What follows is a post by Lydia Snodin, originally published on her Campaigning 101 Blog, and in written in response to Charlotte Nichols’ piece on Mental Health and Activism. Lydia has been a member of the Labour Party since she attended a local Labour Party meeting in Brighton and fell in love with organising and campaigning. Previously a writer for the small feminist blog, Bad Salad, she now runs a Housing Campaign in West London to fight for a better private rented sector. I love the almost ‘Buzzfeed’ style of her articles and am really pleased that she has agreed to write on a regular basis for LYON.
Campaigns are wonderful, challenging and sometimes euphoric but most of us activists have experienced burnout at some point. That is, we did way too much way too fast and needed to sleep for a week to recover.
My inspiration for this came from a great blog by Charlotte Nichols on the Labour’s Young Opinions Network. Although I do not agree with all of the current discussion around mental health, I would describe myself as someone affected by mental health issues. For the past year I have been recovering from extreme anxiety, more than your day to day discomfort on the crowded commute but a diagnosable disorder that requires lifestyle changes to reverse. It made me confront not being able to continue at 1,000,000 miles p/h with no consequences. A year ago my life was…
I was living and working in Brighton, leading in a housing campaign whilst also running a group for young people in the local Labour Party. AND I was commuting to London for half of the week for a challenging new internship at a human rights NGO. Do you feel tired, stressed and anxious just reading about it because I kinda do!
The sheer quantity of coffee I consumed alone warranted an intervention with family and friends.
Since then I’ve been learning to take care of myself whilst living the campaign lifestyle. Here go my tips for fellow campaign-addicts who want to stay sane-ish:
1. There’s a difference between obligation and enjoyment
We all got into campaigning because we loved it but once you are involved it’s very easy to do more than you signed up for. There are an infinite number of phonebanks, door knocks and leafleting sessions. We should all make sure we are doing things for the fun of it rather than the pressure to – although a little pressure is part of the experience!
2. Every campaign deadline is not THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER
Every campaign goal – be it the general election, the EU referendum or the London Mayorals – is billed as THE BIGGEST CAMPAIGN IN THE WORLD. They cannot all simultaneously be the most pressing issue ever. I say this as someone who wants more people involved in activism. What I mean is: there will always be a big campaign, don’t worry!
3. Save your energy for when it counts
There is NOTHING like the feeling of the crucial days and weeks in a campaign. No replacement for the team spirit and intense bonding of the late nights, hysterical tiredness and junk food. Why not pace ourselves to enjoy rather than resent the final push towards the deadline? On election day last year I was door knocking in Brighton for 10 hours, I’ve never felt foot pain like that before or since. I wouldn’t change a thing.
4. Have friends who don’t campaign
This is hard yet essential for those of us who’ve built our social groups around our activism. Talking to people outside of the bubble can be a good barometer of when you’ve spent too much time immersed in election stats and not enough time binge watching How I Met Your Mother on Netflix. At this point I sincerely can’t tell whether HIMYM is amazing or I’m just used to it being on in the background.
So that’s my advice on how to avoid burnout. If we all took better care of ourselves and each other in activism we would have more dependable happier teams that could change the world and have fun doing it!
AND sometimes live off campaign strategy, biscuits and caffeine for three weeks FOR TEH LULZ.