How can we avoid activist burnout?

Kettering Green Party member Julia Thorley highlights the pressure local party work can put us under – sometimes, something’s got to give. So, how can we support ourselves and each other?

An image of Green Party members at the campaign launch
An image of Green Party members at the campaign launch
Julia Thorley

We Greens can heap pressure on ourselves without even having to try. Which of us hasn’t stood desperately clutching some household item that is no longer fit for purpose but that we can’t bring ourselves to throw away because – you know – landfill?

OK, that might sound flippant, but sometimes the challenge of always doing the right thing can be overwhelming. It’s hard enough as an individual, without the added weight of Green Party business, running local groups, supporting community initiatives and responding to social media posts and comments.

Then there is the growing number of Greens being elected to councils. This is great news, of course, but it places an increased workload on people who are often working full time and coping with family responsibilities. Many first-time councillors are surprised at how much work is involved not just in keeping up to date with local issues, but also in dealing with casework from residents, many of whom are frustrated by bureaucracy and despairing of ever getting a satisfactory answer from someone who stands a chance of actually getting something done.

We all know you can’t please all the people all the time, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try: and that’s when warning bells should sound. If we’re not careful, we will end up at best physically and mentally exhausted and at worst ill. What, then, can you do to protect yourself from burning out?

Not everything has to be done now. Don’t be drawn into responding to demands in the order in which they appear. If there is something to be prepared for a meeting at the end of the month, it can wait while you sort out that problem with tomorrow’s deadline.

Not everything needs to be done by you. You don’t have to be at every event, write every letter or deliver every leaflet. Build a team around you and use it. Trust me: people love to be asked to help with something. Learn to delegate.

Not everything requires action. Sometimes a simple acknowledgement will suffice.

Sleep is vital. If you need more time, you can either get up earlier or stay up later; you cannot do both – and don’t forget to eat.

Breathe. When it all gets a bit much, stop, take three deep breaths and then carry on. You perhaps know the saying attributed to Gandhi: ‘I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.’ OK, you might not want to sit with your eyes closed for most of the morning, but there is no doubt that taking five minutes out of every hour will make the other 55 more efficient than if you barrel on until you drop.

Accept that whatever you do, or don’t do, someone will criticise. That’s OK. You can either ignore them, because you know you’re doing your best, or you can pass it back to them, saying, ‘Thank you for your feedback. Would you like to take over this project?’

Recognise when it’s time to let go. If you don’t have the manpower, time or other resources to make a project a success, then maybe you’d be better expending your energy elsewhere. Don’t keep banging your head against a brick wall.

The other side to this is how we can all play our part in supporting our hardworking committees and councillors with practical steps.

Don’t say, ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do.’ Instead say, ‘What can I do to help?’ Better still, offer something specific: ‘I’ve got some time next week, so I can draft a newsletter for you/deliver to the foodbank/book a room for that event.’

Don’t offer to do something and then drop out at the last minute. That’s worse than not having offered in the first place.

If you’re short on time, you can still help. Do you have space to store stuff? Or do you have access to resources that might be useful down the line? Perhaps some cardboard for making placards, or a decent spade for tree-planting events? Maybe you could keep a list of who has what, so that next time the call goes out for, say, raffle prizes, you know who to call.

Want to help, but not sure what to do? The Green Party has some excellent training available.

Finally, never underestimate the value of a quick text to say, ‘Thank you. You’re amazing.’