Early in the pandemic, I adjusted workshop titles and content to address the challenges of the moment. “Networking” became “Networking in a Pandemic,” “Maintaining Your Research and Writing Mojo” became “Maintaining Your Research and Writing Mojo Even in Times of Disruption.” While still addressing “the new normal” of remote and hybrid work, this fall I began to revert to pre-pandemic titles. However, in my group and individual coaching sessions, it has been abundantly clear that academics are continuing to experience a heightened level of stress.

Parents who were burdened with daycare closures and kids learning from home are still recovering from the overload of that time, while also facing continued disruptions from the “tripledemic” of Covid, RSV, and flu. Many people are living with the effects of long-Covid. Those who are immunocompromised or who have family members at greater risk are struggling with how to protect themselves and their families, now that institutions are no longer mandating preventative measures.

Black academics are much more likely to have personally known someone who died of Covid. They also experienced greater trauma during this period marked by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, and by the incomplete and ongoing racial reckoning that followed in the United States. Furthermore, many Black academics were sought after to provide commentary on national events, to serve on institutional or professional society committees, and to join task forces created to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. While this is meaningful work that is helpful to institutions, this work can be exhausting for those serving.

The New Year is a time when people take stock of the year that is coming to a close and make resolutions for the year to come. Perhaps you are one of the lucky individuals who thrived in the past few years – freed from the distractions of in-person events and conference travel to generate more work than usual. If so, celebrate! But for those struggling, I suggest starting with self-compassion.

Mindful self-compassion expert Kristin Neff teaches that there is a both a yin and a yang to self-compassion. The yin side is about offering yourself gentle lovingkindness. Neff suggests the following meditation, perhaps said with your right hand over your heart, and your left arm wrapped across your middle, as if you were giving yourself a hug:

This is a moment of suffering
Suffering is a part of life
May I be kind to myself in this moment
May I give myself the compassion I need

Neff recommends tailoring the meditation to your specific circumstance. For example:

My productivity is at rock bottom
I’m not alone – it’s been an incredibly difficult few years for many professors
May I be kind to myself in this moment
May I give myself the compassion I need

The meditation is a reminder that you are not at fault, and you are not alone, so there is no need to pile self-recrimination on to the challenges you already face.

The yang side of self-compassion is about protecting, providing, and motivating. Neff calls this “fierce self-compassion.” One professor I worked with lost a significant part of her sabbatical because of a family health crisis. When she despaired of finishing her sabbatical project, I suggested that when she went back to regular duties, perhaps she could do her required teaching and the minimum necessary departmental service, but say “no” to anything else by imagining all the things she would decline if she were on sabbatical in New Zealand – at a time prior to affordable long-distance phone and video connections. The professor took that idea to heart, and successfully finished her project despite the “hit” to her sabbatical time. For those whose work was significantly delayed through the pandemic, Yang self-compassion might mean approaching the coming term with a similar attitude. And it would certainly mean applying for any possible additional Covid leaves that are available to you.

When I facilitated this fall’s cohort of the Foundations of a Successful Academic Career coaching and mentoring group for faculty members, I saw both the yin and yang of self-compassion at play. On the yin side was kindness and recognition of one another’s struggles. Particularly salient to me was learning from a group member about the concept of “wintering” from Katherine May’s book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. On the yang side was group members’ generosity in sharing their personal strategies for setting boundaries, negotiating for resources, outsourcing, delegating, creating accountability structures, and more. If you could benefit from the company of a smart, supportive group of colleagues, please use this link to sign up for the Foundations group starting in January. I hope you will also consider sharing the link on social media, or with friends or colleagues who could benefit.

And for today, may you be kind to yourself in this moment. May you give yourself the compassion you need.


Photo credits:
Candles – Mike Labrum, Unsplash
Heart – Michael Fenton, Unsplash
Pine boughs and lights – Freestock