Kemal Çufoğlu, Young Greens UK
In the world of young eco and climate activists, in addition to fires in rainforests, there is another thing on fire which we aren’t talking about: activist burnout. I found out during YFoEE’s online youth gathering for climate and social justice that I was experiencing a total activist burnout, and I didn’t know what it was!
As a Policy Development Officer and chair of the a working group on glyphosate, I had busy year, where I led a campaign against the use of the carcinogenic and environmentally harmful herbicide glyphosate by local authorities. Following this, I continued working on environmental issues and since the beginning of Covid-19 pandemic, I started an independent campaign against a Cypriot fossil gas project in the Eastern Mediterranean, which if completed, would Cyprus’ climate goals. I was at a stage where my approach was ‘there is no time to stop and no time to lose‘, and I wasn’t raising issues affecting my work.
Avoiding addressing issues and overworking to make a change started to build up. Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic were then added to the mix, which imposed a drastic change in my work, affecting my personal plans. Challenges, responsibilities and expectations coming from all directions caused a tipping point effect and led my system shutting down. By August 2020, I was feeling overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. This state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress led me to develop anxiety and not only I have been unable to do anything, but I also didn’t know what was I was experiencing or how it could be solved.
Let’s be honest, there are so many wrong things in today’s world
Greta is so right! What’s happening today at the global level is all wrong. As young people, students, graduates or jobseekers, we should not be the ones chasing and running everywhere, trying to fix a broken system while those who benefited and are still benefiting enjoy a comfortable, carefree life.
We are just stepping into the “real world” and in addition to the economic and social disadvantages we face as young people, we are also forced to take ‘stewardship’ of future, which is the primary responsibility of adults. This is all in addition to struggles we are experiencing as youth. Socio-economic issues that we are experiencing under the current system combined with having no option but taking our banners to the streets against the climate crisis is unfair, and a climate justice issue we should be vocal about.
Eureka! What do we have? Activist Burnout! What do we need? Regenerative Activism!
I came across YFoEE’s online youth gathering at a pivotal time. Not only it was inspiring and regenerating to meet with other climate activists, but the speaker sessions and ULEX workshops on regenerative activism were particularly informative and eye-opening.
Attending sessions on how to nurture social movements and on regenerative activism was my Eureka moment. I realised that the state of emotional and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress had a name: burnout! I was experiencing all of its symptoms: feeling overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.
Apparently, I became aware that I was in ‘fight mode’ for far too long. I was working hard and trying to hold everything under control. In the meanwhile, I was suppressing issues which were clearly affecting my motivation and mood. Constant stress caused my system to switch to ‘flight mode’ that narrowed vision and focus, and developed alertness against expectations. While it looked like I was keeping things under control via emotional suppression and rigid denialism, in fact, I got under their control. I was now experiencing depletion, contraction and disconnection.
In her TED Talk on Emotional Agility, Susan David said that when we push aside normal emotions to embrace false positivity, we lose our capacity to develop skills to deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. The cornerstone to resilience, thriving, and true, authentic happiness is through emotional agility.
What surprised me was that this was a common pattern and issue shared by many young, compassionate proactive activists. YFoEE’s Online Youth Gathering allowed me to have a moment of self-reflection via creating a gap in my cycle and space for the new. Since then, although mapping my sustainability and achieving resilience is still a work in progress, I’ve been more diligent in the matter of self-care. I am now continuing my local work with resilience and contributing to regional and national environmental anti-pesticide movements.
- To fellow young activists, I would like to end by saying that we are all in this together: let’s not forget to take a deep breath along the way and acknowledge that our frustrations and exhaustion are as legitimate as our work and achievements.
- As activists, discomfort and inconvenience are what we are and what we cause against climate change deniers, big pollutants and politicians. These two words are our tools and, signs of a meaningful, better life in the making. For this reason, when we are the ones experiencing these feelings, we should remember that it can be adapted into a healthier, sustainable change.
If you want to know more about our System:Reset project and our new working group on the European Green Deal, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org