How we need to actively wind down in our busy activist worlds
I found myself sick with a cold this past weekend. Being that it is cold and flu season and the weather has been fairly schizophrenic lately, this normally would not concern me. But it is the second time I have had a cold this year, and we’re only two months into the new year.
After receiving a fairly clean a bill of health from my doctor, with no underlying health issues, the diagnosis was stress. Not necessarily all the bad kind of stress, but a variety of things, including forgetting about my own self-care.
So many of us seem to be in go-go-go mode all the time, myself included. And in the limited down-time we may have, our life is consumed with catching up on our text messages, Facebook posts, and other things. These are not bad things, but for those of us that are conditioned to always need to be “doing” something, these are additional outlets of “stress.” When I have too many “things” to do, I sometimes feel burnt out and long for days past when I used to have hours of free time each day to do things like watch TV! But on those few evenings or weekend afternoons where I have no events to attend, or “tasks” to do, I find myself bored and feel like I am wasting “precious” time.
I get told all the time to “slow down.” I went on a date once and the guy told me after the date that I stressed him out over dinner because I was so energetic. I think I was just excited about the date, but he said I was speaking too fast and seemed like I had far too much going on. Most people appreciate the amount of work I do, and the things I involve myself with, but when someone does tell me that it seems like I am doing “too much,” it is worth reflecting on.
I am a pretty multi-faceted person, involved in a number of different things - all of which I enjoy very much. The “activist” side of me is very in-tune with the fact that many of our community’s activists are so wrapped up in caring for the community, others, and “their cause,” that they forget to take care of themselves. I know activists who work from the minute they wake up until the minute they go to bed at night, usually only breaking to go to the bathroom or shower, at which point they are probably still working on their Blackberrys. There is so much to do, and activists like to create even more work with our barrage of emails we send to each other, and layers of committee and structure that we create. This is certainly not a bad thing, but it is important that we all learn to “take a break,” or we will face a serious activist burn-out, which would be far worse than a few activists taking a week off here and there. There will always be plenty of work to do.
For me, I reflected over the weekend on what the “things” are that I do, why I do them, and how I can take better care of myself. I figured that I am not doing “too much,” I’m just not doing things right. I need to take advantage of the downtime that is built into my schedule and turn my phone off, even if it’s just for 15-minutes each day – maybe when I’m driving (I got a ticket last week for sending a text while stopped at a stop sign).
I am going to continue my routine of working out 4-5 days a week, but not necessarily work-out longer, just harder and more focused. And I will keep in mind that it is ok to say “no” when asked to take part in something that I may not be as excited about, and ultimately remember that I, too, deserve to be taken care of and it is not over-indulgent or wrong to take a few minutes of time for me.
Now to kick this cold, I’m going to go drink some Vitamin Water and take a big long nap…I might even turn off my phone.
Ben Cartwright is SDGLN's Higher Education & Nonprofit Liaison and has been a campus and community activist in San Diego for over 10-years. His community involvement began as a student at SDSU and from there he launched into a number of other community activities. He has written for a number of local publications including Update, Hillquest, and GLT. Cartwright won the Lambda Archive's 2007 "Community Hero Award," the 2008 Nicky Award for "Outstanding Community Activist," and a 2009 Nicky Award for "Outstanding Writer/Columnist."