In the final post of the Burnout Blog Series, guest author Jamie Blackburn explores the causes of burnout and outlines practical tips for daily life that will facilitate more focus, energy, and engagement, and will help maintain the drive to stay in the nonprofit sector for years to come.
Jamie, who has Master’s degrees in both Secondary Education and School Counseling, was a science teacher and school counselor before making the shift to preventative social-emotional work after experiencing her own burnout. She currently offers women’s retreats and mental wellness coaching through her business, the Inner MAP Project and serves on the board of the arts nonprofit, Street Wise Arts.
Burnout happens most commonly in professions where demands are high, and resources are low. With unprecedented budget cuts and other stresses brought on by the pandemic, burnout rates for nonprofit employees are growing. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are many ways to support your nervous system so that you are feeling more balanced as we move into the end of the year…so you can roll into 2022 feeling rested and rejuvenated instead of exhausted and fried.
Here are five ways to keep your stress levels low and excitement for your job as high as it was when you first started.
1. Soothe your overactive nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system has two parts that run behind the scenes of our daily life: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic system is in charge of our “fight or flight” response and helps keep us safe when we are in danger. The parasympathetic system is often called the “rest and digest” system and allows us to sleep and get the most nutrients out of the food we eat. When our computer dings that a new email has arrived or our boss arrives with a new project, our sympathetic system gets us ready to “attack” the perceived danger. This is like doing a bicep curl all day long with only one arm. We have to work our parasympathetic nervous system as well if we want to find balance. Walking in nature, practicing mindful movements like yoga, breathing slowly, and sitting in meditation have all been shown to activate our “rest and digest” response so we are not stressed all day. Aim to spend 20 minutes a day doing something that allows your nervous system to relax.
2. Let go of perfection.
My mom used to tell me “Perfection is boring.” And really, there is no such thing as perfect, so let go of the idea that everything has to be centered, symmetrical, and worded exactly right. If you fall into the perfection trap, write “Done is better than perfect” on a sticky note and post it in your office. Then, set a specific time that you are going to work on a task, and when that time is up, move on to the next thing on your list. While you may still fall down the perfection rabbit hole some days, once you begin to notice your habits you can train yourself to be okay with “Great” instead of “Perfect.”
3. Schedule breaks into your day.
You deserve five minutes to yourself… and going to the bathroom doesn’t count as “me time” even if it is the only place you are alone! Studies show that when we take breaks throughout the day, we are more focused and get more done, so when you sit back down to work, you will check more off your To Do list. Set an alarm twice a day to get up from your desk, drink some water, take a few deep breaths, and maybe even go outside! I have found that for most people in a traditional 9-5 job, 10am and 3pm work well as “mindfulness break” times.
4. Connect with your community.
Many times when we are stressed, we retreat away from friends and family to hunker down and get boxes checked. But we know from studying the places on Earth where people are the healthiest and live the longest, called Blue Zones, that community is key to overall emotional wellness. Schedule time to call an old friend, meet a colleague for a coffee date (and make a rule that you can’t talk about work!), or plan a date night with your partner. Taking time outside of work to unwind and focus on the people who bring you joy can take your mind off stressful work projects.
5. Find gratitude.
Gratitude has been shown to decrease stress and improve our attitude. And this time of year is the perfect time to practice being thankful. Get out a piece of paper, set a timer for 3 minutes, and write down as many things as you can that you are grateful for. When stress takes over, re-read the list and sit with the sensation of abundance. One of my friends has even created a “Gratitude Jar” for her home. She and her family add gratitudes to the jar each day. When someone is having a hard day or when they want to share a fun evening at home, they will dump out all of the little pieces of paper and read them aloud to remember how lucky they are. Remember to include one or two things about your job that you appreciate!
I hope this helps you get through the week and the end-of-year push with less stress and more calm. For more tips on how to prevent burnout, download the FREE “Burn Bright” Guide so you can burn bright not burn out!