By Jo Musker-Sherwood

One of the most common challenges for climate activists is how to balance self-care and planet care. Over and over again, we wrestle with questions like, ‘how do I know I’ve done enough when nothing will ever be enough?’ And ‘is it ok to enjoy myself when the planet is burning?’.

Since stepping down as Hope for the Future’s Director two years ago, I have spent my time researching resilience strategies for climate activists. This was born out of my own experience battling burnout, as well as the countless stories I had heard during my six years in the environmental campaigning sector. 

It had become obvious to me that further support was needed to help those working in the sector not only to resist burnout but also to restore the deep sense of meaning that often draws us to this work in the first place.

I surveyed three hundred people from within the sector and found that respondents reported significant levels of anger and frustration, eco-anxiety, grief, confusion, overwhelm, overworking, guilt, and exhaustion (all rated 3.5 or above).

It’s not surprising; climate change is not something that we can easily switch off from at the end of the day. It is all-encompassing and it touches every aspect of our lives. Once we know about the state of the planet, we cannot easily ‘unknow’, which can leave us in quite a difficult position with regards to our own self-care.

So, drawing on my past two and a bit years of research, here are the top three strategies that I’ve found to help the most;

  1. Feel the challenging feelings. All too often we try to deal with our fears about climate change by ignoring them or pouring ourselves further into our work. This might help in the short term, but in the longer term, it’s a direct ticket to burnout. Practices that allow us to safely feel our feelings are one of the most powerful antidotes to this risk. Cultivating a meditation practice, spending time in nature and journaling, for example, are all ways we can connect with and process these feelings without becoming swamped by them.

  2. Practice health boundaries. The urgency of the climate crisis would have us running this race as if it were a sprint. But it isn’t, it’s a marathon. We need to be able to take breaks, pace ourselves and switch off if we are to be able to stay engaged for the long haul. Setting a boundary around the information we consume about climate change, and how much we are willing to give to this course, for example, are essential components of sustainable activism.

  3. Know that you are not alone. Oftentimes, what the people I now support through my coaching and workshops most need isn’t answers, strategies, time off or even a reduced workload (although that’s not to say that these things wouldn’t help!) but it’s actually to be heard. To know that they are not alone in their fears for the future. Something changes for us when we are able to name our experiences; we can get it out of ourselves, gain a little distance, and see things from new perspectives.

If you’re looking for a community of people to connect with, why not join the Self-Care for Climate Activists Facebook group? You can also subscribe to my mailing for free, weekly resilience strategies.

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