Self Care and Sustainability: Avoiding Burnout on College Campuses

Posted October 9, 2015 by Shawn Reilly

2007 Alumna Jess Klein trains on self-care

We all know the struggle. As student activists, we can have five classes, two jobs, five meetings, three protests, and about a million other engagements in any given week. While balancing school and activism, it can be hard to create and implement strategies of sustainability. The important practice of self-care is an often talked about in progressive spaces, but often largely put on the back burner by the activists within them. Here, I wanted to share some strategies that I have used that help me stay grounded even in my busiest times.

  1. Fall Into Fitness!

Many universities offer group fitness classes at their recreation center. These can be a fun way to blow off steam and to connect to folks that you normally wouldn’t. And it relieves the stress of looking absolutely ridiculous at the gym (A reality I at least face)

  1. Connect to Spirituality

Although not for everyone, spiritual and religious communities can offer a lot of solace and support, especially when going through a rough time. I myself am part of the Unitarian Universalist Church, which is a space that allows me to be spiritual in whatever way I find most fulfilling.

  1. Write it Out

Although it may seem cliche, journaling can be a useful tool in helping us process events of the day, personal dilemmas, and our general obligations. Every night, I try journal about at least one positive thing that happened during my day. It’s super fun to look back at all the fun times you’ve had in the past, even if they are super minute (which I find are usually the best)

  1. Eat Well

When we’re not feeling our best, we often times rely on comfort food. For me, that Vanilla Coke and nutella. If you find yourself eating badly when you’re burnt out, try to  identify the foods that you go to when you’re feeling down. Then, make a conscious effort to avoid them. Remind yourself, “That coke never feels good once my body tries to process it. I should probably get water (in my environmentally friendly reusable water bottle) instead.”

  1. Sex and Masturbation

Although often overlooked, sex and masturbation can be a powerful way to relieve stress. If sex is something you’re into, try seeing if there are any demonstrations or workshops on your campus or in your community to help improve these aspects of your life.

  1. Take a Hike

I’m a firm believer that connecting with nature is the best way to connect with oneself. Taking a hike (alone or with a loved one) can create space to really reflect on yourself, and your relationship with the Earth. Take time for yourself and let the connection of your own energy and the energy of this beautiful world create balance for you.

  1. Art Therapy

Finger painting isn’t only for children! When I’m down and out, one of the most therapeutic experiences in my healing is art therapy. Allowing yourself to let go and make some art allows us to express ourselves and decompress. Try your hand at something you’ve never done before. I recommend collaging and painting.

  1. Meditate

It can be really hard. It is. When life is throwing a million curve balls at you, it might seem like a waste of time to sit and focus on one or two things. However, meditation helps calm the mind and helps prioritize our life. If you’ve never meditated before, try finding some guided meditations online, or look for some spaces in your communities where meditation is practiced.

  1. Read

Often times, we forget how much we like to read because of the overwhelming amount we have to do for our coursework. I love reading. But one thing I have to do is be more intentional about setting time aside to get through that mountain of books I have at the foot of my bed. Remember you can decompress through some literature once in awhile, and that you don’t always have to go straight to netflix.

  1. Be Mindful

Mindfulness can be tricky. But I think it is powerful in helping us be present. Being present with ourselves, our emotions, and our surroundings is important in all work, but even more so in the progressive movement. Practicing mindfulness can help us be more intentional, help us understand our surroundings, and understand our own internal stresses, in order to better deal with them. You can find some mindfulness techniques online.

There are hundreds of ways in which we can keep ourselves going while fighting the good fight. Take time to put some of these activities into your schedule, and protect those times in which you are going to be with yourself.  It’s up to each of us to create a real sustainability plan, in which we build in these activities throughout our life, so we’re not scrambling to use them as healing once the burnout hits. For the progressive movement to keep moving forward, we need progressive folks sticking around for the long haul. We will not be able to do this without reflecting on our own needs, vices, and self-care techniques, and I urge you to think intentionally about what your own self care looks like.