Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Self Care in the Age of Activism

Before I get started, I have a question. Anybody else being inundated with spam? I normally used to get a notification once a month or so that there was a blog comment that needed moderating, but over the weekend I got like 15, in just a couple days. I'm thinking blogger botched some upgrade and made it a downgrade.

But back to the topic at hand...

Some of my Facebook friends will have seen an abbreviated version of this, but I thought it was work expanding on.

It is a time of high passions and many of us find ourselves putting a lot of energy into trying to hold off things we see as not just bad but destructive. Now I'm not going to get into which side and what activities. If you have been around, you know my politics, but this is not ABOUT that. This is some wisdom gleaned at a wellness day put on for some employees at the U where I work.

Now my purpose at being invited to this has to do with my dayjob. The U is making a serious effort at creating a more inclusive environment on campus and departments have champions, if you will. These champions, by definition, CARE. We care about people feeling included, which means collectively, we have higher than average empathy. And the risk factor I am addressing is related to THAT.

Compassion Fatigue

Why don't I start with a definition. Compassion fatigue is what happens when we see so many people hurting and we work like crazy to try to help, but the cases keep on coming. A person with a soul could get it watching the news these days. But at particular risk are people with causes close to their hearts. Nurses. Social workers. People who see people in the saddest of situations. But also human rights advocates. Aid workers. It covers an awful lot of us.

So How Do We Combat It?

Please consider these to be the patronuses against the dementors that are out there:

Purpose: keep the faith in yours—what you are doing is important. Allow yourself to feel that.

Creativity: use some, no matter how small it seems. This can be challenging. I find when my heart is drained it is harder to do what I consider good work. But there are lots of kinds of creativity, and who says it has to be “good”?

Connectedness with other people, real, online, friends, strangers. We did an exercise where we spent 90 seconds with a stranger, alternating—each got 45 seconds to ask questions, with a goal of finding a connection. And you know what? We did. It can be that fast. So the kind words in the grocery line matter. So does reaching out to someone you haven't talked to for a while, or pausing to actually interact with someone you see daily.

Presence: The other word is mindfulness. Try to be in the moment, rather than worrying about things that are happening in some other place or will take place at some other time. Our minds can wander, but if we stick to the here and now, the stresses don't compound so badly.

Sleep: 7+ hours a night, whenever possible.

Exercise: Especially if you can get out in nature to do it, or if it also involves some mind/body interaction. But most of us can get in a zone to exercise and take a little mental break.

Eat well: Lots of vitamins and minerals. Minimal highly processed crap. Whatever else works for your body, you probably know best. You can put whatever energy you can manage into it, but fresh stuff=good; processed crap=bad. Those are reliable rules.

Self Compassion: This is one we may have to keep reminding ourselves on. Be gentle with yourself. Take a break if you need. Let yourself feel good if you get something good accomplished. Let yourself grieve when it's called for. Treat you like you treat others... you are no less deserving.

And just keep on being your excellent selves and do what you can to make the world a better place, eh?


L. Diane Wolfe said...

When you're in a position where you have to really give of yourself, it's draining. You do have to do those things to build yourself back up. I'm exhausted after doing one of my seminars - 3 hours of giving my all and trying to help people just takes it out of me. I'd be useless the rest of the day if I didn't do something to recharge.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Connections matter. The enemy wants us isolated. Easier to take down. But the right connections can charge us just as much as those other things.

Andrew Leon said...

I haven't been getting more spam on the blog than usual, but I'm getting tons more to my email. It used to all go straight into my junk folder, but I've had a lot slipping through the last few weeks plus a ton more junk in the junk folder. Of course, my blog traffic is way up because of the political posts I've been running and my email is on my blog, so I think the two things might be connected.

Helena said...

What a sweet, wise post, Hart my dear. I'm so sorry that your work can be emotionally demanding and draining (damn dementors!), even as I admire you for all the good you do. My own small part usually just consists of chatting with clerks and other people I encounter. Life can be tough and sometimes just a few friendly words makes a difference for all of us.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Some professions require so much compassion that they can really drain a person. Social workers, underpaid and overworked, are some of those. You give good advice.