5 Environmental Activists Tell Us How They Keep Calm“We can't do everything, but what we can do adds up and can inspire others to do the same.”
When the world is on fire (or rife with unexpected weather patterns and climate disasters), it can be hard to stay grounded. And for those on the frontlines of this fight, burnout can be very real. Every environmental activist knows that fighting for the future of the planet requires ongoing, sustained energy, but they deserve a break just like everyone else.
It’s impossible to pour from an empty cup, so it’s worth reminding yourself and others that showing up for your community requires you to prioritize your own well-being too. Here, we asked five environmental activists how they practice mental fitness and keep calm while actively engaging in creating a better world.
Responses have been edited for clarity and length.
1. Hopelessness benefits the current system, so I practice three things to stay mentally healthy.
“To feel hopeless still benefits the current system—it leads to no change. Anger is an understandable emotion. The point is to see what type of action it can lead to that is aligned to our values. But it cannot be self-consuming. As Dr. Maya Angelou noted: 'You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.'
I try to think of at least three things that can come into play. The first is a practice of meditation that allows your mind to center, to start from a grounding space. For me, it's morning jogging. The second is ensuring you take time in a restorative space. The best is nature (other than sleep). So walk in the park, sit by a tree, wander by a creek, and the like. Lastly, non-extractive relationships. As people, even introverts, we can benefit from staying connected to a social community space, from not being lonely and isolated—even if we are alone.” —José Gonzalez, Outdoorist Oath co-founder
2. Boundaries, rest, and hope are a big part of being an activist.
“I have to set boundaries around commitments. I pre-plan when my schedule will be packed up versus when I have more ease. I am beginning to understand the urgent yet cyclical nature of the work as an advocate, learning how to find my own flow between activation and rest. Sometimes self-care is venting to a friend, carving out the space to cry and to feel frustration, or investing in support for daily things in life—like cleaning, therapy, workout classes, etc. The investment in a routine and better habits for myself helps me to feel grounded and accountable. I can’t do this work wholly unless I show up for myself too. Unfortunately, it’s not always cut-and-dry—sometimes you just try and mess up and try again. But as long as the intention and systems for accountability are put in place, I think you can keep finding your way back to center.
[When it comes to climate anxiety,] I enjoy focusing on solutions, connections, and curiosities on how I can do my part to make the world a better place. In an ecosystem of hope, doomism doesn’t thrive as well. The work I do on the Green Jobs Board gives me hope every day. We are a group of young people building a company to help people across the U.S. (and across the world hopefully soon) learn how to build long-term career pathways to protect people and the planet. Our company aims to bridge the gap and provide easily accessible resources, community, and awareness about the ways people can plug in, take action, and build a whole life working on this issue.” —Kristy Drutmna, founding member and facilitator at Outdoorist Oath, founder of Brown Girl Green
3. I come back to my “why.”
“I wish I could say advocating for Earth was always filled with rainbows and butterflies, and while Mother Earth can make some pretty magical things happen, that's not always the case. This work can feel heavy and so much bigger than yourself at times, which is why reminding myself of my 'why' is so important. For me, that means getting outside and spending time in nature. Whether it's an afternoon walk around my neighborhood, putting my feet in the grass for five minutes, or taking a weekend camping trip—those moments continually fill me back up with purpose and hope.
My favorite reminder of all is: ‘Do what you can, with what you have, wherever you are.’ I say it to myself a lot and often because it's true—we can't do everything, but what we can do adds up and can inspire others to do the same. Showing up for ourselves and the planet looks different for everyone, and that's the beauty of coming together. We each have unique contributions to creating a brighter planet. At the end of the day, I believe the way we treat Earth is a direct reflection of the way we treat ourselves. So I hope we can all be a little kinder and live a little lighter for a brighter future, together.” —Hannah Tizedes, Great Lakes artist and advocate, founder of The Cleanup Club
4. I focus on decolonizing our concept of rest and self-care.
"A critical part of one's mental health journey is being intentional about how we recalibrate the false connections between productivity and self-worth that capitalists have created. I've had my own difficult journey with unlearning that our inherent worth is based on our ability to scale businesses and personas into perpetual growth, rather than see our work, art, and existence as something that is meant to flourish in the ongoing tensions of uncovering reciprocity with those around us.
This helps keep me grounded in how mainstream narratives around ‘self-care’ forget that much of our personal care is deeply rooted in community care—and that capitalism has pushed us into corners where we feel accomplishment must be sought alone. I often see our capacity to grow as communities harmed as we're caught between the realities of capitalism and how this pushes up against self-worth, so in today's landscape I believe intentional reclamations of rest that are supported with decolonial learning and community building are key." —Diandra Marizet Esparza, executive director at Intersectional Environmentalist
5. I find power and resilience in being part of community action.
“My journey with climate anxiety truly transformed for the better once I took the first step to learn more and join a climate group to take action. My wonderful friends and fellow activists fighting for a safe future give me the courage to keep standing up. Hope comes from action, and from being part of the movement. Feeling the power we have collectively and being surrounded by others fighting for the same thing is a feeling which cannot be told or read about; it is something one must experience for themselves.
A quote I love [from Angela Davis]: ‘You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.’
The future I want to create is also one with joy. Joy is sustainable. And so I make sure to embody this and unite things I love for our planet, such as music and creative arts. Being in nature brings me a feeling of calm. Being present and connecting with nature and embracing the beauty of the world around us. Listening to birdsong, watching birds and noting down what I see, identifying trees, [and] smelling flowers is all part of it.
As a neurodivergent person, it is also crucial for me to understand that I cannot force myself to try and navigate the world like a neurotypical person. My brain is wired different. So, speaking to people, asking for accommodations, knowing my capacity and [the] energy things take, and knowing when to take a break [is important].” —Dominique Palmer, climate justice activist, coordinator for Climate Live
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