Just a year ago my life and what was my normal changed. The Army had decided it was time for our family to move and we had started making our way to our new duty station, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Fort Bragg wasn’t a new destination for us. It is where we started our families’ journey in military life. I knew what to expect for the most part. I had bloomed when I was planted at Fort Bragg before and I was sure it would be no problem to do it again. PCSing always brings with it all sorts of unique challenges and new adventures and even though we had spent 7 years at Fort Bragg several years prior I need to start over and bloom where I was being planted once again.
It didn’t take long to unpack and once I had it was back to what I had always done, volunteering. I jumped back in wasting no time at all. I stopped in a Blue Star Families, Books on Bases event and lent a hand and offered my help for future events. Soon there after I volunteered with the USO at a Jack Daniels Salute to the Troops care package event with country singer and former 82nd Airborne soldier, Craig Morgan and EJ Snyder possibly best known from Naked and Afraid one person over from me.
I applied for volunteer jobs online through Army Community Service, became an Operation Homefront volunteer again… well at least according to email correspondence I was one. I also told my children’s teachers if they needed volunteers I was more than happy to lend a hand. I even became a Family Readiness Group volunteer once again. Once my kids were back in school I suddenly found myself with “extra” time I once spent working on one of my varied volunteering jobs.
I spent my mornings job hunting and working on my blog and other Allrecipes activities. I started work on a family cookbook. I could go run without a worry. It was during one of my half marathon training runs I came to the realization that not volunteering may be just what I needed. In all honesty sometimes it takes time to realize things and I realized I had fallen victim to one of the things I always tried to fight against. I had Volunteer Burnout.
It is with no real surprise it happened. I have volunteered in some way or form since high school from planting trees in the community to tutoring middle school students. Once I married my husband and became part of the Army family community I started volunteering with his companies Family Readiness Group(FRG). Well, back then it was called a Family Support Group. It was while my husband was on recruiting duty that my volunteering went to a new level. I was a FRG leader, I was always at my kid’s school helping with something and I had started advocating for military families. I was constantly busy doing something, helping out. I just did and did some more, I felt horrible saying NO. Volunteering just became what I did and continued to do when we moved to the Fort Bliss area. I was always sure to say thank you to my volunteers and was always concerned that I was asking too much of them but I never did the same for myself. I was the FRG leader running a 5k and answering my phone to help a fellow spouse. Yes, I did that. Her questions were not emergencies and were something that could wait 20 minutes until I was done. I did this too many times to count. Blame my type A personality, the wanting of things to be perfect and the people pleaser in myself I put my volunteer responsibilities above my personal needs.
I did this for years, yes years. Becoming yet another victim of volunteer burnout ultimately was no surprise. Don’t get me wrong I loved and still do enjoy volunteering. It is something that I will never completely stop doing. Now I will just do things a little differently. I will put myself first and make sure I have time for myself. Over the last year I have been getting back to what makes myself me and have found myself less stressed out. Others have even noted how I even seem to be happier. A wonderful comment but it has me wondering how I must have appeared before, yikes! While this change was forced upon me it has made me a better person. I still volunteer but I am a much happier volunteer now and keep a few tips in mind.
5 Tips for Avoiding Volunteer Burnout
1. Schedule your volunteer time. When taking on a volunteer job most give you a description of the expected hours per week that are expected. Yes, sometimes you will need to spend more hours than expected while others less. A huge things you can do for yourself is set hours you are “on the clock”. Do you have an email account associated with your volunteer job? Stop checking it all the time! Have set hours that you set aside for responding to emails. As a volunteer you are not expected to work nonstop. That is not good for you. You need your breaks. Remember your time is valuable!
2. Take Care of Yourself. Get enough sleep. Eat healthy foods instead of junk food. Exercise regularly. Take time for you and your hobbies. Go on vacation and leave your volunteer work at home. Be sure to make time to relax and unwind. You may think you don’t need a break but take one anyways.
3. Learn how to say NO with grace. When I was joking that when I moved my email was going to be sexybooty69 to avoid being contacted it should have been a sign that I was on burnout road. If you are coming up with ideas in your head about how to avoid volunteering instead of just saying NO you may be on the road to burnout. Saying NO isn’t a bad thing, it can be difficult especially when you feel like you are letting someone down. Over committing and spreading yourself too thin can have an adverse effect on your volunteering efforts and you. Volunteering is good but moderation is key. Remember, they don’t give a special award for being a volunteer martyr.
4. Ask for Help. For some asking for help is hard. I have friends that know if i’m asking for help I must need it because i’m one of those that rarely asks for help. I will try to be Superwoman and do it all myself. Being Superwoman can leave you more stressed. You don’t have to do it all yourself though. Delegate, ask for help. Give your volunteers more responsibility. Just remember, if they say no or seem hesitant, don’t push them to do something they don’t want to. Remember they are volunteering like you and like you the best volunteers are typically more prone to burnout. Good volunteers are hard to find so like it is important to take care of yourself it’s important to make sure they take care of themselves also.
5. Don’t Worry, Be Happy. This for the control freaks out there. Stop worrying about things you cannot control. This is a HARD one but mastering this skill will help you. Yes, asking for help can lead to interesting situations sometimes but what will be, will be and it will be ok. If there is one thing I have learned in my years as a military spouse it has been to adapt and overcome. Things may not turn out exactly the way you hoped but in most cases things will be ok and if not it is a valuable learning experience.
These tips aren’t fool proof , just good suggestions from someone who has been to burned out. What do you do to avoid Volunteer Burnout?