If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a can-do kind of gal. I choose to view obstacles as challenges and opportunities. I practice self-care. I watch my mindset.
But the truth is that I MUST do those things. My natural tendency is to be pessimistic, low energy, depressive, and anxious. I fight against that actively.
And let me tell you it can be exhausting. It can result in burnout and when that happens even self-care sounds too hard and like it’s just too much. So, friends, how do we keep ourselves from that point and what can we do when we get there.
To avoid burnout, we need to protect our energy. That means we must:
Take your vacation days
Yes, I realize you are already at home. But being able to throw in a load of laundry in between meetings isn’t the same as taking a week to do whatever you want or need to do that isn’t work-related. Take those vacation days to recover and rejuvenate. Your work will benefit from it as much as you will.
Get good sleep (quality and quantity)
I love my Fitbit. Not only does it help me monitor my activity, but it monitors my rest. It gives my sleep quantity (hours and minutes) but also sleep quality, using a sleep score. It’s cool and helps me to contextualize my energy levels on a given day.
We all know it, but science also proves that Zoom meetings drain your energy. I recommend at least one day per week without any meetings (for productivity) but also recommend that fundraisers do a “week on” and “week off” cycle for donor meetings. Use the “off” weeks to get visits for the upcoming “on” weeks, conduct follow-up on previous meetings, and rest and rejuvenate yourself.
Do what must be done and walk away
Remember none of this is normal, but it’s likely to persist. We need to learn to pace ourselves. If you don’t feel good, ask yourself: “What MUST get done today?” Do that and walk away. Do other positive things for yourself to nurture your energy. If you do this with discernment, your motivation will return more quickly than if you just push through the negative feelings.
I’m already burnout! How do I climb back out?
If we are already in the burnout funk, how can we begin to climb out? And as someone who has battled depression and anxiety, I know you don’t want to hear about diet and exercise and meditation and yoga. Those things are fantastic and good advice and I’m an “on record” advocate for them, but you don’t want to do those things when you’re depressed. Like any good chicken/egg argument, how do we start to feel better so we feel well enough to do the things we know will make us feel better?
Wallow (feel those feelings)
If you’re depressed, admit it to yourself without judgement. If you are burnout, sit with that feeling and let is pass through you. Allow yourself to wallow a bit. Watch a series on Netflix that you’ve watched 5 times before. Buy that Ben and Jerry’s and savor it. Take an extra nap and don’t feel bad about it even one little bit.
I am a real extrovert. Extroverts get their energy from interactions with others. I’m finding that if I don’t get enough outside interaction, I get more and more down. Meetings help but they are on Zoom, which can drain energy (a real conundrum). I find messaging friends helps. Phone calls can help. Even doing something small like going to the grocery stores or picking up take-out (safely, of course) can help me get that human interaction that I thrive on.
Get some space
Seeing the same house and the same yard every day, hearing the same kids, the same frogs in the same creek gets old. One thing that helps me is to go for a long drive with an audio-book. I get some quiet and a change of scenery safely. Plus, gas is super cheap right now. We can also change up our personal space to be different. My husband fixed up an old table and made me a spot on our back patio to sip my morning tea and watch the garden.
Take those vacation days (a reprise)
Yes, I know I already listed this. But it’s so important and in the non-profit world, we feel tremendous pressure to perform. Getting some temporary relief from this pressure is essential, especially if we are burnt-out.
Social media and news detox
The state of the world is overwhelmingly. While it’s important to remain connected to friends and stay abreast of the news, it’s equally important to not let yourself slip into constant scrolling. I recently noticed myself doing this too much (mostly with Facebook). So, I removed the app from my phone, so I must go to my laptop if I want to check it, which puts some boundaries around my social media usage.
Go for a short walk
This is the simplest way to get a change of scenery. Even just a 5-10-minute walk around the block can improve your mood. You can listen to music (another mood-booster), listen for the birds, or just talk with a friend.
Watch your self-talk
This is so very important. If you’re feeling down and then you pile on negativity on top of that, you must stop. For instance, you feel terrible, so you don’t work out or you get behind at work, so you think, “Snap out of it. What the hell is wrong with you? You’re being lazy and going to get so far behind. How are you going to catch up?” This is so toxic, and we often do it unconsciously. I’ve found consciously practicing loving-kindness whenever I catch these thoughts is a healthy practice to counter this. Watch the thoughts and say “May I be filled with loving-kindness. May I be well. May I be peaceful and at ease.” Whatever you feel, feel it without judgement and with compassion.
Do something small and make deals with yourself
This is where we can really grow. Fundraisers love negotiation. Start to make deals with yourself. If I take a small walk, I can take a nap. If I do a gentle yoga practice for 10 minutes, I can watch another episode of my favorite show. Slowly, steadily, taking small healthy actions and “rewarding” yourself with something that sounds comforting right now will pay huge dividends.
Over time, as your small healthy actions improve your mood and motivation, you’ll be able to do more of that positive self-care and suddenly you are in an upward cycle and not a downward spiral.
Have you had any trouble with burn out during this crisis? What did you do to turn it around? Did any of these suggestions resonate with you? Let me know in the comments.
Comments and questions are, as always, welcomed and encouraged!
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Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.