March 3 2022 GM

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Glitter Meetups

Glitter Meetup is the weekly town hall of the Internet Freedom community at the IFF Square on the IFF Mattermost, at 9am EST / 1pm UTC. Do you need an invite? Learn how to get one here.

Date: Thursday, March 3rd

Time: 9am EST / 2pm UTC

Who: Selma Zaki

Where: On IFF Mattermost Square Channel.

Addressing Burnout

This GM will focus on Burnout: what is burnout? What are some signs of burnout and what can be done to address burnout on an individual level?

Selma Zaki is a licensed psychotherapist based in NYC. She has experience in providing therapy services between practices, community mental health centers and a hospital. Selma currently runs the Community Mental Health Program at Team CommUNITY, with the aim of serving digital rights activists and addressing their needs.


Addressing Burnout

  • Selma (@selma on Mattermost) is our Director of Community Mental Health, and authored our 2020 Community Health Report, with another coming up in may? Also, she will be launching psychosocial services very soon, where people can book directly with the AMAZING group of therapists she has brought together.

Can you share more about the Community Mental Health Program?

  • The Community Mental Health Program is designed to address the needs of DRDs. It is based on the needs that were identified in our 2020 Community Mental Health Report. We are offering mental health services: like one-on-one support and group circles. Educational workshops and villages on mental health, continued research to assess the needs of the community as well as tools and resources for conflict resolution and community accountability.
  • We also want to create more spaces for joy and connection
  • We just hired some therapists from all around the world and we're excited to launch soon!!

What are some of the observations you have made about the digital rights community in regards to self-care?

  • Based on all the conversations I had last year with activists for the report, it was clear that
    • 1) burnout levels are high
    • 2) burnout unaddressed can eventually lead to a sense of isolation (compounded by the pandemic)
    • 3) people in this community have a hard time prioritizing themselves
  • Basically we believe that the solution to burnout is not on the individual, but there needs to be organizational shifts

Do you have plans for the organizational side of things? It's not easy to implement a culture of mental health in an organization

  • Yes, our report in May is a tool + recommendation based report for organizations in the space

You say burnout causes isolation, but what does that mean practically? What causes it specifically?

  • When we're burnt out basically our cup is empty, so everything feels like work and even dread
  • We struggle to nourish ourselves and our relationships, and might not reach out when we need support
  • We can react negatively to our relationships and misinterpret things, not having enough energy to clarify the communications.
  • We also can feel guilt because we feel like we are not giving enough and the guilt can project as an aggressive attitude, so burnout also shows up differently for different people

There are three components of burnout

  • physical and emotional exhaustion
  • cynicism
  • feelings of reduced levels of achievement and ability.

What happens if you are burning out but then are in a situation where you feel you can't tap out? What do you recommend, maybe not just the individual, but the communities or orgs they are part of?

  • 1) First I'd challenge the "can't" and really assess if there's no room to take a step back. With this work, with all the stress and the histories of trauma - it's hard to differentiate between judgment and fear sometimes. So gently interrogating the can't.
  • 2) If it's a scenario where one truly can't - then it's about acceptance and drawing strength from that acceptance and the fact that we're also choosing to not tap out for a specific reason. so the combination of: acceptance, finding meaning in our choices, and remembering that it's not forever * * This is where we can trust our resilience

What about constant pre-burnout? Where people are functional but without motivation, languishing.

