By Janae Steggall
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It is of even more importance this year, in the midst of an ongoing pandemic with many struggling to stay afloat in mental health and financial well-being. The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association released a Declaration of National Emergency, stating that the pandemic exacerbated existing mental health struggles in young children and adolescents (note: sources here include reference to self-harm).
Taking care of yourself is easier said than done, especially when working on issues that personally affect you or your community. I am 22 and have spent years advocating for high quality civic education and increased accessibility of voting for young Texans. I have experienced burnout—it can be extremely difficult to love a state that doesn’t always love you back! I’d like to share information around taking care of your mental health that I wish I knew when starting out as a young advocate.
Mental health is health. Unfortunately, the American labor system makes it nearly impossible to recover from burnout or to effectively prevent burnout 100% of the time. The 40-hour work and school week, minimal PTO and sick days for employees, a lack of sufficient parental leave leave, etc. make it difficult for Americans in general, but especially those in high-intensity advocacy jobs. Until we secure crucial workers’ rights and healthier work environments, it is important to do our best to care for ourselves, coworkers, and friends.
The best way to ensure your advocacy efforts have long-term effects and continue to help others is to take care of yourself! Making time for joy, checking in with yourself, and being honest about your bandwidth and energy levels are important. Taking care of yourself and preventing/dealing with burnout is an ongoing process throughout our lives. Amnesty International has a great zine for how to do your best to better the world while also knowing that you can’t do that unless you take care of yourself.
Community care is pivotal to staying ahead of burnout. Community care is “the foundation of togetherness; by cultivating it, we are better able to support our well-being and that of our loved ones.” It’s important to recognize that burnout is more difficult to battle alone. It is okay to need or want the support of other people. We can practice community care in our daily lives by reaching out to friends and family when we need help or being there for someone through a tough time. We are stronger together and by practicing community care, by forming mutually supportive relationships, we also take care of ourselves!
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to burnout. Everyone’s mental health is unique and what will work for you may not work for everyone. The reality is that burnout cannot be solved by a 3-day weekend, a spring break in Big Bend, or a face mask. Living, learning, and working remotely makes it so easy to disconnect from the world and your loved ones. There is no shame in needing help or asking for help at work, with your friends and family, or with a mental health professional. Taking care of ourselves and others is a life-long process and it is not always easy to do. Your well-being and mental health are always worth the effort that self and community care require!
Listed are some of our go-to methods at CDF-Texas for checking in with ourselves and trying to prevent burnout:
- Talk to a friend
- Take breaks
- Go for a walk
- Let yourself feel your feelings
- Mutual aid
- Group meals
- Regular check-ins
- Music and dancing
- Making time for hobbies that fulfill you
- Time with pets
How do you practice self and community care? We encourage you to experiment to find what works best for you—what works for us or your friends may not always work for you!