By Roxanne Donovan - Wellness, Holidays
In these last days until Christmas, many who celebrate are running around trying to find the perfect gift. Before you head to the mall one more time, take a moment to think about what you are giving. Not all gifts are created equal. Delete off that list the clothes, electronics, and toys you planned to buy, because…
MORE STUFF DOES NOT MAKE US HAPPIER
Okay, I’m exaggerating a little for effect. There are some caveats. First, this applies only to those who are financially secure, not to the financially vulnerable—like those who regularly experience food or housing insecurity. Second, we do experience a short blip in happiness when we get stuff we want. BUT it is temporary, and we quickly get back to baseline.
So if you really want to find a gift that is remembered and savored for more than a blink of the eye, research suggests giving experiences not things.
Not sure what would make a memorable experience gift. Here are five suggestions to get you started.
1. Weekend trip.
This is well-suited for couples, friends, and families—think a camping trip to a nearby park, a two-day hotel reservation in a close city, an all-inclusive spa getaway, whatever. You are only limited by your imagination (and budget).
2. Annual membership to a museum or science center.
Pick a place you know the recipient will be excited about. Consider a family membership for those with kids.
3. Tickets to a play, concert, or sporting event.
Just make sure the type of event suites the recipient’s taste, that you gift more than one ticket (no one wants to do this stuff alone), and the date will likely work for all involved.
4. Classes to learn a new skill or refine an existing one.
The categories here are endless—wine tasting, painting, photography, Tai-Chi, dancing, pottery-making, yoga, singing, piano, swimming…I could go on. Just make sure you gift more than one set so the person can bring a friend or two, which ups the joy and memorability factors.
5. Season passes to a nearby amusement park.
This is particularly great for families. What kid doesn’t like to splash around, eat junk food, and ride roller coasters.
In peace and solidarity,
I am ready for a real fall break. One where I choose NOT to do any academic work.
Yes, you read that right. No replying to (or even reading) work emails, no grading, no reviewing, no writing...nothing. A fall break where I choose to spend all my time (re)connecting with my family and myself.
Let me cut through the confusion and disbelief: a no-work fall break is not the academic equivalent of a unicorn. It’s real--and possible--and necessary.
That last point—breaks are necessary—is super important. Our bodies aren't made to just work, work, work. Don't believe me? See this research, or this, or this. Seriously, there's tons of evidence showing vacations increase productivity, happiness, and creativity while decreasing illness, burnout, and boredom. This means taking a real fall break is good for you AND your university.
But this break won’t just happen: planning and transparency are required. So here are six ways to set up an actual, honest-to-goodness break.
1. Tell EVERYONE your plan to take a no-work fall break. This includes colleagues, students, administrators, chairs, etc. If there's push-back, share the research above. You might inspire a few of them to take their own no-work breaks.
2. Be specific about when you will have things completed after your return to minimize questions or confusion. Careful not to let guilt and optimism cloud your judgment. Best to add at least a few days to the time you think you will have something done.
3. At least a week before your break starts, request extensions for those deadlines you just realized occur during fall break or right after you return. Next year you can make sure this step isn’t necessary.
4. Say no to all new requests that come along with a November or December due date. Any new commitments will infringe on your ability to prepare for, enjoy, and maintain the benefits of your break.
5. Don't forget to turn on your automatic out-of-office email reply. Don't hedge here. You want to clearly state you are unavailable. Feel free to use this template: Thank you for contacting me. [Name of university] is on fall break. I return to the office when classes resume on [date] and will read and respond to emails at that time. If I receive a large number of messages while away (which is likely), it will take me several days to process them all. Your patience is appreciated.
6. Finally, savor your time away. You deserve an enriching revivifying fall break. And your body, mind, and spirit need it.
In peace and solidarity,
Welcome to July! The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and academics everywhere are freaking out.
In April, the three-month summer break seems like an endless expanse of time. You forget (again) how this break never ends up being as long or as leisurely as you expect. In this state of unfettered optimism, you plan an impossibly long summer to-do list.
Of course I can finish four articles, collect data from 1000 participants, and redo six classes. No probs.
In the stark light of July, those uncompleted (or even untouched) plans fill you with self-loathing and dread. Your stress level begins to rise higher and higher as the clock ticks louder and louder.
The thing about stress is it hijacks the ability to plan and make sound decisions. This hijacking might explain why, when faced with too little time and too much to do, many of us double down.
You know you’ve doubled down when you start convincing yourself you can still get everything done…in half the time. Like Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible, you figure there is some secret combination of moves that will save the day. And it usually goes something like this: I just need to work more, write faster, sleep less.