  • This also could be similar to high functioning depression.
  • In this cause it's important to take the time to understand the deeper causes. When we've been it in for so long, we might normalize it as a way of being and lose the curiosity to understand whats going on because we might not trust that a different reality could exist
  • We have seen this a lot with activists. They choose to continue and go go go, but that either leads to burnout or that unfulfilled work-life
  • ​​ The specific issue would be how to break that cycle. People have good arguments for not stopping, but they still should
  • Breaking the cycle is tough - because it means tolerating the following:
    • 1) Fear (letting go of the go-go-go means entering uncertain ways of being) and tolerating
    • 2) Grief - we get attached to our ways of being even if they don't serve us, and maybe tolerating shame (we might not feel as worthy if we do less)
  • Because work in a weird way burns us out but also distracts us from our fear and grief too
  • In itself, it can be a coping mechanism, so part of breaking the cycle means normalizing that we will feel things we don't want to feel
  • One participant added that some don't stop to breathe because of country specific challenges. You can't afford to take the break because 1) not enough of us are doing the work, 2) fear of the unknown, 3) how do I feed my family if I do stop?
  • Selma adds to this last point that it's hard to suggest what an individual can do because it feels like putting the burden on them when really it's on all the injustices. That being said, when we are in survival mode, we think in all or nothing: and we forget that small things - bit by bit can help. When we are in survival mode it feels "selfish" to take care of ourselves because there are such little resources but if it's reframed as an act of resistance - it might help. It could be something as simple as taking one breath a day.

What is the role of an org/employer in helping someone get to a better headspace?

  • They have to do so much more - and I'm hoping that slowly there's going to be a shift towards prioritizing mental health. a lot of this hopefully will be laid out in our next report.

Something challenging about burnout is the one related to capitalism and patriarchy. We observe the burnout dynamic on the individual level and within groups. But later, we found ourselves individually burned out by the system's factors. Any experience how you can protect yourselves from it?

  • it's hard - but for Selma it's about connecting to something greater than these systems - something that exposes how fragile these systems truly are.
  • Like community (community is so important for the burnout), nature or for some people it's their spirituality
  • It's also about putting the active effort to have practices in places (meditating, journaling etc etc) to keep our inner systems "clean" from all the toxicity

For diaspora folks it's so hard to find therapy that would connect the dots between burnout, individual self-care and with the cultural background:

  • At the intersection of burnout, we wonder between our capacity of self-love and self-care and he impact of one’s culture, since there are toxic generational patterns of labeling self-care as “luxury”
  • Some of the more powerful barriers are internal and our beliefs that have been passed down
  • We have reflected a lot on this idea of luxury and on one hand, we get the logic of our parents/grandparents and on the other hand, they wouldn't consider physical health / care a luxury that's not for us to have. it's genuinely a need. Because if it wasn't a need, we wouldn't burnout out

Certain parts of the world have therapists that are more attuned with this, what happens if you are in a place that doesn't have therapists that are attuned to this? finding therapists that can "connect the dots"

  • So in different countries there are different efforts. For example:
    • In canada there is this group called Healing in Colour
    • In the MENA region there's this effort called Juthoor
    • There is a new effort in Poland called Mindgram dedicated to burnout and mental health.
  • So there's been more and more efforts - not enough but we'll see more platforms connecting therapists to folks that are like minded

Are there tools to prevent burnout? Like good habits to check in with yourself and others?

  • So my go to is a meditation practice: the pausing and the listening to your body is an excellent check in.
  • In terms of actual assessments - the best practice is making space for conversations (with yourself and with others)

Any reads or websites or Instagram accounts you recommend that people can read?

Identifying burnout

Step 1 is always: recognizing the signs

  • Your body will be brutally honest with you and let you know if your burnt out

Signs of burnout

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion:
    • Chronic Fatigue
    • Insomnia.
    • Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention
    • Physical symptoms.
    • Increased illness.
    • Loss of appetite.
    • Anxiety, depression, Anger
  • Cynicism and detachment:
    • Loss of enjoyment
    • Pessimism
    • Isolation
    • Detachment
  • Ineffectiveness:
    • Feelings of apathy and Hopelessness
    • Increased irritability.
  • Lack of productivity and poor performance.

Once you've recognized and identified burnout its about identifying your needs:

  • 1) talking to someone
  • 2) physical movement
  • 3) time off
  • 4) novelty (doing something new and energizing)
  • 5) setting boundaries and saying no no no

Would it be helpful for you all if one a month we had Selma be a featured guest in a GM? And also what topics or areas are you interested in?

  • How to encourage your org to put into place practices and policies that support well being
  • How to support the well-being of your team