Perspectives: How to prevent burnout as a self-advocate

Graphic with text "Perspectives: Health & Wellness. How to prevent burnout as a self-advocate. By Will Johnson with the help of Steven Nguyen AND Lillian DeJean" An image of a woman who appears tired with her eyes closed and hands holding her face appear to the right.

Do you ever feel like you have too much going on? Do you feel irritated, stressed, or tired doing things that used to make you happy? You might be feeling burnout! Self-advocate Will Johnson shares tips on how to keep you healthy, happy, and on track to accomplish your goals.

What is burnout?

Burnout is exhaustion caused by a lot of stress that you’ve had for a long time. Signs of burnout include:

– a lack of energy
– feeling like you want to sleep a lot more
– stress
– anxiety

“Burnout is a mental health thing when you feel like you’re stuck in a rut,” says self-advocate Steven Nguyen.

As a self-advocate myself, I feel like we can get burned-out from continually striving to make a difference and always trying to be the best version of ourselves. You will go after everything you can to be the Best YOU, but we can burnout as we work toward our goals, our dreams, and our success.

Tips to prevent burnout

I chatted with my friends and fellow self-advocates Steven Nguyen and Lillian DeJean to get advice on how to prevent burnout in advocacy. Lillian believes taking care of yourself is another form of self-advocacy saying, “Advocacy doesn’t necessarily have to be fighting for causes. It can just be about being kind to yourself.”

Here are Steven and Lillian’s top tips about preventing burnout.

Woman holds her face with her eyes closed. She looks tired.

1. Put your health and well-being first

“First and foremost, prioritize your health and your well-being. That’s one of the most important things you can do to prevent burnout,” says Steven.

Lillian says to stay in tune with your mind and body. They say, “Our minds and bodies can be a little bit more sensitive than other people.” Tuning in and listening to your body is important to keep a good work-life balance. Don’t overwork yourself!

2. Time-management

Steven recommends setting goals for yourself, prioritizing different tasks, and sticking with a schedule. These tricks will help keep your mind fresh and focused on the task at hand.

3. Dedicated self-care time

Don’t forget to schedule time for yourself! Use this time for self-care and reflection. Do things that bring you joy, like reading a book, cooking, or watching your favorite show. Or you can simply sit in a quiet space and reflect.

Young man wearing glasses hugs himself with big smile and eyes closed.

4. Be okay with telling people no!

As self-advocates, we tend to take on a lot in the advocacy world. Whether joining a committee or participating on a board, these extra activities add up. Steven says, “When you’re giving so much time to other people, sometimes you’re not giving enough time to just be yourself.”

Lillian has learned to take a break when they start feeling tired and burned-out. Lillian says, “I used to just push through and work harder, which is not what you should do. Now the healthier approach I try to take is saying ‘no’ to all the extras, and taking more time to myself outside of advocacy and work.” Meetings you don’t have to attend and voluntary roles can wait until you feel not burned-out.

5. No shame in stepping away.

Lillian says, “One of the most important things for me to learn having experienced burnout is that stepping away from things isn’t shameful. It’s important to give yourself grace and kindness whenever you’re burnt-out rather than shaming yourself for not being able to do the things that your body is not able to do.”

Young woman stands with her arms up crossed into an X in front of her chest. She frowns while looking sternly into camera.

6. Celebrate all your accomplishments – even the little ones.

In the moments you start to feel bad from burnout, try to remember all the great things you’ve done. It has taken you so long to get to where you are now. You’re not giving up by putting something on pause. The road gets tough, but you will continue once you feel healthy enough to continue.

7. Don’t forget to check on your friends!

Someone once told me that we have to check on one another in the community. If you’re feeling burnout, talking to a friend might help you feel like yourself again. Also, it’s important to check on your friends to make sure they feel happy and healthy, too! You never know what a friend is going through. Checking-in on a friend who may be experiencing burnout may help them feel like they have someone in their corner.

As self-advocates we need to keep our work-life-advocacy balance in-check. Remember to take breaks and keep yourself healthy. Don’t let the work burn you out!

Young man sits in a wheelchair with a big smile on his face. Next to him is a black service dog.

About the authors

About Will Johnson

The article was primarily written by Wilbert Johnson who goes by “Will.” He is a Self Advocate, Speaker and Public figure. He currently works as the Administrative Coordinator at Human Development Center and is co-captain of HDC’s Plain Language Task Force.

Will says, “My personal goals include learning to be ‘Wilbert,’ a person with a learning disability.” He doesn’t allow his disability to stop him from achieving his dreams, and he takes pride in being an inspiration. Wilbert is currently working on an associate degree in office Management. He lives by the motto: “Be the best you can be always.”

About Steven Nguyen

Steven is a Community Resource Specialist at Families Helping Families of Greater New Orleans. In this role, Steven provides peer-to-peer support to individuals living with disabilities and other health conditions. This includes providing information and referrals to local, state and national resources, mentorship, and actively participating in programs/initiatives that promotes self-advocacy, self-determination, and inclusion with the goal of improving the quality of life for those living with disabilities and other conditions. Steven was born with a condition called spina bifida and uses a wheelchair full time.

About Lillian DeJean

Lillian DeJean currently works as coordinator for the Louisiana Youth Leadership Forum (YLF) at Families Helping Families of Acadiana. YLF focuses on empowerment, leadership, and self-advocacy skills for people with disabilities. Lillian also currently serves as a self-advocate on the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council. There, they chair the Youth Leadership Committee and works to increase empowerment and self-determination among people with disabilities.

About Perspectives

Perspectives is a blog inspiring change through different perspectives brought to you by our Constituent Advisory Committee (CAC), HDC staff, and local community. Our current theme is Health and Wellness. If you have a perspective on wellness and disability, email your idea to