Self-Care: The Most Important Thing We All Should Be Doing Right Now (How to Build Your Self-Care Practice)
Brace yourself. I'm going to use a buzz word.
Maybe that’s two words.
Here’s a definition of self-care that I love from Psych Central: “Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it’s a simple concept in theory, it’s something we very often overlook. Good self-care is key to improved mood and reduced anxiety. It’s also key to a good relationship with oneself and others.”
Deliberately. You have to do it deliberately. Plan for it. Schedule it. Make it part of your routines.
Also note, that it doesn’t just help you. It helps others because it makes us better partners and collaborators. You’ll be less stressed, healthier, more patient, and probably more kind.
Taking good care of ourselves now is perhaps the most important thing we can do . It will prevent burn out and boredom and restlessness that will help us stay home and flatten that curve. But, I would argue that for non-profit pros, it's absolutely essential. Here's why:
Non-Profit Professionals and Self-Care
Surely you know, that non-profit and fundraising roles can be extremely stressful and that was true long before COVID-19.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an article in August of 2019 about new research showing that 30% of fundraisers plan to leave the field entirely in the next two years!
There are many reasons for this startling statistics, here are a couple:
I can guarantee that the "tremendous pressure to succeed" will only increase as we move through the coronavirus crisis and into the recovery phase.
What does all this have to do with self care? You might ask.
Well, in order to be the absolutely All-Star Fundraiser I know you can be, you have to be your best self. You can’t succumb to nonprofit burnout. The industry needs folks like you to stay in fundraising. With 3 out of 10 fundraisers planning to depart the entire sector (before this crisis), nonprofits will need YOUR unique skills. So, I’m going to encourage you to take care of you.
Shouldn't we be lobbying for a better budget, higher salaries, more cooperative leadership, and more reasonable goals?
bsolutely! In order to do that, you have to be in top form. You will need even more resilience to raise amazing amounts of money while also changing an industry. I’m going to challenge you just to go just a bit further in taking excellent care of yourself.
Self-care: it isn't (all) about crystals and bubble baths!
Self-care has this modern connotation of it being something over-worked wine mommies do. They're looking for a "Calgon-Take-Me-Away" bubble bath. (I just totally dated myself with that commercial reference, didn't I?)
While those sorts of indulgences and treats do have a place in a well-rounded self-care regimen, they are not the core of a self-care practice.
It is not our grand gestures that keep us healthy in body, mind, and spirit, but the small things we do daily. You can quote me on that one.
You need to identify small, sustaining daily habits that can be done on 80-90% of days to help you be in the best form for yourself and others.
To help you build that practice, I've created the Self Care Mind Map and the 90 Day Habit Tracker. (To download both files in PDF format, as well as view my entire Self-Care for Non-Profit Pros webinar, click here.) The process starts with the Self-Care Mind Map.
Self-Care Mind Map
The Self-Care Mind Map is divided into eight areas of our life and I want you to stretch yourself and think of three things you could do in each category that would improve your quality of life. You are not committing to doing any of these things at this point. Just write whatever comes to mind.
You need to fill your brain with a positive can-do attitude and your mind needs to just rest and be clear sometimes. For my Mind Map, I put that I could listen to positive podcasts, meditate for at least five minutes per day, or take periodic detox breaks from social media. Yours might include affirmations, visualization, reading self-help books, or audiobooks. There are so many options to build a healthy, resilient mindset.
Generate some ideas about how you can feed your mind. For example, I love documentaries, about the British Royal Family and World War II (bonus if it’s about both)! I also like to read on many different topics and I like learning foreign languages using the Duolingo app.
It might seem like we are having to give up too much these days. But think about what causes you unnecessary stress or takes away too much time. For me, I don’t consume news in excess and I’m working really hard to stop scrolling on my phone in the mornings.
If we don’t acknowledge and process our feelings, they either appear in the body as illness or they manifest in destruction behaviors (like addiction) and interpersonal patterns (codependency). I wrote on my Mind Map that could set firm boundaries about my needs, practice focusing on what I can control, and I free-write in my journal three quick pages most mornings. (Morning pages is a practice from The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron and I highly recommend this book for any creative person.) Yours may be committing to attend 12-step meetings (yes, they have lots of these online and via phone these days), visiting a counselor (also available online), or writing a letter to express a long-held grudge (even if you don't send it). What, if you were deeply honest with yourself, do you need?