Doubling down is a horrible strategy. It never works...evah!
Okay, it might work for a bit. But, and this is important, it is NOT a sustainable strategy. Working at a frenetic pace without rest and recuperation reduces alertness, productivity, and performance. The exact opposite of what you want.
Breaking the mid-summer stress cycle requires admitting you are human. You have limits. And to work healthily, not everything you planned to do will get done. Yes, you must let some things go.
This is hard...very, very hard.
BUT it's much better on your stress level and self-esteem to admit your humanness now and develop a realistic plan. Waiting will only make things worse.
I know what you're thinking: if I could plan realistically, I wouldn't be in this mess. No worries. I’m here to help. We can do this plan-making together. All you need to do is AIM.
AIM is a simple triage process I use with stressed clients who can’t figure out where to focus their time. It requires placing each item on your to-do list in one of three categories– Acute, Important, or Minor.
All the items that have to get done this summer go in this category. Be careful not to confuse have to get done with want to get done or should get done. Have-to items are required for your job security/success and have non-negotiable due dates. Examples are an R&R with a hard summer deadline, a tenure portfolio due the first day of fall semester, a fall course prep.
This category is for items that don’t have an immediate deadline but are important to your future goals. Examples are a major overhaul of a course you're not teaching in the fall, a grant proposal that you can submit in another cycle, almost-completed articles you can choose to work on now or later.
All leftover items go here – like those things you thought would be great to do this summer but can be done in the distant future, if at all (e.g., reading all the articles in your discipline’s main journal, organizing your file cabinets, starting a new research project when you already have several in various stages of completion).
Your mission - if you choose to accept it* - is to prioritize your time so you complete all the acute items (at least) while still taking breaks, sleeping at least 7 hours per night, and spending time with family and friends.
The trick here is focus. This means not working on anything in the important or minor categories until you've completed everything in the acute category. No matter how tempting. Stay strong.
If you’re lucky enough to have time left over after completing your acute items, move to the important category items. And so on.
If you aren’t so lucky, you will need to let the important and minor items go…at least for this summer. Again, this is not easy. It helps to have some self-compassion. Keep reminding yourself that you are only human, you are doing the best you can, and you are choosing to work in ways that maximize your productivity AND your health.
Good luck! This tape will self-destruct in five seconds*.
*For you millennials out there, these references are from the Mission Impossible TV show that aired a long, long, long time ago.
In need of some serious self-care? Participate in WellAcademic's radical self-care challenge. All it takes is a commitment to do one stress-busting and/or mood-boosting activity each day for the next 28 days.
I have made it super easy by listing 28 activities below. I've even included links to demonstration videos, articles, and supporting evidence. What could be simpler?
Sticking with this challenge to the end is the key to maximizing the benefits. So gift yourself with daily self-care. You deserve it!
If you need motivation, do the challenge with a friend and/or post your progress to me @ProfRox. I'll be sure to cheer you on.
Let's get started...
DAY 1: Spend 2 minutes diaphragm breathing. Relaxes the body and clears the mind.
DAY 2: Flipping the scarcity script today. Write 5 things you are grateful for.
DAY 3: Stretch for 5 mins to release stress from the body. Can even do this at your desk.
DAY 4: Soothe muscles and mind with warm bath or hot shower. For extra relaxation, add lavender to the water.
DAY 5: Dance like no one's watching to favorite old school hits. Don't stop til you get enough (or at least two songs).
DAY 6: Do two small acts of kindness today. Altruism reduces stress and raises happiness.
DAY 7: Face procrastination. Complete one thing you've been putting off. Reward yourself after the task is done.
DAY 8: Delegate a task from to-do list that doesn't really have to be done by YOU. Savor having one less thing to complete.
DAY 9: Spend 30 minutes outside. Soak in the sights and sounds.
DAY 10: Disorganization is stressful. Declutter your work space today.
DAY 11: Challenge perfectionism. Strive for "good enough" in all things you do today.
DAY 12: Catch-up day. Do one self-care activity from the last 11 days. Pick one you missed or one you'd love to do again.
DAY 13: Take an actual lunch break (>30 minutes). No work allowed!
DAY 14: Get 8 hours of quality sleep tonight. To help, try these tips.
DAY 15: Choose forgiveness - it reduces stress. Forgive someone who has hurt you or forgive yourself.
DAY 16: Stop multitasking. Do one thing at a time instead. Lowers stress AND increases efficiency.
