Effective Advocacy: Celebrate and Renew
Throughout this entire advocacy process, it’s important to take time to celebrate and to renew.
1. Take time to celebrate.
Meaningful systems change is often a long, complicated process, with numerous victories, setbacks, and changing circumstances.
With every small victory—and even when you have to stop and reassess—take time to celebrate and to be grateful for all the positives. Especially if you’re working with other people, those moments of celebration and appreciation are an essential part of maintaining enthusiasm and momentum.
Holly Hammond offers important insights for why “celebration is an activist skill” and ways to celebrate.
2. Take time to renew.
Many advocates are changed positively by their experiences, and they often become more resilient as a result of their work.
However, it is important to recognize potential threats to resilience and to identify protective coping mechanisms and successful approaches to resolving challenges to sustainable advocacy.
Become familiar with the differences between burnout and vicarious traumatization (i.e., secondary trauma, or compassion fatigue):
Burnout is a cumulative process that is related to increased work stress, energy depletion or emotional exhaustion, withdrawal from work, and reduced capability. Burnout is typically unrelated to trauma.
Advocates who witness and empathize with others’ suffering may experience what’s called “vicarious traumatization.” This traumatization can affect mental and emotional wellbeing. Vicarious traumatization can change your worldview, sense of self, psychological needs, or the way you think.
Advocates who are affected by vicarious traumatization may become less flexible, and it may become more difficult for them to identify solutions to complex problems.
Symptoms of vicarious traumatization can mirror post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can emerge as secondary trauma, avoidance, negative moods or thoughts, and an unexplained sense of danger or high alert.
Sometimes advocates who are experiencing vicarious traumatization may try to cope in ways that are harmful, including
- Self-numbing behaviors such as alcohol or drug abuse.
Typically, vicarious traumatization occurs over time. However, it can also occur in response to a single traumatic event.
As advocates engaged in often-difficult work, it is important to be aware of risk factors for vicarious traumatization, which can include
- a personal history of direct trauma;
- an increased exposure to trauma without sufficient time to recover; and
- a lack of support or guidance.
The risk for vicarious traumatization may be particularly high among advocates who work on behalf of especially vulnerable populations.
Here are some actions you can take to help prevent burnout and vicarious traumatization:
- Good self-care, including nutrition, regular physical activity, and adequate rest and sleep
- Nature-inspired awe, which can foster stress relief, joy, and a sense of peace
- Social support, since social bonds can nurture emotional wellbeing
- Healthy escapes and hobbies, including sports, art, or music, which can help reduce stress, depression, and anxiety
- Clarity of purpose, which can help foster a sense of hope and resilience
If you lead others, take some time to consider what you can do to prevent burnout and vicarious traumatization among your fellow advocates. For example, it can help to clarify roles and responsibilities, to encourage advocates to develop their own positive coping strategies, and to offer support.
Paul Gorski has done extensive research on activist burnout and has created a list of resources for helping activists overcome burnout and invest in their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others.
Advocates and leaders can also establish a culture of ethical practice that acknowledges the importance of respect, compassion, and justice.
And promoting moral courage, professionalism, anti-retaliation policies, and tolerance for a diversity of ideas can help promote resilience in the face of complex moral and systemic challenges.
Be well and embrace your inner advocate!