Tips On Wellness For Academics From Dr. Dawne Mouzon

A few weeks ago, I (Eric) began to worry that the blog has offered much reflection on the problems and inequalities within academia, but few posts on wellness, survival, and strategies for change.  Dr. Dawne Mouzon instantly came to mind to invite for a guest blog post on wellness. Below, she has offered reflection on her own wellness practice, including the journey to developing and maintaining it, as well as tips for others to find their own.  You can find her full biography at the end.

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MouzonI am glad that my friend Eric asked me to write this post because in my estimation, academics are among the most self-denying and self-flagellating populations out there (present company included).  This is no great mystery, given that most of us struggle to maintain pace with the high standards and rampant inequities characteristic of the ivory tower.  While we often have little control over those professional processes, I believe we can enact some agency in our lives through a consistent wellness practice.

Many of us believe that wellness is an optional practice.  Something you’ll hopefully get to once you complete the other “more important” tasks on your to-do list.  The cherry on top.  Icing on the cake.  A stocking stuffer of sorts.  But as a social scientist who is always searching for patterns, it became abundantly clear to me a few years ago that the healthiest people (physically and mentally) are those who maintain a consistent wellness practice.

This observation – coupled with personal challenges and the myriad stressors inherent in life as a junior faculty member at a PWI – provided ample motivation for me to begin crafting my own wellness practice.  Audre Lorde once said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence.  It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”  I relied heavily upon this quote while I was still developing my sea legs in the realm of wellness.  I had to convince myself that it was necessary despite having little time for it.

Audre Lorde

My Own Journey

 ** Side note: For some, religion is a part of wellness.  For others, it’s a negligent part of how they define wellness, neither necessary nor sufficient.  I truly believe that every journey is different and no path is superior to another.**

I started by exploring different practices in search of which one or two that resonated with me.  I totally overthought this process at first.  I tried researching every different religious and spiritual practice.  Different philosophical traditions.  In other words, I was being a total academic about it.1

Then I simplified the process. I wish I could say that this was a conscious decision I made.  In all honesty, I met someone who seemed to have such a unshakable life condition of happiness that I asked her (almost out of desperation since I was at such a low point myself) how she maintained such a sense of peace and joy despite her turbulent life circumstances.  I was compelled to follow her lead.  It later struck me that we do this in our professional lives without giving it a second thought.  If we are approaching a major professional milestone such as reappointment or tenure, we solicit advice from those who have been successful.  If we want to apply for a grant, we ask for advice from others who have secured funding from that source.  Yet we rarely replicate this practice in our personal lives.2

Tips For Finding Your Own Wellness Practice

Here are some steps that might help you get started developing a wellness practice:

Find out what feels good to you. It sounds so simple but I’m surprised how long I meandered through life without knowing or valuing that.  Some people are cerebral – healed by books or writing.  Others are healed by distance running, physical touch, or hitting a punching bag.  Still others need to practice art or religion.  Decide what your “thing” is, regardless of how you think others will perceive it.  Regardless of whether you think it is a “valuable” activity right now.  If it renews your spirit, that is your “thing.”  Own it and celebrate it.

Monitor whether you are aligning your time with these newly valued activities.  If you have identified wellness activities that work for you but you don’t do engage in those activities, be honest with yourself and examine why.  I see three (not necessarily mutually exclusive) reasons for this.

  1. You subconsciously feel that you don’t deserve that pleasure. We make space in our lives for things we value.  It really is that simple.  When we want it, we make a way.
  2. You feel that your obligations to other people supersede your obligations to yourself.  My older sister used to always recite that classic analogy about putting your breathing mask on before trying to help others.  It became painfully apparent that I could not care for others if I didn’t first care for myself.
  3. You don’t really value the activities as much as you think and say you do. And that’s fine. It just means that you need to make adjustments until you forge a more authentic space.

Once you’ve found a set of practices that work for you, do it. Consistently.

Monitor your wellness practice and tweak it over time. Once I found a set of wellness practices that worked for me, I thought it was something I could check off my to-do list.  I felt that initial exhilarating sense of accomplishment but quickly learned the truth –  that wellness is a dynamic process (really, a relationship with your self) that must be managed much like other aspects of your life.

Life circumstances change and you should adjust your wellness practice as needed.  I make it a point to check in with myself on a regular basis.  I ask myself, What am I doing? How am I operating in the world? In my family and social networks? Am I spreading love with my words and actions?  Am I surrounding myself with positive people who lift me up?  Am I inching closer to meeting my personal and professional goals?  I analyze those areas in my life that I think need work and….. I do the work.  Sometimes begrudgingly but I do it nonetheless.

What I Have Learned Throughout My Journey

When I remain dedicated to my wellness practices, I am a happier and healthier human being.  Without fail.  This happiness is reflected in my personal relationships and the work I produce.  When I lapse, I falter.  And that shows up in my personal relationships and work as well.

I am still a work in progress, to be sure.  I will never be an enlightened master and I am okay with that — who needs the pressure anyway?  😉  But my ongoing goal is always to make wellness a non-negotiable area of my life.  It is my hope that we will all make that unwavering commitment to ourselves so we can not only so we can serve our families and friends but also continue doing this crucial work for our communities.

Notes

1 At the risk of sounding like a tacky infomercial, I have been very influenced by the work of the following spiritual teachers:

  • Thich Nhat Hanh and Marianne Williamson on the healing power and practice of love
  • Wayne Dyer on intention setting and our inherent agency to manifest our goals and dreams
  • Brene Brown on daring and loving greatly
  • Nichiren Daishonin and Daisaku Ikeda on Nichiren Buddhism
  • Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra on mindfulness, consciousness, and the importance of the present moment

2 In terms of practical (and healthy!) work habits and work-life balance, I would be remiss not to mention Kerry Ann Rockquemore and Tanya Golash-Boza, who are amazing teachers in those areas.  My life has changed immensely since I began using their principles.

About The Author

Dr. Dawne Mouzon (MPH, UMDNJ; M.A. and Ph.D., Rutgers University) is a sociologist and Assistant Professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Her research focuses on the “race paradox in mental health,” or the unexpected finding that Black Americans exhibit better mental health outcomes than Whites despite lower socioeconomic standing and greater exposure to discrimination.  Specifically, she explores whether the quantity and quality of four different social relationships (families, friends, fictive kin, and church members) explains this paradox.  In another strand of research, Dr. Mouzon examines both race and social class differences in the mental health benefits of marriage and the social-structural causes (and mental health implications) of the Black marriage decline.  She also studies race and social class differences in mental health stigma, men’s mental health, and the impact of goal-striving stress on the mental health of upwardly mobile African Americans and Black Caribbeans.

More information on her work can be found here.