It’s that time of the year again! The year is coming to a close and I notice that everyone is getting happier yet more stressed at the same time. I think there is a reason why there is a small peak in suicides during the holiday season. It can be overwhelming to combine the normal expectations of life with the message that you’re supposed to ALWAYS. SUPER. HAPPY! The holiday season can be a very difficult time for some people for a variety of reasons, whether it has to do with having to see certain family members or not having anyone at all.
At the end of the day, the end of the year is not a piece of cake for anyone. As a sexual violence activist, I read and hear about really depressing stuff on a near-daily basis. In addition to whatever personal things I may be struggling with AND all of this good ol’ “holiday cheer” I realized this is a SUPER important time for self-care.
If you Google “activist burnout” you will get over a million and a half hits. If you then search for “holiday burnout” you get almost two million. These numbers show how prevalent these conditions are and as an activist during the holidays I think it suffices to say that it is twice as important to make sure you take care of yourself.
Burnout can be manifested physically, mentally, behaviorally, and spiritually. Some symptoms include:
- Chronic tiredness – sleep does not refresh
- Sleep affected – hard to get to sleep or wake early
- Withdrawal and isolating oneself from friends and colleagues
- Lack of effectiveness
- Negative mind set and irritability
- Cynicism about previously valued things
- Inner sense of emptiness – nothing left to ‘give’
It’s funny how both the activist and holiday burnout suggestions overwhelmingly had the same suggestions and key points. It shows that regardless of what may be burning you out there are a few indisputable ways to take care of yourself and minimize any ill effects. Remember: how can you help others to your full potential when you’re not effectively helping yourself? I especially liked the way that Anishinaabekwe put it:
Why is self love important in activism? Self love is important in activism because it shows self respect and personal empowerment. It is not self serving to have love for yourself. It is radical to love yourself. You can be a living example for the communities and people you work with. It will help you continue the work that you do because you are making sure to take care of you. This is radical because much of what people know as service is sacrifice. In this type of service you won’t be of any benefit to others if you are giving and giving while not taking care of you. You will eventually burn out. So you have to love you.
So how do you take care of yourself?
- Learn to say no. I will admit I don’t listen to this as often as I should. It’s hard sometimes because you WANT to help and do everything you can, but at the end of the day…you realize crap, I have taken on too much. And then being overstressed can lead to under-productivity. I also have learned to not immediately commit to a social event. I realized that my friends won’t be instantly offended if I don’t accept their party invitation right away. I may prefer to stay home and spend some quiet time to myself.
- Take care of your body. Try to implement healthy eating, exercise, and SLEEP into your normal routine. Remember: that awesome blog post you just found on SAFER will still be there tomorrow. I promise.
- Disconnect sometimes. Go for a walk. Read a (relaxing, non-work related!) book. Listen to some music. Write in your journal. Make sure you take some time away from the computer, BlackBerry, and Television screen.
- Plan and prioritize your life. This kind of ties in everything I mentioned together. Have a calendar with all your events, commitments, and to-do’s that you can access daily (Right now I use Remember the Milk and Google Calendar and sync them with my BlackBerry and desktop calendar program). Having everything in one place makes it easier for you to see what you need to get done and when so you can accordingly turn down that grant writing deadline or last-minute dinner invite.
- Physically schedule downtime. I LOVE reading, but can easily lose a whole day in front of the computer reading about the latest rape myth perpetuation or talking to friends about New Years Eve. Scheduling time to read and exercise and even watch that guilty pleasure show on DVR on my calendar reminds me that it’s okay to dedicate this time to me and I’ll still be able to get everything done. Then I can enjoy running that mile listening to Lady GaGa guilt-free and not having that deadline or Christmas errand hanging over my head.
- It is sooo satisfying ticking off that errand on your to-do list. Having a concrete reminder that you ARE getting things done can be a confidence booster and that everything (including eliminating sexual violence) has to be done one step at a time.
- Don’t know where to start? Using a time tracking program like Toggl can help you gauge how much time you’re spending (or wasting) and help you take the next step in time management.
So Happy Holidays! And make sure to take care of yourself!
Sustainable Activism and Avoiding Burnout, Activist Trauma Support
Avoiding Holiday Burnout, Empowher.com