May is a tough month. And the past three academic years have basically been one long May.
Hypervigilance is the state of constantly assessing potential threats and making decisions based on that assessment. For Academic Leaders, it’s been the third May in which hypervigilance was a job requirement.
One of the side effects of hypervigilance is fatigue. This means hypervigilance can leave a person exhausted while interfering with interpersonal relationships, work, and the ability to function on a day-to-day basis.
Being tired–even being exhausted–is an experience that almost everyone will experience in their lives. Usually, however, it’s both temporary and manageable, part of the ebb and flow of life. Fatigue is different–it’s our body’s response to ongoing stress. It’s important to recognize and acknowledge the onset of fatigue for what it is, because there are strategies that can help. It’s not healthy to wonder for months why you’re feeling so exhausted all the time, or trying to explain it away as a normal part of your job. Fighting it will only prolong it, and fatigue can’t be addressed until it is named and claimed as such.
So when you’re in the midst of fatigue, what can you do?
Try to be as kind to yourself as you are to other people. When I get worn out, I try to keep repeating to myself, “People are just doing the best they can with the tools they have.” It helps me accept situations without trying to change them (another fatigue-producing endeavor). Fatigue limits the tools you have at your disposal. Your best varies from day to day. That’s part of being human.
Seek balance without expecting to find it.The truth is that balance isn’t readily achievable. What you can find, though, is intentionality as you teeter around a balanced state. It’s not useful to beat yourself up for not achieving balance; it just causes more stress and angst, ultimately defeating the purpose of seeking balance in the first place.
Give yourself permission to stop. Economists talk about the law of diminishing returns: at some point, increasing labor or investment stops generating increased profits. Fatigue is like that, too. At first, you can keep going even when you’re wiped out. Eventually, however, you pay a price, such as irritability, frustration, or distraction–all of which limit your ability to do your job well and care for friends and loved ones. When you take a break, you replenish your ability to reflect, connect, and lead.
June is on its way. Your job is to get there without falling apart. Sometimes, what it takes to push through is to remember to pause and celebrate the moments of joy that are essential to this time of year–the goofy prom photos, the second grade recorder concert, or middle school field day.
Eventually, it’ll be June. I promise.
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