One of the life skills that I’ve been working on since college is how to manage stress and avoid burnout. As collegiate chapter president, I learned quickly how difficult it was to lead a group of women and balance school, work, and relationships. Striving for balance has just gotten more difficult post-college – job searching, advising, moving, getting married, having babies, and slogging through graduate school while working full time.
You’ve probably heard flight attendants talk about oxygen masks on planes in the event of an emergency – put on your oxygen mask first, then help others around you. If you are giving everything you have to the people around you (your chapter, alumnae, family, work, school, etc.) without taking care of yourself, you will burn out.
Too often, I think we’re pushed to do more things, to stretch ourselves, and we’re not told that we need to take care of ourselves or support each other. I want you to figure out what works for you and maintain a healthy lifestyle. This is important to do in college and beyond; it’s a helpful perspective that you can use to manage stress when looking for a job, moving, in relationships, in family life, in your career, and more.
For starters, make an evaluation about where you currently stand:
- Identify what causes you stress.
- Ask yourself how those things impact your ability to be a healthy person and a good leader/member/advisor/student/mother/etc.
- Determine what strategies you currently use to deal with stress.
After doing a self-evaluation, check out these strategies that I have used to manage stress and avoid burnout:
- Set up a separate email account for your Sigma Kappa role or other positions that entail a heavy email load.
- Block your time. Make a plan to work on your paper that is due for class for two hours before you work on your Sigma Kappa duties. Don’t try to multitask all the time.
- Shut off your email for a period of time. Stop looking at your emails for a few hours so you can relax or deal with the most important tasks of the day.
Set Clear Expectations and Deadlines
- Detail and share your processes and deadlines with the chapter (or at work or home). Setting and communicating expectations and deadlines is essential to ensure engagement and follow through.
- Have regular 1:1 meetings if needed – with collegiate officers, with advisors, with your manager, etc.
- Ask for deadlines and set deadlines.
- Prioritize – look at your to-do list and choose the top 1-3 things that need attention right now. Work on your to-do list in this order. If you need help prioritizing, ask your president, advisor, or manager.
- Make it a habit to reply to all emails within 24 hours, even if just to acknowledge that you’ve received the email and you will respond in full later.
Use Your Resources
- Talk to your chapter president, advisor, spouse, manager, etc. about your concerns, your workload, etc.
- Utilize outside help such as an academic advising center, counseling center, or health center as needed.
- Have someone to vent to and give you perspective when needed.
- Delegate to your committee or coworkers and ask for help with projects.
- Work on reducing over-programming at the chapter level and for you personally.
- You may need to reduce your involvement and/or simplify your schedule by ending less important commitments. Prioritize your time. You may have to choose to be fully present in just a few activities or leadership roles, rather than doing lots of them half-way.
- Streamline chapter programming. Think about what events you can combine so members’ time commitments are not overwhelming. For example, clean up the highway with a fraternity on campus so you’re doing an Inherit the Earth event and a social at the same time.
Practice Self Care
- Make time in your life to recharge.
- Run, practice yoga, take a spinning class, etc. Exercise helps keep your brain stimulated and healthy biologically. It also releases endorphins, which help improve mood and general wellbeing. Research indicates that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise performed three times per week for 20 minutes is the most effective at helping manage stress levels.
- Rest. If you’re not sleeping enough, you can suffer from poor concentration, poor memory, and poor job performance.
- Take a break – go for a walk, visit Starbucks, get your nails done, or get a massage.
- Have a dance party – by yourself, or with your friends, or your kids.
- Focus on gratitude – write thank you notes, which can help refocus your perspective.
- Spend time with friends. Call up a Sigma Kappa sister and invite her to go to lunch, go for a run, or see a movie together.
- Check out this TED Talk by Guy Winch: Why we all need to practice emotional first aid.
Care for Others
- Support your sisters’/friends’/family members’ needs to take care of themselves, too.
- When someone else is struggling, talk to him/her, let them know that you care.
- Tell a trusted advisor, faculty/staff member, friend, or manager if needed.
- Arrange a relaxing activity for you to do together.
You may have a lot of pressure on you right now, but I want you to know that you don’t need to worry about being perfect, and you don’t need to push yourself too hard. Good leaders are people who take care of themselves. Put your oxygen mask on so you can take care of yourself and support others, too.
I love this advice from Arianna Huffington, the editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post: “Take care of yourself to create the space to listen to your own wisdom and intuition. Not because you are selfish, but because that is how you are going to be at your best and most effective. You shouldn’t have to lose yourself to advance yourself.”
I hope that these strategies will help you manage stress and balance your school, work, family, relationships, and Sigma Kappa duties. Find out what works for you so you can lead without burning out.
What things will you do to manage your stress? Do you have other strategies that I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments!