Citizens engaged in advocacy and outreach work may be some of America’s greatest patriots. At the same time, activists and outreach workers can focus on others’ experience of equality, freedom, liberty, justice, etc., to the detriment of their self-care. In her book Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive, Dr. Joan Borysenko, a pioneer in integrative medicine and expert in the mind/body connection, offers numerous suggestions for recovering from burn out and restoring balance. She posits that burnout comes from “learned helplessness” and suggests the following to help us create flourishing and fulfilling lives:

  • Reflect/journal on what motivates your work.
  • Cultivate mind-body awareness. Practice “letting go” as a source of energy rather than pushing your agenda.
  • Regularly schedule activities that bring you pleasure, such as dancing, dinner out, hiking, camping, and entertaining.
  • Regularly reflect/journal on what’s going on in your life and how you feel about it. Then, reflect/journal about how you are using your energy — what drains you and what restores you. Make changes based on this self-assessment.
  • Reflect/journal on a time when things were going well for you. Recall activities you enjoyed doing at that time of your life. Choose one and put it on your calendar.
  • Identify your social support system and use it. “If you don’t have the support you need, make a plan to get it.”
  • Reflect/journal on what is burning you out, who is burning you out, and why. Then imagine letting go of this what/who/why.
  • Practice compassionate/loving-kindness meditation for yourself.
  • Track your food and your mood for a week. Commit to eating foods that help you feel good and letting go of those that don’t.
  • Consider whether you need professional help, and get it if you need it. Ask a family member or friend for help identifying appropriate professionals who you would like to be part of your self-care.
  • Reflect/journal on what means the most to you and how you can bring more of it into your life.
  • Take a personality test or some other means to help you understand your personality, needs, and motivations. Appreciate your uniqueness, and do your best to make choices that suit who you are.
  • Remember when you felt joy, enthusiasm and passionate energy for something you were doing. Ask yourself how closely that situation fits with your present work and adjust accordingly.
  • Practice being present throughout your day: focusing on the present moment without concern for the past or future (such as by concentrating on your breath).
  • Write your own eulogy and epitaph as a way of giving yourself direction and focus.
Joan Borysenko in Practicing Democracy through Advocacy and Outreach by Habib Todd Boerger