Activist Burnout

A sad business womanActivist burnout is a phenomenon that occurs when a political or social activist feels overwhelmed, frustrated, hopeless, or depressed, usually after a period of extensive activism.

What is Activist Burnout?

Working to effect a social change or on behalf of a cause can be hard work, and activists frequently meet with resistance. An environmental activist, for example, might frequently hear that his or her efforts are better spent on other social problems or argue with people who disagree with his or her environmental activism. The large, complex nature of social problems can also contribute to burnout. A victim’s advocate may be so overwhelmed by the ways in which people are victimized and re-victimized and the social systems that contribute to this victimization that he or she feels paralyzed and helpless.

Symptoms of activist burnout may include:

  • lethargy
  • difficulty participating in or enjoying normal life activities
  • anger and frustration
  • helplessness or hopelessness
  • feelings of shame or guilt about one’s inability to effect societal change

How is Activist Burnout Treated?

Activist burnout is not a recognized mental health condition. Instead, it is a collection of generalized feelings of frustration, anxiety, and/or sadness. However, it can lead to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. When these conditions occur, they can be effectively treated with the help of a mental health professional.

Activists experiencing burnout may benefit from brief breaks from activism to enjoy unrelated activities. Other coping strategies include:

  • Taking good physical care of yourself
  • Spending time with family and friends
  • Avoiding political and social arguments with people who are unlikely to agree with you
  • Establishing a support group of people who share your interest in a cause
  • Recognizing that systemic change takes time and cultivating a positive attitude about small changes
  • Prioritizing activist commitments; no one person can participate in every activity
  • Exercising and/or meditating


  1. AAUW Dialog. (n.d.). Activist Burnout: Coping With the Weight of the World. Retrieved from
  2. Preventing activist burnout. (n.d.). Radical Psychology Network. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 08-4-2015

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