DAY 17: Unplug from technology for at least one hour. Bonus - do something that nourishes you during that time.
DAY 18: Practice courage. Ask for what you need today.
DAY 19: Listen, really listen, to a loved one. Empathic listening is a secret stress buster.
DAY 20: Connecting socially helps us de-stress. Call or visit a good friend today.
DAY 21: Limit your intake of added sugar. Consume no more than 6 tsp (25 grams). Challenge - abstain from ALL sugar today.
DAY 22: Practice self-compassion ALL day. Here's what self-compassion is and isn't.
DAY 23: Schedule a date...with yourself. Do something fun, even if it's for 30 minutes. No errands allowed.
DAY 24: Laugh out loud today. Call a friend, watch a funny movie, whatever it takes. Laughter is a major mood booster.
DAY 25: Gift your body with 20 minutes of exercise. Feel your stress melt away.
DAY 26: Take small breaks throughout the day. Not sure how to schedule them? Try the Pomodoro technique.
DAY 27: Hug/cuddle someone you love (that loves you back). Affectionate touch has tons of health benefits.
DAY 28: Last day! Boost your mood by recalling (and savoring) a happy memory. Here's how.
Done with the 28 days? Congratulations! Don't stop now. Choose to re-do the entire challenge or pick the activities you like the most and incorporate them in your daily life. Your body and mind will thank you.
In peace and solidarity,
By Roxanne Donovan - Wellness, Holidays
The holiday season is upon us. For those who celebrate, this is supposed to be a joyous time brimming with connection and love. But the season’s reality can be very distant from the lore with traffic congestion, crowds, frenzied gift-buying, exhausting social activity, and money concerns. Many of these woes are self-inflicted, the cost of our quest for the perfect meal, the perfect gift, the perfect tree, the perfect decorations, the perfect everything.
Perfection, though, is an unattainable goal. The more we strive for it, the more we invite stress, disappointment, and frustration into our lives. If you want to give you and your loved ones a break this season, purge perfectionism in favor of good enough. Seek the good enough meal, the good enough gift, the good enough tree, the good enough whatever.
The choice to seek good enough has the considerable benefit of gifting us with the time and space needed to savor the aspects of the holiday that actually bring meaning and joy – giving to others, expressing gratitude, appreciating our loved ones (even the more challenging ones). So experiment this season with good enough and pay attention to what this intention manifests in your life.
In peace and solidarity,
I am writing this post outdoors on a wooden bench next to a small lake. Natural sounds and sights surround me: trees, grass, birds, and insects…lots of insects. As those who know me can attest, I am generally not an outdoorsy person, particularly when the temperature is above 85 degrees as it is right now. But I do experiment with possibilities. For example, is it possible writing outdoors will lead to increased focus and fluidity?
Moreover, my experimental writing location is part of a larger intention for the year to shift how, why, and when I work so I can be more present in my work and my play.
This is not the first time I have felt the need to change how I engage with the world. I feel pulled to reinvention every four to six years usually after I have achieved a life goal or felt forced to alter one. Some reinventions have been seismic, like leaving the business world to pursue psychology. Some have been subtle, like broadening the focus of my writing through blogging.
The commonality among my reinventions is purposefulness—(re)making the choice to bravely explore what my spirit seeks whether that is a profession that aligns more closely with my sense of purpose or a more public platform for improving the well-being of others.
My reinvention process usually starts with feelings of restlessness. Through practice and support I have learned ways to increase my courage, comfort, and patience with this process. Instead of running from these feelings as I did in my youth, I now engage them. I acknowledge them (sometimes grudgingly) as a sign I am ready to risk embarking on change.
If you have recently experienced an event that has left you unmoored—career promotion, health crisis, personal loss, household move, marriage or divorce, LBGT coming out, birth or adoption of a child, retirement—I invite you to open yourself to the possibility that a reinvention, a change, is in order.
Fortunately or unfortunately, there are multiple paths toward self-reinvention. Below is one set of practices that might make finding your path easier.
When “negative” emotions like restlessness or anxiety come up, it is natural to avoid them whether through artificial busyness, distraction, or disconnection—think scheduling every second of your time, overeating, excessive alcohol/drug use, or zoning out in front of the TV/tablet/phone. Instead of squelching your feelings, choose to engage them by creating time and space for silence and non-judgmental reflection. Sit (or squirm) with what surfaces.
Underneath the feelings are messages about what you need that is presently absent from your life. Journaling, meditation, and nature walks are helpful ways to bring these messages forward. Listen to these messages to determine what need they are pointing toward. If you identify more than one need, consider which one feels most pressing.
