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Kate Wasson: Political Burnout

By: Kate Wasson

What is Political Burnout?

According to Pew Research, about two-thirds of Americans feel worn out by the political climate. This feeling of being ‘worn out’ is most commonly referred to as burnout. Regardless of political party, burnout is common, however there is very little conversation regarding the topic.

In a journal by Professor Ayala M. Pines of the University of California, Berkeley, titled, “Burnout in Political Activism: An Existential Perspective,” burnout is prompted by “stressful environments, presence of negative features and goals and expectations not achieved.”

Maria Pendolino, a voiceover talent and casting coordinator explains that her burnout is prompted by the urgency of her work. She said, “Things are always a rush, especially in my line of political work. We are often responding to something that the other side has done, so they need things from vendors like me ‘yesterday.’ Even the best laid plans can get thrown up in the air.”

For Pendolino, the global health crisis has heightened her political burnout. “There were always problems with boundaries in political work – things needing to be done evenings, weekends, etc., and I feel like the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this,” Pendolino said. “The lines be-tween work and home have completely blurred and there sometimes is an expectation that we’re ‘always on’ which is hard.”

Even outside of her work as a voiceover actor, Pendolino experiences burnout by watching the news.

“Political work is very personal. Especially as a woman, in this election cycle, so much of the news has been really difficult to deal with. So, having that news be a part of your day to day work can add to the exhaustion.” Because she is constantly watching the news, Pendolino often feels over-whelmed and worried.

“News fatigue,” as Pew Research references, occurs when individuals are overburdened and con-stantly exposed to the news. People who work in the political field are more susceptible to feeling news fatigue and burnout.

“Nearly three-quarters of those who follow political and election news “not too” or “not at all closely” feel exhausted by the news (73%), higher than the share among those who follow political news “somewhat” (66%) or “very” closely (56%),” Pew Research reports. Because their work re-quires them to be aware and informed, people who work in any area of politics experience burnout at a higher rate.

Women, especially, are more susceptible to feeling burnout and news fatigue, as Pew Research found in their study. “Women are also slightly more likely than men to feel worn out by the amount of news there is (69% vs. 63%),” Pew Research found.

Gracie Ziegler says that her burnout, too, is sporadic and reflective of the news. “If it’s been a particularly stressful news day with multiple negative headlines that impact either me directly or the community I am a part of, this is probably what brings (burnout) on the most, and that has been happening more frequently.”

For Ziegler, an Arkansas-based political consultant and community builder, work can be very stressful, especially during a global pandemic.

“Filing day in Arkansas, for 2020 races, was in November of 2019 so that we could be part of the presidential primary – that means state and county races have been working for almost a year. (For context, normally our filing is in February or March of the election year). So it seems like we’ve been working on races forever. Even though we had plans in place (pre and post pandemic), pres-sure is mounting,” Ziegler describes. “Change is tough when you’re working on more than one or two races because it inevitably impacts more than just the race or candidate that wants to change up their plan. That part of the process sometimes leads to brief burnout because it becomes over-whelming to think about how to make it all come back together and work out.”

Coping with Political Burnout

To cope with burnout, Ziegler grounds herself. “I have to break things up and think about things at a micro level, a community level,” Ziegler said. “When something wacky happens at a national lev-el, it’s easy to get lost in the twitter void, but I have to ‘bring it back home,’ and think about how (if at all) it will impact the work we’re doing on the ground in Arkansas.” Ziegler reflects on the im-portance of her work and uses it to motivate her.

Ziegler is also inspired by the women who have decided to run. She says, “I think about all the women who have stepped up to run because they see the disparity in our leadership. For instance, the Arkansas State Legislature is less than 25% female, and then less than 10% progressive fe-male.” She uses the stories of strong, politically active women to drive her interest and motivation in her work.

By reflecting on the value of her work, she realizes that her actions are crucial in changing society. “I think about how hard we worked to get them elected and to get their voices heard,” Ziegler said. While not all of them win, they all are making change and helping people to understand what is go-ing on at all levels of government and leadership. And, most importantly that any of us can and should have a voice.”

While burnout is difficult, reminding herself that she is changing the political landscape is crucial to coping.

Pendolino finds that while staying informed is important, limiting one’s newsfeed can be a crucial coping mechanism.

“I try to limit how much news I consume outside of my job. I want to be informed, but I don’t want to be overwhelmed,” Pendolino said. “Trying to keep your head above the fray is almost a form of self-care.”

According to an article published by the American Psychological Association, it is important to practice a pattern of self-care.

“Repeated small doses of self-care are more effective than a once-a-week event,” said Dr. Rebecca Schwartz-Mette, PhD. Dr. Schwartz-Mette advises that habitual activities like going on a walk can help alleviate symptoms of burnout.

Preventing Burnout

To prevent constant political burnout, Ziegler relies on planning. “Whether it’s planning social me-dia posts in advance of events, key votes, decisions, personal milestones … or thinking about plans for how we place qualified candidates in districts that haven’t had a challenger in year,” Ziegler said.

“It also takes short term planning. I try and plan times to not scroll social media or the news. Whether that’s getting on the bike to ride or walking with my dog or doing yoga, I try to be inten-tional about not actively participating in the things that make me anxious and lead to burnout. Tak-ing time to recharge is very important, and it’s also easier said than done. So thinking ahead, mak-ing plans, and writing them down or scheduling is helpful to me. By planning breaks, Ziegler is able to relax and distance herself from the chaotic political scene.

Similarly, Pendolino practices self-care, focusing on her health. “I try to make time for exercise and eating well and my own personal health, even though it’s really easy to cancel that or just eat at my desk,” Pendolino said.

According to a 2017 Statistica study, the best way to avoid burnout in those aged 18 to 29 was to exercise. Focusing on one’s health— both mental and physical— can have a significant impact on preventing burnout.

In Pendolino’s field, she has to take extra steps to keep herself from experiencing burnout. “As an actor I also have to take care of my physical body and voice to do my job well,” Pendolino said. “I use a humidifier, I steam my voice and throat daily, I stay hydrated, I avoid dairy products that can cause phlegm and during the peak of election season, I really try to not talk evenings and weekends so that I can rest my voice and be ready for the next day and not do any damage. Not everyone wants vocal fry, rasp, and gravel in their reads.”

If you can, take a break and distance yourself from your work. Your mental and physical health will thank you.

Caroline Jaros (CJ), a campaign volunteer for Cisneros for Congress, advises her colleagues to set boundaries while working.

“Learn how to say no,” CJ says. “People will ask you for so many things, and if you don’t start us-ing the word ‘no’ and guarding your time, you’ll burnout even faster.”

Taking a day or two off from your work may seem challenging, but having a break can be incredi-bly beneficial.

Silicon Republic reports, “Taking leave is an essential component to assuring your working life and personal life remain in harmonious balance. Working yourself down to a fine powder and me-chanically pressing ahead even if your body and soul scream at you will ultimately benefit no one.”

Many people face political burnout, especially leading up to a historic presidential election. While it may seem intimidating, the feeling of burnout can be temporary, as there are effective methods of coping and preventing political burnout.

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