A Note To Help Professionals Find Balance

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

While the election outcome was met with celebration by some, it has generated a notable increase in stress for many others. As a psychologist, I’ve witnessed much concern among my clients and colleagues, and have seen multiple articles addressing post-election stress across the country (e.g., Beck, 2016 & Sweeton, 2016).

The morning after the election, in my own slow-moving and stunned state, I found myself reaching out to people I could think of who were offering comfort to others in distress (therapists, religious leaders, high school teachers, university professors, parents of children feeling unsafe for a variety of reasons). Universally, they were exhausted from their own shock about what had occurred and from feeling a need to postpone self-care as they attempted to be present for others.

For myself and others I know, the election results woke us up from a privileged slumber. Issues surrounding racism, women’s rights, religious discrimination, and the environment (to name a few) that we’ve quietly cared about for some time suddenly felt set on fire with importance. In many ways, it’s sad that it took this much to get our attention, but I guess the good news is that many of us now feel painfully more awake and ready to be more actively involved in the issues we care about. This scenario offers an interesting dilemma for those of us in the field of “well-being.” While our typical goal is to help others diminish symptoms of distress, it’s clear that for many people (myself included), the arrival of heightened post-election discomfort is both important and informative. It moves us closer to the realities of the inequities and fears experienced by so many who don’t have the luxury to step away from their impact.

At the same time, it’s important that we all have ways of managing stress, and given the risk of burnout for helping professionals even during “usual” times (e.g., Morse et al., 2012), the importance of engaging in self-care practices is even more pressing now. At first glance, an image encouraging people to “take a break” might seem counter-intuitive at a time when so many individuals are stepping into greater levels of involvement. Pursuing simple joys can seem unimportant and even inappropriate given all the work that awaits our attention. In truth, however, reminders to tend to our body, mind, and spirit are particularly essential right now for all of us so that we can create a foundation of balance as we take on more, and so that we can pause long enough to ensure we are “doing good” in thoughtful and effective ways.

For those becoming more actively engaged in political and global issues, those offering support to these individuals, and those of us doing both, it seems we’re looking ahead at a marathon, more than a sprint. It’s important that we don’t lose vital aspects of ourselves as we move forward, and that we don’t allow the daily news to keep us from remembering the goodness that exists within people and in the world. My hope is that as helping professionals we can offer encouragement to “take action” AND “take care of ourselves:” a two-part message that highlights how the former can only be vibrantly sustained with the presence of the latter. Hopefully, too, we can remember to take our own good advice about this in the weeks and months ahead.

Beck, J. (2016). How to Cope With Post-Election Stress. The Atlantic.

Morse, G et al. (2012). Burnout in Mental Health Services: A Review of the Problem and Its Remediation. Adm Policy Ment Health, 39(5): 341–352.

Sweeton, J. (2016). Post-Election Stress Disorder in Women. Psychology Today.