By Ulash Thakore-Dunlap
Razia Kosi, Rahul Sharma and I had the honor of being invited to present a workshop on Self Care For Activists at the South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) Summit in Washington DC. As mental health professionals and educators in the community we help others by supporting, teaching and engaging people on mental health topics. Our team was thrilled to be at the SAALT Summit to present to our South Asian American community leaders and activists on self-care. Self-care is something that is often neglected in many professions, including those working in the field of activism and social justice. The goal of our workshop was to help summit participants explore their needs and stressors, and sharing strategies for self-care.
The title of the presentation was fitting, Refilling Your Cup Before Pouring For Others: Self Care For Activists. Our team felt this title was appropriate for many of our activists and social justice workers in the community who work extremely hard and passionately in advocating and supporting others. We wanted the opportunity to give back and support advocates in taking care of themselves.
With an audience spanning different disciplines and job roles we engaged in a self -reflective tool called an eco-map. This tool helps an individual explore themselves in context with relationships, events and environments. It helps a person look at stressors in their lives and where their energy is being drained and how much energy in spent in conflict or unhealthy situations. It also helps them assess if they are taking the time to replenish themselves with activities or friends that energize or support them. In true Desi fashion we first worked through an example together with the characters from the film Bend It Like Beckham.
Shifting into tools that can be used with either yourself or staff, we shared a scale from The Change Agency to assess a person’s burnout, TCA Burnout Scale. While burnout is commonly thought of a physical and emotional exhaustion, we also wanted to propose a new way to look at burnout and “to use burnout as an opportunity to re-evaluate, prioritize and to develop more sustainable and healthy working styles — burnout does not have to be a break down; it can be a break through!” (The Source Agency) Additional resources for activists on the topic of burnout are available on www.thechangeagency.org.
Halfway through the session, Rahul provided a guided visualization. Rahul is not only Assistant Professor at Argosy University, Chicago but also founder, bassist and sitarist with FunkaDesi (www.funkadesi.com). Using a guitar and his soothing voice, Rahul provided the workshop participants a guided visual relaxation exercise. Mental health professionals use guided visualizations with clients for stress, anxiety and as a relaxation tool. As you can imagine, all of us were very relaxed after this exercise! At the end of the workshop, we discussed self-care strategies. The participants remarked finding this workshop helpful in having a forum to explore issues they face as activists, and having techniques to use individually and to take back to their organizations to help other team members.
As one of the presenters of this workshop, I learned so much; we all experience some kind of stress or burnout when helping others. It is so important to know when you are reaching burnout and explore meaningful ways to refill your cup so you can continue to help others in a productive way. It is also important to have a space to talk about stressors with colleagues who understand your work.
I hope I have encouraged you to take one step towards self care, whether it is a walk in the park, leaving your work desk during lunch, or finding colleagues to connect with to talk about your work.
The team is happy to share our presentation and resources with you and answer any questions. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Ulash Thakore-Dunlap is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist. She currently is a Behavioral Health Counselor at Richmond Area Multi-Services Inc., San Francisco. Ulash is a lecturer at San Francisco State University, where she is teaching courses to graduate level counseling students. She also has a private practice and provides therapy,clinical supervision, and trainings, as well as Founder of Understand My Mind, a website providing free articles and podcasts on mental health topics. Ulash has been with DoSAA since it’s formation as past treasurer, Chair (2011-2012), and currently serves on the Senior Advisory Council. In addition, Ulash is the current Communications Officer for the Asian American Psychological Association. Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org