3 ways to recharge from work
Follow these simple self-care strategies to avoid burning out from too much work.
After the strong response to the article about the cult of busyness and the piece we did on the importance of finding flexibility within the 9 – 5 grind, we recognized that there was much more to the story of why nonprofit professionals are feeling so overloaded: it may be because we have succumbed to martyr complexes, are mirroring the crises of the people and situations we serve, or that we just have too much on our plates. But whatever the cause, simply clocking out on time or taking our scheduled two weeks of holidays in a year is not always enough to fully recharge our batteries.
“Emily”, a young nonprofit staffer, confesses she struggles with insomnia. “Even though I try to leave work at work, I often wake up in the middle of the night and think of fifty billion things I need to do.”
At a recent conference for a national nonprofit association, more than half of the attendees engaged in a spontaneous group discussion about how people could find joy in their work. One person who was there said, “People were very vulnerable and emotional when they talked about the struggle they have in finding a balance that allows them to live their work with joy rather than dominated with fear of failure.” She added, “It reinforced to me that so many people who work in the sector struggle with this. How do we create a culture that allows all of us to have fulfilled lives and longevity in our careers?”
For Eva Cairns, managing producer at Edmonton’s Catalyst Theatre, this has been a work in progress. “I’ve been in arts administration for 29 years and had two major burnouts in that time. It took me until my late 40s to realize that I needed to provide myself with specific tools to protect myself, my family and my employer from these kinds of crashes.”
The hard reality is that many people struggle with the challenge to unwind and be refreshed — a survey of executive directors done by the Peel Leadership Centre in 2013 found that 91% felt burnout — and that the cliché of crashing in front of Netflix with a bag of chips or a glass of wine has too often become the most likely form of self-care practiced, with the same kind of semi-collapse when it comes to holidays.
We thought it was important to talk with people who struggle with this challenge to unwind as well as those who have found keys to self-care success….
Get off the grid
While Cairns deliberately plans a short daily email check-in during family holidays and finds this reduces her stress so that she knows what she will be facing upon her return to the office, many more people find that a key to true refreshment (whether for an evening, a weekend or two weeks) is to get off technology altogether.
Many of the people we spoke with gleefully reported finding ways to go somewhere they can’t get cell reception or wifi — whether floating in a lake, travelling to a foreign country, visiting relatives on a farm or taking a cruise.
Others restrict themselves voluntarily by choosing not to bring a laptop home or to lock their phone away. One person, who works from home said she has a “ruthless devotion to digital sundown” at which point electronics are shut off.
Another benefit of getting away is described by people who work in nonprofits in smaller towns. One person said, “I love where I live but I can’t go anywhere without running into people I know. Getting out of here sometimes and exploring a new place is so helpful.”
Although Cairns opts to stay connected, she stresses that she only works if it needs doing, and doesn’t sneak off to work. She adds that her chronic insomnia disappeared once she decided not to turn on her computer to work in the evenings.
Get outdoors, get active and get more sleep
Basically your mom was right. Research now clearly shows that getting outdoors plays a strong restorative role in health — reducing stress, blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, the production of stress hormones and possibly even mortality. One nonprofit professional said, “Whether it’s a quick walk to the neighbourhood park or a day trip to the coast, being outside helps me relax and realize that the world is so much bigger than me. Plus it gives me time to enjoy the beauty of nature and make memories with my kids.”
Exercise is another key to true restoration. Tara Hurford, Catholic Schools Program Officer at Development and Peace, says, “I’ve realized there are some things I can’t ever cut out of my schedule: getting 30 minutes of cardio a day keeps me sane and helps me feel more alert and focused and better all around.”
Too often sleep is discounted as non-essential — with millions of Canadians suffering from what researchers call sleep deficit. One researcher observes, “In the past, it was thought that if you were to be sleep deprived you will…be less alert, you will have cognitive deficits. But now, we know that it also affects your body, your metabolism, how your body regulates your cardiovascular system.” Another nonprofit employee notes that, “Nothing is better for me in terms of recharging than sleep, whether it’s a nap or a few good nights’ rest.” Chadnick suggests making a plan for rest and sleep, noting “Doing nothing can be a goal.”
Concentrate and immerse yourself
For many people, a real key to being able to unwind is somewhat counter-intuitive: to throw themselves into something they love that is completely unrelated to work. People may think what they need is just to crash on the couch at the end of the day, says Chadnick, but the science of positivity shows that as humans we need to be fueled and that making time for activities and people we love leads to more fulfillment and relaxation.
This can be something quiet (one person says, “If I have had a really stressful day I will sit and read for hours to get back to a neutral standing.”) but for many people it needs to be an activity that is “complicated enough that I don’t have the brain space to think or worry about anything else while I’m doing it.” The people we polled listed a wide range of activities: beekeeping, making soap, sailing, karaoke, lifting weights, teaching karate. Of making soap, Sylvia Ceacero, CEO of SHARE Family and Community Services Society says, “it requires concentration for a couple of hours. While I make them, the world disappears and I come out at the other end recharged and relaxed.”
Cairns says of the karate classes she teaches, “It started out as a shared activity with my sons that simultaneously built exercise into my life and was a consistent, structured vehicle for stress management. Over time, I have found it liberating to be part of something that is a community service and has nothing to do with my work.”
Cairns says, “Most of us in nonprofits are very passionate about our fields, but it’s important to realize that it’s okay to have more than one big passion in life and that they can complement or support one another.”
View the original article in full on CharityVillage where it was first published.
This article was written by Susan Fish. Susan is a writer/editor at Storywell, a company that helps individuals and organizations tell their story well. She has written for the nonprofit sector for more than two decades and loves a good story.