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Self-Care is the Best Care

Posted By Najee Evans, He/Him/His, Centenary University, Monday, January 7, 2019

Being a Resident Assistant (RA) on campus can be a rewarding job. However, while there are many phenomenal features that come along with the position, there is a tremendous amount of responsibility and pressure that one will also endure. Residents on campus need for RAs to solve roommate conflicts, soothe homesickness, shower them with academic advice, and insure that residence halls are a safe place to live in. When looking at current events within student affairs, sexual assault, violence, and mental illness have all become prevalent on college campuses. This new wave of concerns requires that RAs begin to provide services for residents they may not have initially been comfortable with addressing. 

RAs handle intense situations frequently. The physical and emotional demands of the job can take a toll on any individual. It is imperative that RAs are aware of how they are affected by these interactions with residents. As a Social Work student and Lead Resident Assistant (LRA) at Centenary University, I am aware that burnout, compassion fatigue, and exhaustion are different ways that RAs can be affected. Burnout refers to when an RA feels hopelessness, is emotionally drained, and may feel overwhelmed. This can all result from the schools’ environments that involves excessive workloads and a restrained amount of support. Compassion Fatigue, which refers to evidence of secondary traumatization, occurs when an RA begins to notice changes in feelings toward residents such as losing interest, empathy and concern for those around them, or even a decline in work satisfaction.

There is much research that supports the consequences of burnout and compassion fatigue. These consequences may include anxiety, depression, anger, irritation, or troubled work relationships within Residence Life. Additionally, some may even begin to notice absenteeism, poor productivity and performance, ultimately leading to a decrease in self-esteem and increased feelings of incompetence.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. All of the above concerns validate why it is essential for RAs to have a plan of self-care in place and a robust list of stress management resources to use. Self- care extends to learning coping skills and skills that alleviate the effects of burnout. This can include exercising regularly, engaging in recreational activities, and ensuring that one has adequate sleep to mitigate the effects of duty-related stress. Such self-care activities may also involve sustaining ones spiritual connections by attending religious functions and use of positive forms such as art to express oneself.

Dr. Barbara Markway, author of “ Seven Types of Self- Care Activities for Coping with Stress,” provide her readers with several self care activities, which includes: going for walks, listening to music, laughing, spending time with friends, and even taking a 30 minute nap every day. These are some incredible and simple ways RAs can decrease stress and burnout.

Going above and beyond, the University of Wisconsin provides resources for their resident assistants, such as 24-hour counseling services, group counseling, and self- care resources.

Ensuring the self- care of an RA staff should be a Residence Life requirement. It is imperative for RA supervisors to create a safe space for RAs to feel comfortable confiding in them when they are overwhelmed and need some words of advice. It is during these times that an RA is in need of assistance that they possess the greatest capacity to walk away with life skills to help them well into adulthood. 

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