How to Rest and Recover While You Fight for Social Change

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There are many ways to fight for social change but they can all put you at risk of burnout if you don't allow yourself some time to recover and get adequate rest.

Fighting for social change has the potential to make a meaningful impact on history, especially if you pay attention to the work that has already been done to inform and guide your efforts.

This article will discuss the ways in which you can avoid mental and physical exhaustion as you help to fight for social change.

Leading With Values

A good starting point in your fight for social change is to connect with the values that are important to you.

This approach is recommended in The Opportunity Agenda's (a nonprofit organization that fights for social change) Vision, Values, And Voice: A Communications Toolkit because communication research demonstrates that "audiences are more receptive to unfamiliar arguments when they are framed by shared values."

This can be particularly helpful as such work can be extremely draining given how much effort is often needed before significant gains are made.

In the moments where you begin to feel drained or discouraged by slow progress, it can help to remind yourself of the core values you share with folx in the same fight as you.

Strategies for Organizing

Organizing is a well-validated approach in the fight for social change, but it can still be challenging, especially if you are new to the process.

To get the most out of organizing work, it can help to rely on approaches that have worked well in successful movements, like Black Lives Matter (BLM).

BLM's Healing In Action: A Toolkit For Black Lives Matter Healing Justice & Direct Action outlines how healing was built into direct action to make the movement sustainable.

Some of their recommendations include:

  • Centering and grounding exercises: These exercises can be as simple as deep breathing exercises or sitting with others in silence.
  • Visioning: It can often help to remind yourself of all of your social justice goals and the change you hope to see in the future.
  • Organizing Community Support and Resources: This may include organizing a group of counselors to provide mental support for protestors.
  • Altar Building: If altar building is a part of your religious or spiritual belief system, building altars can be a great way for you to connect with your ancestors, God, or Spirit.
  • Food and Hydration: Making sure you find time to eat and replenish the nutrients in your body can help to maintain your mental and physical well-being.

Storytelling

In the fight for social change, storytelling can help to amplify the voices of those most impacted by this country's problematic social and justice systems.

In the Storytelling And Social Change Guide: A Guide For Activists, Organizations And Social Entrepreneurs, storytelling is recommended as a strategy for social change given that it can help folx to understand how the personal and political spheres are connected. This connection can help to build a sense of community—which is necessary to enact change.

As folx share their stories, it can help to release feelings of pain, frustration, and exhaustion that is often felt in the fight for social change.

When you see that others share your story and are there to support you, it can help remove some of the burden you may be feeling.

Building Collective Power

As you fight for social change, it can be beneficial to connect with other folx who are engaged in this meaningful work.

According to the Youth Activist Toolkit, "conducting outreach, building relationships with new members, providing opportunities for members to get more involved, and developing members into leaders" are all recommended as strategies for building more collective power for social change.

To better grasp the possibilities for building collective power, it may also help to thoroughly understand the larger context.

The Regenerations: Leadership Pipeline Toolkit recommends that all avenues including alliances, coalitions, collectives, community-based organizations, etc. should be explored when aiming to strengthen collective power.

Taking a thorough approach to outreach efforts helps with building collective power. This then creates the potential to decrease the work expected of folx individually and helps reduce the risk of burnout.

Creativity for Activism

The fight for social change can often be amplified through art, as creativity acts as a great tool for activism.

This is best facilitated through authentic partnerships for creative collaboration, as striking art on signs can help to grab the attention of folx, which can then allow for an activist's message to be conveyed more clearly.

To maximize the impact of creative endeavors, it is recommended to "amplify creative work that has already been done, target communities that are intrinsically diverse, tie local events to national advocacy efforts, and build long-term engagement with audiences, old and new, by creating opportunities to stay involved, stay in touch, and take action." 

By harnessing the power of creative expression, the fight for social change can get on the radar of more folx.

Sustaining a Movement

Throughout your work, rest and recovery are crucial in your fight for social change.

To sustain any movement, it is crucial for folx involved to be taking care of themselves and each other.

Some strategies for managing this include boundary setting, accessing healing resources, taking breaks, expressing gratitude, celebrating milestones, scheduling time off, eating, sleeping, and staying hydrated.

When fighting for social change, prioritizing appropriate rest and recovery is necessary to avoid burnout, so although these strategies may seem obvious, they can often fall to the wayside under the pressure of making a difference.

It can also help for folx to check in with each other regularly so that support can be provided as needed.

A Word From Verywell

While there is no shortage of different options for rest and recovery when fighting for social change, you can better utilize strategies that are a good fit for your needs if you know yourself well.

In addition to the offerings here, it can help for you to think about what else you have relied on to feel like you can keep going when facing challenges. These likely represent transferrable skills for coping that may be beneficial as you work towards making a meaningful difference addressing concerns in society.

For some, that might mean spending quality time with loved ones who motivate them to fight for social change. For others, it may be beneficial to read and reflect on brilliant equity trailblazers to guard against the frustration that can arise when investing in such work does not bring results as quickly as hoped.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for rest and recovery when fighting for social change so it may help to try a variety of strategies and reassess as needed, should circumstances change.

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  1. Fisher-Rowe J, Braune E, Thukral J et al. Vision, Values, And Voice: A Communications Toolkit. 1st ed. New York: The Opportunity Agenda; 2019.

  2. Black Lives Matter. Healing In Action: A Toolkit For Black Lives Matter Healing Justice & Direct Action. 1st ed. 2017.

  3. VanDeCarr P. Storytelling And Social Change Guide: A Guide For Activists, Organizations And Social Entrepreneurs. 2nd ed. Wilmington: Working Narratives; 2016.

  4. Gasch R, Reticker-Flynn J, Brooks C, Kesler S, Bovasso M, Brar N. Youth Activist Toolkit. 1st ed. Washington: Advocates for Youth; 2019.

  5. Benedict I, Iñiguez C, Ishida J. Regenerations: Leadership Pipeline Toolkit. 1st ed. Oakland: Movement Strategy Center; 2015.