Activist mental health and managing burnout

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This page was created following a question received by a person from the HUB community: "How can we take care of ourselves as activists, when the resources and support available reinforce the systems we want to dismantle?" The following are covered: capitalist approaches to mental health, eco-anxiety, eco-whitewashing, individual empowerment, burnout, community care and individual practices within communities. This page will be continuously added to.

Mental Health

In capitalist society

In our capitalist society, mental health is presented as an individual matter and for us to work on or it is treated as a matter to be medicated. That is, responsibility is on individuals and/or their brain chemistry, rather than how systems of oppression are causing harm.

Some of the messages capitalism sells us about mental health include:

  • Everything has a ‘purpose’ or goal, including rest (we rest so we can increase productivity)
  • Buy this and you’ll feel better!
  • If you can’t take care of yourself you’re flawed, or even disposable 

In colonial society

Larissa Crawford at Future Ancestors explains:

  • When British colonies landed on Turtle Island, they viewed Indigenous societies as being ʻtime-lessʼ, or culturally lacking regularity, order and uniformity). This deemed them ‘inferior.’ 
  • Indigenous Peoples were in relationship to the land, rather than using it as ‘productively’ as British Colonies thought they should. Productivity was defined by the amount that could be extracted to create more material wealth, rather than the value and wealth of health and relationships.
  • Today, the legacy colonialism left remains. Time for rest, being on the land, and health-related activities are not prioritized as valuable or productive.

Some questions to reflect on:

  • "How does a lack of access to nature impact our mental and physical health? What about when we do have access to nature?" -Larissa Crawford
  • Explore what a seasonal work-cycle would look like, by beginning with asking your teams "how does our demand, health, and energy change with the seasons?" -Larissa Crawford
  • It could also be beneficial to include connecting with the land as part of our work as activists. "Can we connect with the land and ask ourselves what lessons it holds, and how it can be applied to our work? Can we use this reconnection to strengthen our relationship to the earth, which we are advocating for in our work? Can we use reconnection to strengthen our individual wellbeing and thus sustain ourselves long term?" -Larissa Crawford

Mental health is collective

We live in interdependence with the people and situations around us. Individual mental health and the window of tolerance one has to manage stress is affected by, for example:

  • the oppression the individual experiences; includes things like environmental factors in our upbringing or present (e.g. living conditions, access to opportunities, microaggressions etc).
  • the difficulties faced by people around them
  • the variety of ways our brains function
  • our parents upbringing and the influence this had on the parenting we received

Mental health is a collective issue.

Facing the climate crisis

Why seek psychological services if the person I see does not understand what I am going through and is not also trying to dismantle the system in place?

Will going to see a therapist will just make me even more angry? I don't want to educate him on the systems of oppression and the seriousness of the crisis...

The multiple crises that surround us, exacerbated by the climate crisis, awaken emotions that are also influenced by:

Dominant discourses on the climate crisis
  • Greenwashing. Green technologies. Green growth. A focus on fear. Carbon footprint and individual actions.

  • On the discourse of individual gestures - The discourse saying that we must reduce our ecological impact, or our "carbon footprint" associates individual behavior with the climate crisis. It says a person who consumes is an enemy of nature. Individuals feel guilty and helpless. It also says all of humanity is something that harms nature. In truth, it is the capitalist economic model and it's exploitative mentality that destroy nature; not individuals who are born and socialized into this system. While we are talking about individual gestures, business leaders continue to make profits by selling “reduced impact” items and exploiting people and the planet.

    Dominant discourses on eco-anxiety
    • Be careful not to describe young people or marginalized groups as “victims” that need to be helped. It creates a saviour narrative.

    Saviourism draws autonomy away from these groups, and describes them as powerless.

    Focus on the people, groups and systems who are perpetrating the climate crisis and that need to be held accountable. 

