Thursday, July 22, 2021

Coping with Advocacy Stress

Advocacy is empowering, exciting, and inspiring! And yet, our world of divided politics also makes it frustrating and downright maddening. This is especially true for those who are not only advocates, but organizers shepherding the efforts of volunteers. “How do you cope!?” comes up again and again among activists in private conversations and public forums.

Legislative losses, internet trolls, misinformation, party politics, members of Congress who won’t listen, volunteer group members who don't respond to their group leaders…all of those are normal stressors for grassroots organizers. But throw in a dose of pandemic isolation and anxiety, and you have a solid recipe for activist burnout.

Despite how many well-meaning people like to call us “tireless activists,” that’s just not a true descriptor for most dedicated mom advocates. Tiredness is a frequent visitor. And Tiredness likes to bring along best buddy Overwhelm.

So, what are we to do?

Take Care of Ourselves

Photo: My walking path
For me, getting out to exercise in nature is a big part of restorative self-care. Getting away from humans for a while is important when particular humans are disappointing us in spectacular ways. Sandi Schwartz, the mom behind the Ecohappiness Project, always has suggestions on how parents and children can tap into the healing power of nature. She wrote a post about cow cuddling to reduce stress and now I want to go find a cow, but her usual tips are a bit more accessible to those of use who don't live on farms!

Photo: Cindy trying to decompress 
with a book at the nail salon 
After I check to see if I'm treating my body right with basic needs, pampering myself is another way I lift my spirits. I ventured back to the salon after 18 months of isolation, I found that actual human contact at a salon is rather anxiety-producing for me as the COVID-19 Delta variant races through Missouri. Luckily, Eva Milano has tips for an at-home scalp massage we can use to de-stress by ourselves.

Listen to the Experts

Those were a couple of my personal go-to suggestions, but a conversation at the virtual RESULTS International Conference revealed wisdom from some experienced activists who know a lot about advocacy burnout. Let’s learn from what they said when they reflected together on how to restore our powerful spirits.

"I look at the beauty around me and how grateful I am to be safe and I listen to audiobooks while knitting...preferably outside, weather permitting ."

Leslye Heilig

“I lean on my fellow advocates who are in a place of strength when I am not.” 

Cecilia van Wijk

“When advocacy is overwhelming for me I think of where I started with three little faces depending on me to ensure that they were provided with the best education and that they weren’t placed in a category and just left there. Now, I think of those faces and how much they have grown and how poverty has shaped each one of them. That helps me keep going. I don’t want them to ever have to experience poverty in their lifetime. I show them everyday that they have a voice and they can speak up. But when it’s overwhelming for them, I pick it up and run with it for them. My kids are my primary driver. Looking at how I grew up, I never wanted them to grow up the same way. So, I do what I can to ensure that they have better opportunities and that they don’t settle.”

Yolanda Gordon

“My kids help me stay motivated. I want to create a future where they never have to worry about being in poverty, and I think about all the moms out there struggling to care for their kids. As far as doing something to give myself a break, I like to have a dance party with my kids or belt out a song in my car or at karaoke (back when we could do that!)”

Lisa Peters

Photo: MLK Memorial in Washington DC

"When coping and self-care are key, I try to remember to rest, hydrate, and spend time with family, especially children. They bring hope and joy. Also, there is a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that brings me up whenever I feel discouraged: 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' Change will come even when we feel like we don't see it yet."

Karyne Bury

“I cope by thinking back and taking a trip down memory lane! I remember the times my family and I needed help. Back then, there wasn’t much help for a single black man with five children. I think back on the seven years of having to stay in a tent. I think about those times not being able to take a decent bath. I think about that and how I wish somebody had been there to fight and advocate for my family. We deserved a voice like mine ready for whatever when it comes to letting congressional leadership know about families like mine. It's so important for poverty to come to an end! This isn’t a job. This is a lifestyle! Me and poverty have a personal type of relationship, and I don’t want nobody in this world to have to live like we did! So I don’t see myself ever getting tired because I know one day I’ll look back and smile and be proud that I didn’t get tired of fighting for what every family deserves: a home and a strong foundation to grow and learn and live a poverty free life!”

La’Shon Marshall

"When I’m overwhelmed, I take a step back. I remind myself that I need to take care of my mind and body in order to be my best self. We must respect and love ourselves enough to take breaks when we need them. The work will be there when we are ready to return."

Keisha Perkins

"In my own volunteer commitments, I find it helpful to communicate my boundaries with the person in charge so I don’t get overwhelmed. For example, if I led on a big project one month, they know I expect to take a back seat for the next month or two, and they plan accordingly. That way I can give it my all without getting chronically overwhelmed."


What are YOUR tips for avoiding advocacy burnout?

Leave 'em in the comments!

Photo: RESULTS advocates in a Zoom lobby meeting