Angela Bischoff’s guest blog post about our sustainable activism workshop

On Jan. 26, 2012, thirty folks sat in a circle and shared what they were most passionate about – bicycles, pets, potlucks, green energy, climate change, gender rights, First Nations solidarity, changing the world.

But passion without limits can lead to burn-out. We’re all susceptible. So, we must pay attention to how we’re feeling. Am I tired? Anxious? Sore? Stop, breathe, stretch. Acknowledge your feelings, and your friends’ feelings.

We did a simple breathing exercise to ground us, and some stretching to connect us with our bodies. And then we got into our heads.

  • What is activism?  To be active, involved, engaged in community; to believe you can change the world; doing something rather than just talking or critiquing. Do you identify as an activist?
  • What is activist burn out?  Have you experienced activist burn out? What did it look and feel like?  Flame dies/burns out; symptoms include: lack of motivation, withdrawal, isolation, hopelessness, irritability, cynical, lack of enjoyment, unable to make decisions, unable to focus, fatigued, anxious, cry a lot, sleeplessness, exhaustion.
  • What is sustainable activism?  In it for the long haul; activating with joy, in balance, in good health; driven by compassion rather than anger; inspired.

After this animated discussion, we silently filled out the Burn-out Rating Scale. Some were surprised how low or how high they scored. Others were surprised that the symptoms listed were an indication of burn-out.

To activate our right brains, we did a drawing exercise: on one side of a sheet of paper we drew images that illustrated what our world looks like when we’re out of balance, and on the other side we drew what we’re like when in balance.

Then we brainstormed what depletes us, and what restores us.  Answers were written on the black board.

  • What depletes you? ie. over working, doing it all, not sleeping enough, dropping your hobbies or friends for the cause, not taking time to cook/eat well, relying on drugs/coffee/sugar to get us through, need to win at all costs, etc.
  • What restores you?  ie. delegate, share responsibility, make time to cook/eat well, make time for daily physical activity (cycling, yoga etc.), get enough sleep, maintain friendships and hobbies, have fun, right/left brain balance, etc.

Taylor Flook shared her knowledge of herbs that restore the body, and we all had a cup of healing tea made of alfalfa, astragalus, chamomile, gotu kola, hawthorn, licorice, lavender and oats straw.

  • Whose responsibility is it to ensure you are in good mental and physical health?  
  •  yourselfultimately you alone are responsible for your own health
  • your friends– you need to keep an eye on your friends and them on you because ill health can skew one’s perspective and sometimes we need a reality check from a friend
  • your community – it’s the responsibility of community to ensure there are good, affordable community support services

Petra Hanzlik encouraged us to validate our emotions, take responsibility for them, and then communicate mindfully. She suggested we turn “you” statements into “I” statements. For example, rather than say, “You’re such an ass”, try “I feel hurt when you do/say that.”

Imagine your health on a spectrum:  healthy ——– challenged ——– ill health

On this “health spectrum”, the earlier you intervene, the better. Setting in place good habits is easiest when you have the energy, that is, when you’re healthy. Once your health is challenged, it’s more difficult to set in place preventative measures that support good health. Also, the spectrum is a slippery slope. Once you start sliding toward ill health, you can lose control. The closer you are to good health, the more in control you are. Mind/body connection.

And lastly, a key lesson I’ve learned from my decades of activism is: don’t be attached to the results of your work! You win some, you lose some. In fact, you lose more. But in the end, we’ll win, and if we don’t, well we tried our best. You’re not responsible to save the world, just to try your best, and to play your little part.

I’d planned to end the workshop by all of us reading together out loud the Activist’s Commitment but we ran out of time: I have chosen to change society, but I also choose to be intelligent in the way I go about it. The future needs me well-rested, well-nourished, and well-exercised. The past is useful as a source of information, but never as a substitute for my own fresh thinking. If I am not enjoying what I am doing, then there is something wrong with how I am doing it and I will correct it.   Re-evaluation Counselling (Co-counselling)

We left the room charged up, ready to move into the world with a little more strength, vigour, awareness and hope. After all, changing the world should be a blast…

Angela Bischoff led our workshop on sustainable activism, with Taylor Flook and Petra Hanzlik.

Radio documentary

Listen to an insightful documentary on activist burnout.  The show documents the life of Tooker Gomberg and his battles with depression and tackling activist burnout.  The show was originally broadcast on CBC.

Hand outs

Depression Expression

Letter to an Activist

Sustainable Activism and Avoiding Burnout

Ten Commandments for Saving the World

Burnout Rating Scale

Mental Health / Protest / Self Care


Some good activist quotes

Van Jones:

“Angry activism is like burning diesel, and we need to activate like solar power.”


Velcrow Ripper:

“The process of activism is as important as the result. I want to live my activism.”

“Activate from a place of compassion, not anger.”

“Activate for, not against.”

“Cynicism is a sign of a broken heart, which can be crippling. There still are grounds for hope.”

“Optimism is based on facts. Hope is a leap of faith. I am defiantly hopeful.”

“Spiritual activism has an emphasis on being of service.”

“Break down the polarization, see the interconnections.”


Jack Layton:

We must activate from a place of proposition, not opposition.


Tooker Gomberg:

“It’s honourable to work to change the world, but do it in balance with other things. Explore and embrace the things you love to do and you’ll be energetic and enthusiastic about the activism. Don’t drop hobbies or enjoyments. Be sure to hike and dance and sing. Keeping your spirit alive and healthy is fundamental if you are to keep going.

“Take care of yourself and each other. Maintain balance. Eat well and get regular exercise. Avoid burnout by delegating tasks, sharing responsibility, and maintaining an open process. Be sensitive to your comrades. Have fun. As much as possible, surround yourself with others (both at work and at play) who share your vision so you can build camaraderie, solidarity and support. Enjoy yourself, and nourish your sense of humour. Remember: you’re not alone!”


Noam Chomsky:

“If you go to one demonstration and then go home, that’s something, but the people in power can live with that. What they can’t live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organizations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time.”