If you’ve been through a pregnancy — even if only via a partner or family member who was pregnant — you know just how long nine months can be.
It’s a taste of eternity.
And not the good kind.
So when I note that most of us have been in pandemic for nine months now, that pretty much explains how we’re feeling.
“Okay,” we’re thinking, “this can end any moment now. Please?”
For many of us, we’ve gone through all kinds of stages of adjusting to the crisis. Full of energy at first, then fading and losing that sense of purpose.
The nonprofit space is well-known for being under-staffed and often poorly managed. That’s why many of us — maybe including you — are now facing burnout.
And it’s rough.
Many people throw around the term burnout a bit too easily. “I’m burned out,” often means, “I’m stressed out.”
Stress and burnout are closely related to each other. Being stressed over time can lead to burnout.
But the difference between being stressed and being burned out: When you’re stressed out, you can imagine feeling better. You can picture a state where you get things under control and get back to a more comfortable state. Stress is uncomfortable, but it’s a normal part of life. It comes and goes.
When you’re burned out, you are beyond that hopefulness. You can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. You feel mentally exhausted. Empty. You have no motivation, and you can’t make yourself care. You become less able to take care of yourself or others. You almost don’t feel like yourself.
Burnout is not “normal.”
It’s somewhat like being depressed. It’s really a kind of emergency that you need to deal with right away if you’re facing it.
So if you are feeling stress, and you’re worried you may be approaching burnout (or already there) here’s your first step: Talk to someone. A professional if possible, or a wise and helpful person in your life. Do your best to determine whether you’re burned out or stressed and on your way to burnout.
If it’s burnout, take action now.
Drastically change things, now. Stop working for a while. Get help.
Basically, your emotional house is on fire. You cannot ignore it!
If you aren’t there yet, get serious about preventing burnout. It’s much easier to prevent it than to get out of it.
Here are some things you should do:
Look at your work situation
Do you put in a ridiculous number of hours week after week without relief? We can all handle major surges of work. It can even be energizing. But when abnormal becomes normal, you’re heading for trouble.
Beyond overwork, the other thing that can get you is a bad work environment. If you feel unappreciated, under-compensated, consistently doing things above or below your skill-set, always putting out fires, in a highly political or fear-based environment … you are heading toward burnout.
I realize that previous sentence is pretty much the official job description for many fundraising jobs. That’s a real problem, and we as an industry need to change that. But the urgent thing for now is this: you need to change it for yourself. You may need to leave that job, because it is basically killing you. And you’re not doing anyone a favor if you’re getting killed by a crappy work environment.
Here are nine things you need to be aware of to prevent burnout and keep yourself healthy, productive, and at top performance”
Discover the power of the word “no.” Your service mentality is commendable, but you have to have limits. Have times and days when you don’t work and don’t answer email. Remember, when you don’t have boundaries, you are in danger of crashing — and you’ll be no help to anyone if that happens!
Give yourself the time you need to sleep. It’s probably seven to nine hours. It’s important!
Physical activity can make all the difference, and most of all when you feel too busy to take the time. Try to walk, run, or ride a bike every day — or find some other way to exercise.
Fast food has only one advantage: Speed. That’s why we often default to unhealthy eating in busy times. Make sure you’re eating well, especially plenty of fruit, vegetables, and nuts.
There are a lot of ways to meditate, and there’s no “perfect” way. Just do it. If you follow a faith tradition, you most likely have a practice that is meditation, even if it’s called something else. Giving yourself time to meditate, even just a few minutes a day, can be transformative and pay back big time in energy and quality of life.
Unstructured, “doing nothing” time is also critical. That means reading, walking, even just sitting around. Make sure you have some time every day set aside for doing nothing. If you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen!
7. Talk about it
Being open and honest about the stress you face and the danger of burnout really helps you combat it. Make sure you have trusted friends, colleagues, family members, or others you can talk with. Chances are, they are in the same situation as you, so you’ll be helping others.
8. Technology breaks
Put the damn phone down! The convenience of always-on technology comes at a price. Try to spend at least an hour of the day when you aren’t looking at any screens.
Find some kind of activity that fills your soul and gives you joy. Writing, drawing, photography, making music. These things refill your tank and give you energy. This is especially important if you don’t get fulfilment from your day-to-day work.
The important thing is this: You have to take care of yourself. You owe that to yourself — but also to the people around you, including your employer. It’s not easy, it doesn’t come naturally to many of us … but it’s necessary!
Share your experience with stress and/or burnout in the comments below, or at one of our Facebook communities: The Fundraisingology Lab (members only) or The Smart Fundraisers’ Forum (open community).
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