September 21, 2020 – Allison Baker
We’ve all been there before – the rousing rally at the state capital, the inspiring meeting with like-minded brothers and sisters, the kind smiles and warming eye-contact of one non-masker to another in the grocery aisle. These encounters boost our spirits and rev us up to continue (or perhaps begin) fighting for freedom. Many of us are first-time activists, with full-time jobs, children at home, and other pressing responsibilities. Yet we feel so passionately about innate human rights and freedoms that we cannot sit idly by and watch as our nation, yes even our world, seems to crumble around us. We must do something!
So we get involved. We begin volunteering. We man the booth, we carpool to the rally, we attend meeting after meeting… and our energy remains high and inspired! For two whole weeks. Then something not entirely unexpected, but entirely unwelcome, occurs – that one small yet powerful word: burnout. We stay home from the meeting. We pass up the rally date. We don’t open the emails. We just don’t have it in us anymore to keep going, yet we shame ourselves for becoming fatigued. Indeed, we shame ourselves for being human. At times, burnout is inevitable. Is there anything to be done?
I’m so glad you asked. Today we will address 4 ways to avoid burnout as we pursue the noble and tiring jobs of advocating, volunteering, and freedom fighting.
1. Take a Breather
It is important to gauge your energy levels as well as your mental, emotional, physical and relational well-being. If you are feeling over-stressed by the responsibilities at hand, the never-ending emails, text, phone calls and to-do list – take a moment to slow down. This moment can be as large as a week off, or as small as a 5-minute meditation on slow breathing. Even taking one or two deep breaths can have profoundly grounding effects. Go ahead, try it. Slowly and deeply inhale, pause, and exhale just as slowly. Feel better? Even just a few deep breaths engages the parasympathetic nervous system and gives the body a chance to destress.
Perhaps a few deep breaths is all you need to keep going – wonderful! Breathe deeply and tackle that next task. But sometimes we need something a little more penetrating. The spiritual practice of taking a Sabbath once per week has profound and lasting mental, emotional, and physical benefits. Personally, I find that the simple act of keeping my phone off on Sundays allows me to truly relax in a way that is not possible throughout the week. Instead of feeling like I am constantly on-call to whatever needs or demands others may have of me, I can allow myself the opportunity to connect more with my family, or recline with a cup of tea and that book I’ve been looking forward to reading. Furthermore, not getting on social media one day per week has been an amazing practice that has personally blessed me. We try to keep our schedule free on Sundays as much as possible to allow for naps, leisurely walks, and spontaneous trips around town or the mountains. These habits seem small, and indeed they are, but do not underestimate the power of choosing a day, and keeping it sacred unto yourself or your family, and connecting to your spirit. These rest-periods are indeed crucial for longevity in life, let alone freedom fighting.
2. Find an Outlet
Contrary to rest and recovery, sometimes we need an outlet to relieve stress. The year 2020 has been a particularly stressful year for everyone. Or, as my teen would say, it has been “next level.” Now, duty-bound by conscience, a sizable group of us have added activism to our plates. You know, because we had nothing else to do! To use a phrase, many of us are feeling quite stretched thin. As Bilbo Baggins in JRR Tolkein’s novel The Lord of the Rings stated, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
If this describes you, take a moment and ask yourself, “Do I need to rest right now? Like a Sabbath kind of rest? Or do I need an outlet?” An outlet could be anything you enjoy, which engages ideally your body and mind. It could be: fishing, hiking, skiing, running, hitting the gym, martial arts, playing a musical instrument, or cooking a large delicious meal. There are definitely times when a bubble bath is in order, but there are just as many times where hitting the gym is the best thing we could do in a moment of stress. It is no secret that exercise does amazing things for not just the body, but our minds and emotions as well.
Sustainability is found when we understand the balance between rest, and work. The ancient Chinese spoke of the yin and yang. The ancient Hebrews had their Sabbath and grueling work ethic. May we also seek this balance in our modern lives. Exercise, work/volunteer, rest, repeat? What kinds of creative or physical outlets do you enjoy? Carve out time this week to treat yourself to one of these outlets as a way to refuel your creative passion to continue the noble task of advocating for our rights.
3. Ask for Help
Uh-oh. If you are anything like me (and I suddenly find myself among more like-minded people than ever before, so you probably are…) You might be a strong, independent, critical-thinker who likes to tackle large problems. Alone. Am I right?
This tactic, asking for help, is my least favorite technique for avoiding burnout. But, as a wise person once told me, it is usually the concept which makes you the most uncomfortable that you need to focus on the most. Why are we so averse to asking for help? Perhaps it is a source of pride, believing that we can do it all? May we humble ourselves in this critical moment of history… humble ourselves enough to admit that we are finite, with limited energy stores, and cannot do this alone. We need help!
If you are of faith, go to God first in prayer – ask for help! Next, see if anyone comes to mind when you ask who could help you. Start sharing your burden with other people. Not only will this help you immediately, it will actually go a long way for our cause. We simply need more volunteers. When some of us get tired and need a break, others can step in. This is a community-driven, grassroots initiative anyway. Seeking more volunteers is what we’re about! If we want to succeed, we will need to be okay asking for help. Lean on your new community! That’s one of the most beautiful things about community – we can care for one another in times of burnout.
4. Practice Gratitude
Alright, I know. The whole “practice gratitude” phrase has almost become cliche in its frequency of use. Doled out as blanket advice by gurus everywhere, this last tip may fall flat on our palate. But honestly, when was the last time you were grateful? Like, deeply grateful?
I homeschool my seven and ten year old sons. Our days can sometimes feel chaotic or mundane, usually peppered with too many interruptions in one hour to even count. But there have been several moments throughout my days lately where I’ve been reduced to tears of gratitude. These moments usually strike when I overhear an older brother reading books to a younger brother, or while creeping down to say goodnight I see a child whisper-reading the Bible to himself, of his own initiative. Or coming home from a long day completely deflated after some hard news, to be comforted by my thirteen year old’s arms and warm words, almost as if he were the parent that night. Or jamming in my car with my thirteen year old to Imagine Dragons, singing at the top of our lungs and laughing…. Or hearing my other son play a Bach Minuet beautifully, and joyfully. These moments are myriad, and they carry me. They carry me through the long tiring days. They carry me as I drift to sleep with burdens heavy on my mind. They also remind me why I am fighting in the first place. For them. I fight for my children. I fight for your children. I fight for the future of all children.
Brothers and sisters – find your reason. As they would say in the military, dig deep! Find out why you care. Then practice gratitude for those reasons! My reasons are my children. Maybe yours are your elderly parents, your nieces or nephews, students, neighbors… We are fighting a difficult battle, for all the right reasons. So, in the event of burnout, take care of yourself. Give yourself some grace. Then remind yourself why you’re doing it, and keep going. Utilize the balance of rest and outlets. Ask for extra help when you need it. And, at every opportunity, give thanks. I am thankful for you.