How to Protect Your Well Being by Recognizing Your Advocacy Limit
RAFT Team, March 13, 2023
1. Know Your Advocacy Limit
As an advocate, you have a million different things to do every single day. Some are easy for you, some may be more difficult. Things that happened last night may affect your advocacy threshold today. Personal life may intrude on your thoughts and distract you as you work. Each of these scenarios can push you to your limit more quickly. Whether it’s through tears, frustration, helplessness, exhaustion or overwhelm, these symptoms are telling you that your body, heart, and mind need to step back for a few moments. Ignoring these signs and working past your limit can lead to compassion fatigue and eventually advocacy burnout.
2. Identify Your Triggers
Start to notice the activities that lower your capacity. When you understand these tripwires, you’ll more easily recognize when you have reached your advocacy limit for the day and need to take a break. A heavy client load could be the culprit, but these triggers may also be an endless email inbox, financial anxiety, news broadcasts, injustice, pandemics… the list doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. Your list of triggers may be completely different than anyone else’s around. (In fact, it probably is!)
Also track what makes you feel like a modern day superhero. These positive experiences can help cancel out some of the negative effects of situations, especially those situations outside your control.
3. Take Breaks
Advocacy work can be intense. To remain present for someone and to problem-solve takes extraordinary amounts of energy. This is the precise reason it’s vital to take breaks throughout the day so you can recharge, gain perspective, and give yourself time away from work-related thoughts.
Keep asking yourself throughout the day if you’re being your best self. This internal question can be an insightful touchpoint. Remember that your best self may change in various situations and over time, so be gentle and realistic as you ask this question. If you answer no, it may be time for a break so you can recenter.
If you’re dealing with one of your known triggers, a break is even more important to help you maintain perspective and prevent you from depleting yourself too much.
At the end of the work day, pause. Before you head home or back into “real life,” have a snack. Grab a cup of tea. Watch what’s going on around you without engaging in it. Give your mind and heart a break to pause and be without doing.
For further help, check out our steps to re-evaluate your self-care routine.
4. Establish Recharging Strategies
You now know how to identify your triggers and when you need to step away, whether mentally or physically. But what do you do with your time away? You may have a few moments or half a day for your break. Consider these activities to help you reground yourself so you can come back refreshed and ready for whatever life hands you.
- Take time off! You may not have paid vacation, but you likely have a lunch break. Use it to grab a bite of food away from the office. (This works even if you bring a PBJ from home. Your meal or snack doesn’t have to be fancy.) Fresh air is a bonus!
- Make a list of things that help you relax, like yoga, meditation, or reading a book and group them according to time needed. Whatever time you have, whether 2 minutes or a full day, you’ll know exactly what will suit the occasion. This helps you maximize every moment.
- Practice mindfulness techniques to help clear your mind of work-related thoughts. (Check out these meditations to get you started.)
- Connect with friends and family outside of work.
- Fill your own cup first thing every morning, literally and figuratively. Pause as you sip your water, tea, or coffee and visualize a meaningful day.
- If you need to call it self-preservation instead of self-care to make it happen, do it!
Remember, self-care is rooted in self-love. For further support, learn four ways self-love leads to better self-care.
5. Set Boundaries
The final key for balance as an advocate is to learn how to set boundaries, both with work matters and yourself. And then the determination to stick with them. Work and personal boundaries may include not checking emails after a certain time of the day or establishing a hard start and stop time. Consider the following as seed ideas for your own boundaries:
- Create a startup and shutdown routine for work. This gives you bookends to your work day and makes it easier to leave work at work.
- Schedule regular days away from work and take vacations when possible to give yourself a break from advocacy work. And remember, vacation doesn’t mean you have to rent a house at the beach. Stay-cations can be powerful opportunities to recharge.
- Set boundaries between work and home life to ensure that you are not constantly thinking about work when at home. If work thoughts keep intruding, remind yourself that you are NOT at work and you can take care of things when you’re back at work. You may to tell yourself this out loud until your brain begins to believe it. Remember, these intruding thoughts are a habit and may take some time to break.
- Be mindful of what you watch. If the news is a trigger for you, limit your exposure to it. If work feels like a lot of drama, don’t want drama-filled television shows.
For more support in establishing boundaries, learn why boundaries are difficult and a few tips to make them easier.
Ginger Nicol, M.D. associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis reminds us: “The only person who can take care of your well-being is you. Saying no is really about what you’re saying yes to. Being able to do my job more effectively, and with joy? Yes. Please.”
Being an advocate is a heart choice. It’s part of your DNA, who and how you are as an individual. These realities make it more difficult to recognize your advocacy limit and turn off at the end of a work day. Above all remember that your friends need a friend, not an advocate. Your kids need a parent. And the world needs you, not just what you do. Learning the difference between the two can protect you from compassion fatigue and help you experience a more fulfilling life.