It is the start of the year, and for many of us, the year starts off with a lot of energy carried over from the festive season. I, however, had a surprising wake-up call just before submitting this article. I received the sad news that my granny whom I loved very much had passed away and was already buried by the time I was informed of her passing.
The news shook me, but I pushed the news and feelings aside. I got back to the work that needed to be done, emails that needed to be read and sent, meetings that needed to be attended and deadlines that needed to be met.
It was only a few days later that I began feeling immense pressure and extremely overwhelmed. It felt as if I was surrounded by a dark cloud and I sank into a deep depression. I sought some medical help and eventually realised that I was actually grieving the loss of my granny, but had not given myself the time to mourn her loss.
It was at that moment that I realised that as an Activator who is always busy doing and planning so many things, I also need time for intentional self-care. I don’t know about you, but I think we often get so caught up in the busyness of our lives that we forget to take care of ourselves.
This is why it’s so important to take stock of our lives at the beginning of the year. As Activators who are trying to drive positive change, we are going to be confronted with multiple stressors and internal pressures throughout the year that may cause us to burn out.
Ayala Pines and Elliott Aronson, in an article called Career Burnout – Causes and Cures, published in The Free Press 1998, points out that we can experience burn out when we feel exhausted emotionally, physically and mentally after long-term involvement in situations that are emotionally demanding. When we burn out, it is as a result of a combination of many factors, such as the high expectations we place upon ourselves to perform and “do” all the time. Burnout can exhibit symptoms such as feeling helpless, disillusioned, negative attitudes towards our work (even the work we are passionate about), people and even life itself. We know that burnout has reached its breaking point when we cannot cope with the environment around us.
How does one overcome burnout? I think we need to learn when to say NO! It becomes very easy to take on more tasks than we can complete. This inability to set boundaries sets us up for stressful events and often affects our interpersonal relationships with loves ones, friends and colleagues, creating a knock-on effect as not having social support also contributes greatly to burnout among activists.
We all need someone to talk to or a group of people that can understand our frustrations and journey with us toward making healthy decisions. Internalising grief and pain, as I did, was partly a result of not opening up to someone about what I was feeling on the inside, which then led to anxiety and depression. These support systems form part of our emotional care, along with, for example, keeping a journal, going for counselling when we need to, meditating and performing relaxation techniques.
Self-care is of the utmost importance. Because we are all different and operate in diverse situations, there is no universal way to care for that will work for everyone. Common to all of us, however, would be taking care of our bodies. It is important that we eat right, get sufficient sleep, exercise and do regular medical check-ups, without neglecting fun and me-time. We should consider this time just as important as you take your work appointments and events.
In conclusion, burnout is like an evil monster that creeps up on us slowly and, before you know it, you are not coping. As we start the year planning and working towards projects and events to transform our country and the world, let us not ‘activate’ ourselves to burn out, but rather ‘activate’ ourselves to drive change. Let us be fully conscious of ourselves in the process so that we can sustain our passion for the amazing work we are doing wherever we are.