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If Activism Is The New Brunch, Can You Do All-You-Can-Eat?

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By: Holly Ashby and Kasi Martin

It comes as no shocker that political activism is on the rise right now. But fashion lovers concerned about sustainability and ethics haven’t seen this carry into their field. You may think, “What’s the point of carefully sourcing ethical clothes when it seems that everyone else is still shopping at fast-fashion retailers and throwing out fabrics by the ton?” This disillusionment is a real danger and puts fashion activists at risk for burnout.

It comes as no shocker that political activism is on the rise right now. But fashion lovers concerned about sustainability and ethics haven’t seen this carry into their field. You may think, “What’s the point of carefully sourcing ethical clothes when it seems that everyone else is still shopping at fast-fashion retailers and throwing out fabrics by the ton?” This disillusionment is a real danger and puts fashion activists at risk for burnout.

While ‘all-you-can-eat’ sounds appetizing for brunch, avoiding this ‘do it all’ approach in activism is of paramount importance.

What is activist burnout?

Burnout doesn’t discriminate. While it may take different forms, it affects the hard-pressed exec, new parent or free-spirited creative the same. Unfortunately, it’s something we’re forced to deal with every time we make a decision, whether it’s big or small. But burnout can be debilitating. It causes chronic stress that often leads to complete mental and physical exhaustion. For most of us, particularly for those of us in the field of advocacy, it takes significant time to recover from the fallout.

Whether you volunteer, campaigner or consider yourself a ‘conscious consumer’, you carry an extra burden of responsibility on top of the normal stresses of life. Furthermore, as a person who cares deeply about issues such as fair trade, environmentalism, and labor, you likely encounter bad news on a daily basis. The emotional strain of these problems can take a substantial toll.

Becoming overwhelmed by the enormity of global problems and putting too much pressure on yourself to change your lifestyle overnight is, ultimately, unproductive. Our individual choices do matter, but carrying too much of the burden will leave you depleted, and unable to help anyone. So how can you avoid activist burnout?


Take it slowly

There’s no end to the sacrifices you can make and responsibilities you can embrace when you’re trying to change the world. If you try to take it on all at once, becoming overwhelmed is inevitable. Trying to convert your entire closet to ‘eco fabrics’ or committing to “zero-waste” living overnight will only add to your stress levels. These things are incredibly hard to achieve and expecting instant progress means you’ll be more likely to give up and revert to your old ways.

Allowing your habits as a conscious consumer to evolve naturally is important if you want to lead a lifestyle that’s sustainable for the long haul. When committing to lifestyle changes, try focusing narrowly on one issue that you care about (like animal rights, clean water, fair wages, etc). Let yourself settle into some small initial changes and steadily incorporate more as they become routine. With less to contend with at once, you won’t feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle. Plus, you’ll probably develop expertise about your chosen issue.

Connect with a community

Visiting websites like this one is a great start in seeking advice [you can also find more here]. By connecting with a like-minded community you’ll create a network of support. Social media has also made this easier, especially if you’re interested in joining a globally-minded community. Learn the relevant hashtags for your issue and start connecting that way as a first step.

Knowing there are people with the same concerns and priorities as you can be inspiring, especially in the moments when you hit burnout.

Form relationships with ethical businesses

The people running ethical businesses and non-profits will also understand these challenges. If you’re a happy customer of one of these businesses, try connecting with the owner. Follow the business on Twitter, leave a good review, let them know your appreciation.  Sustainable business owners live and die by authentic connections.

Also, forming this kind of relationship will further involve you with the movements that you’re passionate about and help you support others in a tangible way. Chances are, they will return the favor!

Find the funny side

Let’s face it, following the latest news about environmental and social issues can be seriously sobering. You’ll need a done of levity to stay sane.

There’s a huge abundance of satirical work on Twitter and funnier political memes and video’s than you could possibly consume in a lifetime.

You may want to pick ones that tease your own cause, so you don’t end up taking yourself too seriously. For that, catch an episode of Portlandia. Or try a New Yorker cartoon. The latest on  the ‘laugh at yourself’ front is this video on Minimalism from the always acerbic AwakenWithJP.

“Every night I like to look at this picture of Steve Jobs on his floor with no furniture. It’s SO inspirational.”

If you want something harder-hitting, comedians like Jon Stewart, Emily Heller, Anna Kendrick, Margaret Cho and Ricky Gervais have some amusing things to say on subjects such as animal rights and feminism, adding some much-needed levity to important causes. Just make sure you’re not relying on them as your main news source.

Maybe you’ll get really conversant in ethics and mindfulness as field and want some satire about that as well. Check out Texts From Your Existentialist in that case.

Don’t neglect self-care

If your health and well-being are sacrificed, forget about ethical choices! You won’t be able to function.

Make you-time a priority. You devote yourself with diligence to ethical fashion and living. Why not pay your inner life the same respect? Try forming new habits like planned downtime or meditation. But please dismiss any negative talk that says “I don’t deserve this” when it crops up because you most certainly do. These types of strategies also help if you’ve read or watched something shocking. Cowspiracy, The True Cost, anyone? It’s easy to get caught up in ‘all or nothing’ thinking after this but self-care can help you regain a sense of calm.

Whether it’s mindfulness, transcendental meditation, yoga, or something completely your own self-care is proven to increase compassion and reduce stress [take Harvard’s word for it]. Ultimately, this makes making it easier to take on the challenges of becoming a conscious shopper. It’s compassion and empathy for the planet (and the people on it) that motivates many of us to live more ethically, so nurturing this aspect of ourselves is extremely helpful. Additionally, too much stress is burnout’s major trigger, so managing this is a must.

Activist burnout may be a danger when leading an ethical life, but there are uplifting strategies to cope with it. Learn to look after yourself the same way you look after the world around you. The planet and your soul will thank you.


Holly Ashby is a writer and illustrated who works with the London meditation center, Will Williams Meditation, which helps people overcome stress and recover from burnout.

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