    Individual responsibility for care
    People talk a lot about taking care of yourself, but that means doing what you individually can outside of your job while the big structures that reproduce inequality remain firmly in place."- Janey Starling & Seyi Falodun-Liburd [1]  

    Countering the dominant discourse

    Faced with this reality and these discourses that feed distress, it is important to nurture a counter-discourse that centers the real causes of the climate crisis and the collective action necessary for climate justice. These counter-discourses speak of social movements, popular organization and collective power.

    • To learn more about the different components of social movements, see movement ecology .
    • To better understand how what you feel is related to the climate crisis, see @environmentalist.affirmations who popularized the content of the book, A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety by Sarah Jaquette Ray
    • See also our page on eco-anxiety.

    In activism


    Burnout is physical or emotional exhaustion caused by overwork or stress according to the Chambers Dictionary. This is a lived reality in almost all militant circles. It can be the result of an imbalance between aspects of our activism and our life.

    Here are some causes of activist burnout mentioned by Sophy Banks of Transition Network

    The stakes are high, urgent and very important

    “…in a society where a portion of the population is causing the problems, the people who feel responsible for solving them may be a small minority with few resources.."

    Doing is more good than feeling

    If we don't realize how we feel, it's possible that our feelings...

    • push us to act beyond our limits
    • solidify as numbness or illness
    Giving more value to actions than to the state of people

    Only giving value to what is “productive”. This is a form of internalized ableism and it is damaging to our mental health.

    Act according to “heroism”
    Overdoing and not letting other people do important tasks, i.e. not sharing leadership
    Succumb to time pressure
    “What do we lose when we go too fast and do too much?"'

    We lose:

    • Time to fix communication issues.
    • Time to listen to the points of view and needs of groups and people who are not part of the dominant group.
    • Time for evaluation and reflection: an inability to adjust strategic direction, (activities can become more risky and/or less relevant.
    • Time for learning, personal development and deepening.

    Collective support

    Systems of oppression create great hardships for each person to go through. If we collectivize care, we include the most precarious people and we learn to use our greatest tool in building a world without violence. [2]

    "Prioritising care is a refusal to abandon oneself and the others around us." [3]

    In the face of the climate crisis and the many social crises we face, we can support each other collectively through community care and a regenerative culture.

    Community care

    Community care is the shared responsibility to offer and receive the emotional, physical and structural support we need in order to live more lovingly and liberatedly. It's also the way we improve our groups to meet our aspirations.

    Communal care within a group includes...

    • Space to arrive as a human person with personal challenges.
    • Building a culture in our spaces and relationships rooted in trust and mutual compassion

    Community care is not opposed to discipline or rigor. Instead, we use our energy more strategically because “our battles are too important for any one of us to burn out." [4] Thus, community care is integral to team functioning so we can carry out our fights with more ease.

    Patriarcheal systems today suggest care is largely assumed by women in our societies. If we wish to develop community care in our spaces, this work must be done and organized in an explicit way so that the mental load is not assumed by women and femmes, or by those experiencign other forms of oppression (ableism, racism etc). 

    Putting community care into action

    Bringing the ingredients of a culture of care to life

    These ingredients are taken from the article We need a climate movement that addresses the trauma of fighting for a burning planet by Waging Nonviolence.

    Note that the actions for the different ingredients described may be different from one group to another.



    Ease *ingredient added by the HUB

    This ingredient allows people to take action accessibly; it's less complicated, less energy-consuming, and less reserved for people who know how things work. In a context where many activists tell us that their mental health improves in action, facilitating it has its place as an ingredient of community care in the context of activism.

    You can contribute this ingredient to your grop by:

    • Creating documentation answering potential questions for new joiners.
    • Creating a meeting calendar to remove the collective burden of planning a new meeting date after each meeting
    • Adding opportunities that makes it easier to get involved (i.e. makes certain tasks, project management, meeting organization, etc. less energy-intensive).

    To rest, reflect, recover and heal.

    Contribute to this by:

    • Planning campaigns with low points (that is, easier lift actions or time off)
    • Holding sharing and learning circles.
    • Planning rest times.

