How activists like Emma González fight burnout

Some of the busiest activists share their self-care tips for staying sane in a crazy news cycle.

How activists like Emma González fight burnout
Rowan Blanchard and Emma Gonzalez speak onstage during Teen Vogue Summit 2018: #TurnUp [Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Teen Vogue]

No matter how busy you are or how daunting your work may feel, dedicating time to step back and recharge matters.


Take it from leaders like Common, Cecile Richards, Cynthia Nixon, Al Gore, and labor leader Dolores Huerta–a few of the influencers who spoke at the Teen Vogue Summit in New York City last week. Aimed to empower young activists to turn up to the polls and mobilize for action, the summit aligned with National Gun Awareness Day and the start of Pride Month but also hit on other topical issues, from immigration rights, police brutality, and racial and gender equality to climate change, mental health awareness, and criminal justice reform. While Teen Vogue and Them chief content officer Phillip Picardi opened the summit with a call to action to the young leaders in attendance to continue to speak out and stand up, the theme (and challenge) of balancing turning up with practicing self-care wasn’t lost.

“You’ve been going, going, going very quickly the past few months. What have you been doing to sit down, slow down, and not go crazy?” actress Rowan Blanchard asked #NeverAgain gun-control movement cofounder Emma González in an on-stage interview.

“I’ve found Brooklyn 99 on Netflix,” said González, the graduating Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior who responded to the February school shooting that killed 17 of her classmates by co-organizing the largest pro gun control rally in U.S. history. “Everyone’s on their laptops doing stuff, people are on calls, and I’m lying down under the table alternating between Brooklyn 99 and The Office, which I’ve seen nine times.”

In those moments when you’re overwhelmed with current events or by the thought of all that you want to change–be it in the office or the world–how do you balance your sense of urgency with your sanity? How do you avoid burnout and letting your news diet paralyze you into inaction? Here, other activists, entrepreneurs, politicians, and entertainers share their tips.

Find your body massage equivalent–Kid Fury, vlogger, comedian, and podcast cohost

“I schedule specific times when I’m going to read the news and when I’m not . . . Then I look to do things that are a release. I love video games [like The Sims] as a form of escapism . . . A Beyoncé concert is a full body massage for me . . . If your thing is writing, reading, riding your bike, going to the dog park–whatever gives you your release–go for that in the moment when you’re losing it. Because you absolutely will. And we need our wits about us to be as mentally healthy as possible and to actually enact change.”

Related: How to recognize and prevent burnout before it hits you


Let self-care be a revolutionary act–Amandla Stenberg, actress and activist

“The first thing you have to do is cultivate grounding practices for yourself. It’s a really challenging time. It’s hard. And you’re not able to go out there and be your best self and contribute to action if you aren’t grounded and allowing yourself the time and space to be healthy within yourself . . . [Take] that time and space to care for yourself. Doing that is a very revolutionary act if you’re someone who’s dehumanized consistently . . . Remember to rely upon that joy and that belief in self when protesting. Because that can be such a beautiful, powerful thing.”

(L-R) Angie Thomas, Amandla Stenberg, and Common speak onstage during Teen Vogue Summit 2018: #TurnUp–Day 2 at The New School on June 2, 2018, in New York City. [Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Teen Vogue]

Steer clear of the comments–Amanda Nguyen, Rise founder

“I don’t ever read comments on any articles. That is a healthy border for me. Haters are gonna hate. So having a deep belief in what you’re fighting for and coming back to that rock is really helpful. Hope is such a powerful force. To see that people–young people, women of color–are organizing and bridging divides and winning–that inspires other people. It’s contagious.”

Don’t drive yourself crazy reading the same thing repeatedly–Chirlane McCray, first lady of New York City

“With the negative stories, I have to read to know what’s going on. But I don’t need to read a different version of the same thing over and over again reproduced 20 other places. I try to avoid that repetition because it really does steep inside your nervous system. Once I’ve read something, I look at the headlines and delete, delete.”

Find your fans–Ja’mal Green, community activist and Chicago mayoral candidate

“It’s being able to be out on the streets and getting shown the love, the energy that people are excited for change. It’s them showing me that they want something new, something refreshing. Them showing me that, ‘I’ll give my money’ or ‘I’ll come out to protest,’ or ‘I’ll come out to vote.’ That shows me that there’s hope.”

Related: The Secrets to recognizing and avoiding burnout

Own your calendar–Phillip Picardi, Teen Vogue and Them chief content officer

“I structure my day so that I have the mornings open and to myself–mostly to read and listen to news. My afternoons are busy with back-to-back meetings, and then evenings with events or errands. I try to make sure I have enough time to sift through newsletters, features, and podcasts in the morning hours so that I feel informed before starting my day. At night, I sweep Twitter and consult the New York Times evening briefing. The afternoon is the one time I get to be with people face-to-face and make decisions, so I like to make sure I’m not on my laptop or phone during those meetings. It helps me be in the moment and take a step back from the vicious cycle.”


Listen to your body language–Crissle West, writer, comedian, and podcast cohost

“When I find myself just scrolling past things that are really major or important and rolling my eyes, or when every tiny thing is getting on my nerves when it wouldn’t ordinarily, I know it’s time for a break–that it’s me, not the internet. It’s important to close my laptop and put my phones on ‘do not disturb’ in a drawer somewhere where I can’t just go pick them up . . . It’s very important to not just put the electronics away but to focus on how you feel, maybe journal about it, and then go do something else. That feeling of being frustrated and overwhelmed, that’s your body telling you, ‘Enough.'”

Katie Sanders is a freelance writer and editor whose reporting pursuits have brought her to Norwegian prisons, JDate, and the White House South Lawn. She launched and edited Jopwell’s The Well, and her work has appeared in Vanity Fair, Glamour, Teen Vogue, Marie Claire, Refinery29, Forbes, and Seventeen, among other outlets. Follow her on Twitter at @katiessanders.