Self Care Is Not Selfish: Preventing Burnout

Hands holding a salt candle, which illuminates surrounding darkness
Photo by Aliya Shtikova on Unsplash.

The Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA) presented the session titled “Self Care is Not Selfish: Preventing Burnout” at the 2019 ALA Annual Conference on Saturday, June 22. Emily Clasper (director of service strategies at the University of Rochester), Janie Hermann (public programming librarian at Princeton Public Library), Djaz Zulida (programs & community outreach librarian at Boston Public Library), Carson Block (president at Carson Block Consulting), Kyle Courtney (copyright advisor at Harvard University), and Sarah Houghton presented their experiences with self-care and burnout — a prevalent issue in libraries.

The session began with a video from Houghton explaining that she was not presenting live at the session in the interest of self care. Houghton asserted that self care is necessary for organizational, individual, and community health and encouraged each attendee present to do one unplanned thing that day to be good to yourself.

Zulida discussed vocabulary for the session highlighting the differences between self care and coping. Self care is doing things that are not necessarily easy, but necessary for you to function, whereas coping is something that is popularly portrayed as “self care”.

Everyone experiences burnout differently, so supervisors and individuals should be aware of different signs and be willing to recognize those signs in yourself and others. Each panelist shared their own experiences and signs they or someone they knew was experiencing burnout. Signs included an individual missing little things, not wanting to go to work, feeling checked out and just going through the motions, total exhaustion, or compulsive or slightly manic behaviors. Remember, superstars burn out, too. Star performers may actually be close to burnout when it looks like they are doing really great.

Panelist advice on taking care of yourself right now included using the power of “no.” Saying no is often difficult, but it is the ultimate self-care moment and should be wielded wisely. Hermann began what she dubbed “Workless Wednesdays” where starting at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday evenings she would not do any library work — no work email, professional social media, etc. This small step allowed her a small break to recharge and spend more time with her family. Additionally, simple acts like remembering to take your medications, drinking water, physical exercise, and using cognitive reframing exercises can go a long way toward taking care of yourself right now and preventing burnout in the future.

Next panelists tackled performing self care on a regular basis so that you don’t get to the point of burnout. Tips included practicing good sleep hygiene including not looking at news or work emails while in bed, taking downtime, taking a little time for yourself every day, going to therapy, and implementing something daily or weekly that makes you feel energized and fulfilled — which could be something very different for each person.

During conferences and when your work requires travel, additional steps to support self care are necessary. As a consultant, Block travels extensively and provided many tips for travel including taking your slippers for comfort, pampering yourself on the road, finding things that make you more comfortable including a particular rental car or food, and doing things that make you happy that are not work related. Courtney offered the additional tip of rubbing a small amount of antibiotic ointment on your nose when you get on a plane to prevent illness.

Finally, panelists discussed how managers can assist employees in preventing burnout and promoting self care. As a manager you should be aware of and look for signs of burnout in others, allow your team to do things together or allow them to not participate if they are not interested, provide a place for people to vent about issues, and chat with each member of your team regularly. Managers have a special duty after a traumatic event in the life of their employees and should follow up multiples times, not just immediately following the event.

Self care can be difficult because it can be seen as a revolutionary act. Panelists encouraged audience members to be revolutionary about yourself, be authentic, and create a life that makes your responsibilities easier to manage by practicing self care.

Additional research, articles, and resources compiled by the panelists can be found at

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