    This might include:

    • Regular compliments, positive feedback, and celebration of people and their work (“I separate people from their work, because we need to better celebrate the inherent value of people, regardless of their work”). [5]
    • Put time into the personal growth of members.
    • Regularly check in on people's well-being.
    • Create communities of support for people going through difficult times.
    • Mentoring and pairing.
    • Advocating for and meeting our needs!

    Self-reflective questions to raise to help group members advocate their needs might include: What is my body telling me right now, or what has it been telling me lately? What words describe my needs right now? (They can be right now, from today, this week etc).


    Encourage diversity of perspectives and respectful feedback.



    • Asking rather than assume that some people are able to take on more work.
    • To have clear objectives to avoid feeling like you have to do everything.
    • Encouraging people to set their own boundaries and communicate them.

    Create spaces to address different issues (unconscious bias, trauma, feedback and reflection, etc.).



    • Seeing mistakes as part of learning.
    • Knowing the needs of the people around us.
    • Avoiding judgment.


    • Honesty when you make mistakes.
    • Taking time to welcome people with their strengths, fears and needs.
    • "Demanding and striving for what is needed, not just what [one thinks] can be achieved, despite fear or outside attacks." [6]

    This includes:

    • Taking time to play, “time without a goal”.
    • Recurring social time and moments of celebration.
    • Identifying the types of work that are associated with joy and find ways to incorporate them.

    Encourage this by:

    • Having an openness to change according to what surrounds us.
    • Sharing and learning from others in order to “contaminate” ourselves with our knowledge.


    • Welcoming more art and artists to our spaces.
    • Learning from people outside our circles.

    Establish a feedback mechanism [7]  

    A work team can be mandated to conduct this process on an ongoing basis. Roles related to supporting the process should be clear and ideally, rotating to sharing the emotional load.

    • Carve out time at the beginning of your meetings, and before actions and events to pause and reflect on whether there are needs that have been left unmet and to check in on one another.
    1. Space for receiving feedback and needs

    Have spaces to take and receive feedback from members on group activities and on people's needs related to group activities.

    • Check ins or space might look like one on ones, or surveys sent out beforehand. For example, check out this access and safety survey.
    2. Evaluation of feedback received

    Discuss what the feedback means for the group.

    3. Taking action

    Create an appropriate care response for people in the group or community.

    Examples: meeting every two weeks rather than every week, creating moments for congratulations, hosting activities, organizing recurring social activities, creating a support and sharing group etc.

    4. Counter resistance
    At this stage, we try to go beyond the old comfort zone of the group to create a new one. Collective effort must be made to support the actions needed to respond to the feedback of the group. 
    5. Assess
    Ask whether the action(s) were able to respond to the feedback or the needs expressed.

    What sustains activists around the world


    An article by Helen Cox summarizes what activists said they do to support their activism individually (alongside creating community care mechanisms).

    Their answers could guide reflections related to...

    • commitment capacity
    • exercise
    • sleep
    • food
    • nature
    • time management and breaks
    • group dynamics
    • meditation practices
    • non-activism relations
    • mentoring
    • social networks
    • long-term vision and thinking
    • creativity
    • spirituality

    A report following focus groups with trans and non-binary activists in Columbia describes some of their care practices. Participants were part of a community network that mobilized during the pandemic to support trans sex worker communities. Some takeaways for community care practices were:

    Care is a practice

    • It is constructed in practice through relationships or one-to-one agency. Care is "Research and active listening (...) so we know how to take care of others or take care of ourselves (...) it is also listening to ourselves, listening to our body, because our body is one of the first ones that starts to show signs when something is wrong when we self-medicate or our mental process declines” (Focus group member).

    [8]   Offer support groups or sessions

    • A peer support group was created by the network to use their own ways of addressing emotional distress from the daily violence they experience.
    • Hold space for grief, for raising difficult feelings.

    We build relationships, connection and trust in these vulnerable moments. Relationships and holding each other through violence sustain us.


