Activists get burnout too

Activists can reach burnout when they take on too much.  Here are some tips to help avoid over extending yourself.

WASHINGTON, August 5, 2012 -  After decades of silence, I began to speak out and share my story of being trafficked as a minor. I felt called to share my story and to help contribute to the war against human trafficking by sharing my story with others.

Just because a person has a calling to speak out doesn’t mean that they cannot get burnt out. In the first few months, I quickly saw that if I truly wanted to make a difference and help others I would have to put some guidelines and priorities into effect in my life to keep things in balance and remain at my best.

Most activists are working for a cause for deeply personal reasons and are putting all their energy towards that cause can be emotionally and physically draining for them. I went from isolating myself to sharing my story with hundreds of people, and I found that I was starting to overextend myself because I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity offered to me. All of my energy was going towards my cause and little was going into other areas in my life.

I had to learn to be selective about which engagements I took on. Human beings are complex and letting one part of our lives devour all of our time will not work in the long run. Taking time for other interests in our lives allows us to return to our causes refreshed and energized.

I am writing a book, and before I started to speak out about being trafficked, I often wrote late at night whenever the spirit moved me. I quickly saw that I needed to set up a more defined writing schedule in order to keep my writing on track and on time with my editor. If I wanted to keep other areas in my life on track, I needed to make sure that I took time for them too.

Being burnt out or stressed is a real problem that activists need to think out and try to avoid. Some of the warning signs can include:

  • constant fatigue or little energy
  • lack of sleep or being unable to get to sleep
  • not taking time to take care of yourself
  • not being able to ‘turn it off’, like your blackberry or laptop

If you find yourself answering emails in the middle of the night and you cannot turn off your cell phone, it might be time to take a break and stand back from the cause your fighting for.

I talked with Holly Austin Smith, survivor of human trafficking, activist and writer about what she does to combat stress and avoid burnout and she said, “As survivors and activists we must learn when to say no. As much as we might want to speak at every event, we must know when to take care of ourselves and our families.” 

We need to replenish ourselves by recharging the very energy that first got us started as activists. Some steps we can take to do that are:

  • simply take time out to relax, we forget to take time for ourselves, learn to meditate or just take a break
  • ask for help, delegate, it is ok to ask for help, you can not do it all by yourself
  • set boundaries, get a timer and set it for how long you want to be online
  • communicate don’t isolate, weekly happy hours or support groups can be good
  • having a success in another area of life can do wonders when fighting for a seemingly never ending cause

Spending time with close family or positive friends can be a great way to relax. Chong Kim, survivor of human trafficking, writer and film maker, had this to say about survivors and staying focused, “Instead of telling my story, I like to teach the audience about trafficking, it gives me a sense of purpose. I also meditate, pray and spend time with positive friends and family.”

A wonderful website for activists and others to check out is This site has lots of materials, workshops and more to help avoid burnout and stress while working towards a cause.

I believe if all new activists and speakers can manage to connect with other more experienced people in their area of concern and find someone willing to share their expertise and advice it will help so much to avoid burnout in the long run. We cannot fight our best fight against our cause alone, we need each other. And we need to remain focused and be our best selves if we want to be effective for a long time.




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Barbara Amaya

As a survivor of human trafficking Barbara Amaya speaks and writes from her experiences as a trafficked child. She has been published in varied media like Yahoo Voices! More magazine and her story of overcoming adversity has been featured on Fox News, Channel 4, Examiner, Animal New York, Washington Times and more.

She has a book in progress, A Girl’s Guide to Survival: Life Lessons from the Street, and has written a graphic novel about human trafficking targeted for middle and high school age students, you can get updates about Barbara her books and her activities in the anti-trafficking community at her website follow her on twitter barbaraamaya4 and on facebook, linkedin and google + and pinterest

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