Explore what is possible if you courageously choose to walk toward fulfilling this need—a hard exercise for many even in fantasy. If you want help imagining, respond to the questions below. Caveat: give yourself permission to embrace honestly, without censure, your initial responses.
The distance between wanting to change and actually doing so can be wide. Hold close that every journey begins with a first step. That step need not be long; it just needs to be. What can you do now to take one step toward exploring your need? Once done, what can you do now? And now? And now?
P.S. Sometimes we need guidance with one or more of these practices. That guidance may be a coach, therapist, group, practice, or location. For my most recent transformation, my guidance came in the form of an amazing writing retreat where I was showered with support from Michelle Boyd, retreat organizer extraordinaire and friend; Joycelyn Moody, my fantastic WellAcademic partner and confidante; and a group of other amazing women retreatants. Together they helped me slowly exhale into imagining and responding.
In peace and solidarity
Contrary to the view from outside the Ivory Tower, academic life is stressful (as if you needed me to tell you). One study even found faculty burnout and stress levels are similar to those of K-12 teachers and medical professionals. Why? Because our work is NEVER done. There is always another manuscript to write, paper to grade, meeting to attend.
On top of this general stress, women faculty of color must contend with a variety of structural and interpersonal stressors that negatively impact our health and create a sense of isolation and otherness, such as:
A rational response to these stressors is to seek safety by turning inward and disconnecting from those around you – why risk opening up to people if that brings more hurt and pain? Compelling as this response is, there are considerable physical and mental health drawbacks, making it a definite don’t.
Turning toward empathic others, alternatively, has been shown to have tremendous stress-reducing benefits. There is nothing more validating and cathartic than telling your story and being seen, heard, valued, and believed. Moreover, knowing others have similar challenges helps with healthy perspective development.
Recap. Don’t go it alone; do develop supportive networks—a.k.a. Sister Circles.
Okay, let’s be clear – implementing the advice to develop Sister Circles is not easy, especially for those of us who find making new connections challenging (like me), are in spaces where there are few other women faculty of color, or have little in common with the women faculty of color who are available. If this is you, even just a little, don’t despair. There are strategies that can make circle building easier, and I outline six below. I invite you to implement one or more of these strategies to bring you one step closer to getting the support you need.
Caveat. The strategies require a level of interpersonal risk, so intentionality and commitment are necessary to ensure success.
1. Attend local, regional, and national events where women faculty of color gather.
The National Women’s Studies Association Women of Color Leadership Project is an example of one such event. These gatherings can be an oasis for those struggling to find connection, but they can also be rather intimidating if you don’t know many people. To make connecting easier, identify beforehand a few individuals you would like to meet. If you have colleagues in common, request an e-introduction prior to the event. If not, show up to their talk and be sure to ask a question. Then go up and request their card so you can follow-up. If that is difficult, find a role that will facilitate interaction, such as helping to register conference participants or offering to chair a session where someone you want to meet is presenting.
2. Invite women faculty of color to present at your institution.
Depending on your position and institutional resources, this might require advocacy and fund-raising. Good places to start are the diversity office or teaching and learning center. If you pull this off, consider seeking help from other women faculty of color to organize the visit and be sure to volunteer to drive the speaker to and from the airport to get extra face-time.
3. Ask those faculty you already know to connect you with other women faculty of color.
This snowball strategy is most helpful if the referring person is willing to facilitate a casual meeting or e-introduction.
4. Don’t let distance limit who’s in your circle.
Face-to-face connections with other women faculty of color are wonderful but not always possible, so use technology as a connection-building tool. I have several wonderful Sister Circles with women who live great distances from me and each other. These circles work because we commit to regularly scheduled conference calls throughout the year.
5. Seek advice from those women faculty of color you want to get to know.
Asking someone to be your friend is a sure-fire way to creep them out. Seeking advice, however, is a great way to show your respect and desire to know more about what she thinks.
6. Implement structures that facilitate connections among women faculty of color.
This might require more energy and commitment than the other strategies but could yield sustainable results. Possibilities include organizing a women faculty of color support network, university learning community, or mutual-mentoring group.
Is it worth the risk? Yes, yes…and…wait for it…yes.
There is much about the stress of the Ivory Tower we can’t control. But we can choose to buffer the impact of this stress by seeking support from and sharing support with our sisters. As a wonderful bonus, these efforts model good sisterhood for the next generation of women faculty of color. So take the risk and start building your Sister Circle today.
In peace and solidarity,