    Ulex Project in Spain has several collective and personal tool suggestions for preventing and managing burnout, much of which relate to other aspects of group dynamics such as:

    Using the action learning cycle for reflection

    • The Action Learning methodology enables us to take the time for deeper reflection as a basis for enriched analysis and future planning. Act, reflect, analyze and learn, plan and act.

    Encouraging the practice of mindful awareness

    • "Mindfulness can be brought to our experience of the body, the senses, our emotional experience, behavioural tendencies, and to enable us to become more conscious of our thoughts and how they frame our experience. In addition to awareness of our own body, mind and heart, mindfulness is also a key factor in increasing awareness and understanding of others and our interactions with the world." 
    • "Body and breath based practices can support this kind of mental training." -Ulex Project. Body and breath-based practices that could be included in teams include holding brief meditations together (there's many free apps or youtube for this), or something as simple as 'shaking it out'.

    Holding space for open dialogue

    • It can help to hold space for the emotional experiences people are having.

    Raising power dynamics

    • Name them in your group.

    Consider decision making processes

    • It is "common enough to find that attempts to replace traditional hierarchies with horizontal flat structures which fetishize consensus processes can also lead to deep frustration, stagnation or dissipation. Developing greater agility in adopting differentiated and distributed forms of decision making can often help us to better express our values and free up energy and initiative." -Ulex Project

    Facing conflict and understanding it as necessary for growth

    • This also includes building a culture of feedback

    Considering your group's capacity when planning actions

    • Reflect each time you act on whether you were stretched thin, and how to improve this the next time.
    • Recognize you will need to apply some time and energy to strategic objectives that increase our internal capacity, secure further resources, and gain us time and potency.

    Balacing the type of work you do

    • Balancing "productivity with uselessness, action with reflection, output with nourishment and work with sheer enjoyment! These are all crucial aspects of long term and effective engagement." -Ulex Project
    The Netherlands The Support and Recovey team in Amsterdam offers post-action care suggestions (many of which are also important pre-actions!)

    Ground yourself in the restorative power of nature

    • As a group, or encourage this individually, go for a walk, do some gardening, bring your pets to the park etc.

    Check in on each other

    • Use the buddy system or affinity groups to better encourage regularly check in with each other

    Be creative when processing experiences

    • As a team or individually, have group members write down what they’ve experienced and how theyre doing, or try drawing, painting, writing poetry, dancing etc.

    Incorporate joy in your actions and meetings!

    What sustains activists in the HUB community

    Here are some responses from activists in the HUB community to the question "What makes you feel good about activism?" 

    "Community " "The interconnection"
    “Feeling the influence we can have” “More people are starting to get involved in activism”
    It can allow you to "free yourself from certain frustrations or anxieties."

    "Hearing from movement elders. It's a reminder these are intergenerational, long-term fights."

    Would you like to submit your response? Write to!

    Other resources and external support

    Zine: Sustainable Activism & Avoiding Burnout

    Mental health of activists (PTSD, panic attacks, prevention, burnout, police violence, post-action, class struggle

    Analysis: We need a climate movement that addresses the trauma of fighting for a burning planet

    How collective care can change society | Janey Starling & Seyi Falodun-Liburd | TEDxLondonWomen

    Section Well-being - Commons Change Library

    Notes from the book A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety by Sarah Jaquette Ray

    State Violence & Mental Health - Disruption Network Lab

    Fighting for Justice in Mental Health - Disruption Network Lab

    Eco-motion support community

    Book: Healing Justice by Jarem Sawatsky

    Book: Care work - Dreaming disability justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

    Eco-motion resources (see bottom of page for free resources)

    Sustaining ourselves as Activists - Helen Cox (The Commons)

    Crisis Toolkit - Fireweed Collective

    Testimonials from young people about their feelings about the climate crisis (Le temps de militer)

    “10 Great Resources on Activist Wellbeing - Commons Librarian”

    Tiohtià:ke (colonially known as Montreal)

    Mental health support for people from BIPOC communities - Génération Lavande

    Emergency and relief resources for people in BIPOC communities - Génération Lavande