Managing a community can take a huge toll on your energy and mental health, no matter the size of the community. In order to manage an online community, you must often absorb and hold others’ emotions as you look to find solutions. You also have to do this in the absence of seeing your members face-to-face, which can be isolating and cause miscommunications.
The most effective community managers tend to put their whole hearts into their work. This is wonderful and can even generate more energy and excitement. However, each day and interaction is different.
So what happens when you need to rest and restore yourself and you just can’t find the time and space to do so? Often, burnout results. But it doesn’t have to. By proactively taking care of yourself, asking for help, and engaging in communities outside your work, you can bounce back quickly.
Self and community care are the basic supports you need to have in order to have a strong energetic and emotional foundation to sustain your work. There are four categories of care: physical, emotional, intellectual, and community care. Paying attention to each and ensuring you have the support you need will allow you to continue to lead your online community without falling apart.
When people talk about “self-care,” they often speak about the aspects of care for the body. Physical self care may appear obvious, but if you work behind a screen all day, it’s the first aspect of self-care to fall by the wayside. Jessica Fish, educator and community cultivator, has written about the perils of email apnea before: when doing tasks in front of a screen, like checking email or messages, we tend to breathe shallow breaths. Often, stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, build up in our bodies from the constant notifications and onslaught of tasks to be done. These hormones can keep us in a low-level state of fight-or-flight while we work. You can imagine how exhausting that can be.
What can you do to combat the physical strain of online community work?
Sleep adequately each night. No tech before bedtime!
Move your body
Meditate: The Insight Timer is a great free tool to get you started.
You probably spend much of your day caring for others’ emotions. Some days may be easier than others in this regard. But no matter what emotions you are holding for others in your community, it’s important to turn your attention to caring for your own as well.
What can you do to care for your emotions?
Go easy on yourself and others. Remember that no one is perfect.
Acknowledge fear, stress, and procrastination, and focus on one thing at a time. If you have to do something that feels intimidating, imagine the positive outcome of completing that task and then focus on that positive outcome when working through it. Procrastination is not about laziness. Experts now suggest that “Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond.”
Contact a friend. Write down the names of at least three friends that are emotionally close to you and understand your work. Next time you are feeling low, know you can call on them.
Celebrate a job well done. It’s okay to take a moment to celebrate your progress, even if you haven’t achieved all you wanted to achieve.
No less significant than physical or emotional care is intellectual care. You need to give your mind a rest and create space to think creatively.
Here are a few ways you can nourish your mind during your off-work hours (you do have those, don’t you?)
Read books and magazines that don’t relate to your day-to-day work.
Go to others’ events, retreats, and gatherings, where you do not need to plan or lead and can just receive the benefits of being in community with others.
Take a fun course or engage in professional development. This helps you see the ways you might grow and expand your work.
Write down your personal (not professional) purpose and why.
Self-care does not mean that you have to be alone and only care for yourself. Self-care for some looks like going to crowded concerts and loud venues.
It’s also vital to cultivate a community around you and to support that community’s care and well-being. Not only does community care help us nurture a desire to impact others, but, as writer Rex Leonowicz explains, “Self-care is often about addressing individual problems, without much mention to the structural and institutional influences that prevent our wellness in the first place.” [emphasis mine]
We can’t fix all our problems alone because we are not experiencing them alone. Often we are facing structural problems that need dismantling. We can’t sleep, meditate, or massage ourselves out of structural changes.
Ways to combat isolation and cultivate community care:
Ask for help: “The myth of the individual hero” has led us to believe that, if we had it all together, we would never need help from others. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
Offboard tasks and make the case for building out your team: In some cases, you may have too much on your plate and need outside help. If this is the case, you can make the case to build out your team (with advice from Cindy Au, former Head of Community for Kickstarter) or to rely on the help of your teammates.
Lean on your members for support, if appropriate: Your community shouldn’t rely solely on you as the manager to survive. Ask for volunteers or leaders to step up and help take some of the weight off your shoulders.
Participate in local, civil, and social causes that you care about outside of work. Not only will you meet people with shared values and purpose, you will make a difference in dismantling the structures that often create stress, inequality, and isolation in the first place.
Take Care Out There
Remember through all of this: you can feel more than one thing at a time. You can feel overwhelmed and joyful at the same time. You can feel grief and relief. Even just holding multiple conflicting emotions at once can be exhausting. You deserve a break. You deserve care.
When you feel yourself going down a burnout spiral, acknowledge it, and take the actions above. Also remember that the above tools are designed to be done regularly, as supports for your day-to-day work, not only when you’re feeling burned out.
Your community and your organization depend on you and, in the majority of cases, want the best for you. If you are having trouble, you can acknowledge to others that you are having a rough time. It’s best to reach out proactively to let people know you need a rest (you can even leave the reason vague), rather than let deadlines and responsibilities slip.
Note: if you need immediate support for mental health crises and burnout, you can reach out to Crisis Text Line. They can offer you further resources confidentially and immediately: https://www.crisistextline.org/.