change while avoiding burnout?

Zariah, 16: If I’m being honest, I rarely turn on the news because it can be depressing and discouraging sometimes. It’s OK to take breaks from the constant news cycle. The news often hyper fixates on the negative events, but sometimes it helps to remember that things slowly are changing for the better, even if it may only be small things. Also, everyone has a different role in activism. Even if you aren’t always the loudest voice on the frontlines, you can still push for change in ways that are easier on your mental health and help avoid burnout.

Jaylee, 18: I’ll be the first to admit it: I am what most people would describe as a news addict. I am the type of person who listens to NPR as they work, watches political opinion livestreams as they wash the dishes, and constantly checks their phone to see if they have any Twitter notifications from the news outlets they follow. Like most people my age, I enjoy keeping up on trends and fulfilling what I see as a moral obligation to be knowledgeable about issues in the modern world. For the causes that I am most passionate about, I task myself with knowing every recent development to better inform myself and peers.

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Despite my belief in the benefits of being a well-informed global citizen, I know that these habits host sprawling negative effects. Most media is overwhelmingly negative, because humans have a negativity bias that compels us to pay more attention to negative information. This phenomenon seeps into news results in the oppressive negativity that cross our feeds in every article, tweet, and story.

Remembering this negativity bias helps me realize that just because I don’t see positive change happening on my feed, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening on the ground. Sometimes I have to step back and realize that it is not by my hands alone that positive good is created to fight the injustices of the world. I, nor anyone else, do not need to be the moral Atlas, solely bearing the weight of the world. Justice is a slow, collaborative process. It takes more than one person at one time in one moment of history.

So to myself, and others like me, I encourage, for as much time as you can stand, living life off-the-grid. Whether it is just an hour, a day, or a week — take a break from the news. Turn on a heartwarming movie, read a book (perhaps a favorite from your childhood), discover your next new favorite album, look at (or make) art. Fully engage in your immediate world without stopping to check Twitter. It is not unproductive to keep your peace of mind in this ever-complex, baffling world. If you still feel the urge to actively involve yourself in movements, I would suggest turning away from the current moment and taking up some historical or academic books that describe the issue from the bird’s eye view of history.

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Zariyah, 16: As an activist, I can relate to the feelings of guilt dealing with burnout. Understand that this is nothing to be ashamed of, this doesn’t make you any less of an activist. When dealing with burnout I believe it’s important to set boundaries with yourself and others. It’s OK to say no and take a step back. Your well-being is a top priority. Grounding yourself helps when dealing with difficulty. Allow yourself to wind down and clear your mind. Give yourself permission to take the time and space to do things that you enjoy and are passionate about other than activism. Take your time and go at your own pace. Give yourself breaks from consuming negative content, rather than spiraling into a negativity cycle on social media platforms, manage the content you consume, try to place yourself in more light hearted spaces and take in more positive content. And hey, capitalism tells us that taking time for ourselves is time wasted, so… You taking care of yourself as a top priority is still activism! Allow yourself to take a break and continue to nourish yourself.

Mikayla, 16: Although quarantine is hard on everyone, it has gifted me the opportunity to start pursuing my efforts in activism more seriously. Throughout all the chaos and uncertainty I am facing in the pandemic, my activism strengthens me in the face of it all because it gives me hope. I am meeting so many people that are passionate about changing the world.

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