There are endless options for this category: you could floss more regularly, lift weights, eat more vegetables, go for a daily walk, get 8 hours of sleep most nights, the list goes on and on. The challenge here is to narrow it down to what you most need and what will truly provide you with the most benefit. Oh yeah! And it has to be something that you can and will do! My two that make me feel amazing are daily yoga practice of at least 15 minutes and getting 10,000-15,000 steps on my Fitbit daily.
Even if you are a hard-core atheist, you still need to attend to your spiritual side (even though the word “spirit” might make you bristle a little). Hear me out: Even if you don’t go to church, do you have a community, a strong friend group that you can rely on. Do you sing daily? Singing is a powerful kind of psychological medicine. I also like reading poetry (and writing it too). What other things can you think of to nourish your sense of wonder and awe at this whole being human thing?
Play has a few particular characteristics. First, play is pleasurable. Sounds like “duh!” but things in this category should be fun. Second, we enter into play voluntarily and most often it is self-chosen and self-directed. So, no putting things you think you “should” do in this category. Play makes us feel like we can do it all day. There’s a feeling of time not moving when you play. My kids help me play. These days, we love having family game nights and family movie nights. Those are precious moments, yes. But I also enjoy them because they are fun for me.
Now, we are really getting into the nitty-gritty. This is where you can let loose a bit. What are three things you might call “guilty pleasures”, the things you are a little embarrassed to admit to someone you respect that you enjoy. I love a good bath. But, that’s become like the stereotype of the harried mother trying to do self-care. Still, it’s a happy place for me. I also love showtunes! And I have an entire collection of vinyl records from Broadway and movie musicals because no one else wanted to buy them! I also love really giant (like Alice in Wonderland-style) ridiculous cups of hot tea. This list will be your go-to when you are ready to indulge.
90 Day Habit Tracker
Ok, now that you’ve filled out your entire mind map, pick 3-5 that you know would improve your quality of life if you did them every day (or most days). If you do this with 80-90% adherence, I’m telling you it will completely change your life. Feel free to throw out a habit if it doesn’t work after a couple of weeks or a month, then replace it with something else. You can also change the duration that you do one practice. For instance, if you started off with 20 minutes of meditation and you find you cannot fit that in, drop the goal to only 5 minutes a day. Have fun figuring out what makes you feel the best.
Back in 2017, I set myself a challenge like this. I wanted to do #yogaeverydamnday and get 10,000 steps every day for 30 days. At the end of that month, my mind was sharp and clear, I had lost a bit of weight without much strenuous effort (and while eating pasta and cannoli when traveling), and when I woke up in the morning I didn’t creak with aches and pains. It was nothing short of remarkable.
When I described the amazing benefits I gleaned from this experiment to my aunt, she stared at me seriously and asked, “Well, why the hell did you stop?” I did not have any good reason. At that point I realized I needed to build this into my life in a sustainable way. There will be days that I twist my ankle and can’t achieve the 10,000 steps. There will be days that I'm too busy with meetings for yoga. That’s ok, too. But working toward 80-90% adherence to healthy habits bring tremendous results.
Also, please remember to find beauty and practice gratitude. I have been snapping pictures of flowers every day, because I’m so genuinely grateful that I can get outside and walk. The weather has been beautiful here (whereas my brother and his family are stuck in late season snow in Colorado) and I have other friends who are stuck inside their homes for the foreseeable future. So, the best thing we can do for ourselves and others right now is to look inward and tend to ourselves like one would tend a garden, cultivating compassion for self and others. The result will be grace.
Grace for ourselves, for our families, our kids, our elders, the healthcare workers, the UPS drivers, our neighbors, everyone we interact with. And please tip your cashiers and delivery drivers very generously, as you are able.
To get through all of this, we will need to take this extra time at home with our family to cultivate our best habits of self-care, which will fortify our body, mind, and spirit. These practices will give us the resilience we need to get through this crisis successfully and come out the other side of stronger in many ways.
If you already have a self-care practice, what does that look like for you? If you used the Self-Care Mind Map, what kinds of things did you come up with to try? Did any of them surprise you? In a couple of weeks, I want to know what benefits you've been able to garner from making some of those things habits? Please let me know in the comments below.
And of course, if any of this stirred up questions, send me your question in the comments and I'll address it.
PS – If you liked this post, you might also like these:
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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.