I will be the first to tell anyone interested in development, particularly fieldwork, that it is not easy. While there are many reasons for this, one is the toll it takes on your body and mind. Many development newbies from the west think they can hack being in the field for extended periods of time without familiar comforts. I have been in development for almost 5 years and I can tell you it is not easy on my body/mind. Most recently it has been difficult adjusting to a hardship post. I have almost been working in Somalia a year and I am just getting used to things like having armed guards accompany me on field visits/meetings or random gunshots. Mentally, it is really tough to be away from my support network. I do receive R&R (rest and recuperation) every 8 weeks, which does help. The point is: a fieldworker has to be creative when thinking of self-care and make it a priority. The first step is to say no to working on your days off. Vegging out, defined as the art of doing nothing, is very important to me in the field and since my compound has both our office and guesthouse, it is tempting for my boss to ask me to work on designated weekends. It does happen occasionally that I do have to work but I insist that fieldworkers do not make this a regular habit.
The Mind/Body Connection
For me I realize that stress and poor sleep are related. Before I moved to Somalia and for many years, I have been an avid runner with one marathon under my belt. I have not been on a run since July 2012, so how do I ensure my body gets proper exercise in the field. I have a schedule. Firstly, I practice yoga 1-2 times a week. Investing in a quality yoga mat is a must. Secondly, I do actual at-home workouts. I mostly use Jillian Michaels DVD workouts 3 times a week because they are 20-30 minutes and I actually feel like I have worked out afterwards. Remember to stay hydrated if posted in a hot climate. To save space I transferred my DVDs to my hard drive. One may ask how to workout without fancy gear, but I say again that you have to be creative. For example, I made my own weights and while they may not be much, they do the job. Also, I often meditate and pray. These practices clear my mind, improve my mood, and help me remain focused. Without them I feel lethargic and apathetic.
Use the WebAnother relief for me is Skype as it gives me a way to directly communicate with those I love. Make regular Skype dates with loved ones! The one thing I tell newbies is to keep busy. On weekends in a compound in Somalia, I do a number of things like writing blog posts and it is cathartic. Another is following career blogs, namely ones in my field like Whydev or Aid Leap. Completing online trainings, like the new Sphere standards e-course, is a great way to boost your resume for free while keeping up to date with industry standards. On occasion a good webinar is very useful as well. Most recently I submitted a practice note to an academic journal, Development in Practice, another great resume booster and anyone can submit. For fun I am hoping to complete an online homeopathy training.
This is so underrated in the field. Games, electronic or otherwise are also good. When I first got to Somalia I had a hard time sleeping. Games help me to zone out, resting my brain and allowing me to fall asleep quickly. Also I find that free time is good to watch shows/movies. I have a weekly schedule of entertainment, weather its shows or music/games and it really gives me something to look forward to each day. Invest in a good external harddrive. Most recently I was allowed to use the office projector to watch a show or movie and it really felt like having an at-home theater. Also, I recommend reading. The subject doesn’t matter or the platform (online articles, Kindle, or hard copy), just read!
Ultimately, how you spend your time in the field is up to you. I am one of those people who is always busy and cannot sit still. I have never understood the concept of boredom. The tips I have given are just a few but the point is fieldworkers must prioritize self-care if we are to be effective. There are plenty of resources out there. Try some and I guarantee they will make your life all around better.