Avoid Burnout; Do the Robot

Working in the nonprofit field exposes individuals to a myriad of social causes.  These causes, sometimes heart wrenching, are a clear representation of the needs of populations and communities throughout our country and the world.  They also provide a drastic picture of the work that organizations are doing to aid those groups and populations by fulfilling their respective missions.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been a socially-minded person.  My mother was convinced that by the age of 8 my professional calling was to be a missionary of some sort.  Now, I’m no Mother Teresa, but I can honestly say that I’m pretty much a sucker for a good cause.  If it makes sense to me and there is a clearly articulated need, I’m usually willing to serve in some capacity. Whether it be the onslaught of invasive species (which I still know nothing about but the prospect sounds terrifying) or being an after-school volunteer to at-risk youth, sign me up!

As a Regional Coordinator with Volunteer Maryland (VM) I work directly with Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMCs) who have one year to lay a programmatic foundation, to implement their program, and to leave room for the program to be sustained and grow after their year is completed.  As you can imagine, this responsibility breeds a high probability for burnout.

Many nonprofit employees find themselves in similar situations; their passion for their organization’s mission makes it imperative for them to successfully complete projects or develop programming in a timely fashion.  The problem is that many times, personal beliefs align so much with an organization’s mission that a clear distinction between the two is no longer present.  From working through a lunch break to taking work home on the weekend, nonprofit employees are champions at blurring the lines between in-work time and out-of-work time.  This can become overwhelming.  Not setting clear boundaries and giving yourself time to separate can lead to burnout….fast.

Thus, I have created a list of my top 10 small things to do to manage stress and keep sane while working to change this big blue and green ball that we call the world.

10.) Take a break to play your favorite song or a 5 minute clip from your favorite funny movie (invest in some decent headphones)

9.) Allow yourself a small treat once a day (at VM, we keep a secret stash of dark chocolate in a location known to only a select few….)

8.) Send a positive message; a lot of times it makes you feel better to know that you’re making someone else feel better

7.) Include co-workers in collective silliness (we have Dance Break Fridays where everyone does a choreographed dance to pop songs….it’s pure magic!)

6.) Begin a meeting with an opening question that has absolutely nothing to do with the agenda at hand (For example: If your life had a soundtrack, what song would play when you entered a room?)

5.) Take a walk

4.) Release tension by doing something physically or mentally challenging after a tough meeting (VM is located on the 15th floor so sometimes, I will take the elevator downstairs to the first floor and walk back up….fun times!)

3.) Reading feel-good quotes or poems (My Favorite by Marianne Williamson: Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.)

2.) Look back at what you’ve accomplished. At VM, we require the VMCs to complete a work plan for their year of service. This outlines events and accomplishments of the VMC in timeline form. Being able to see where you’ve come ultimately helps you map out where you want to go.

1.) Turn on some 80’s dance music and do the robot. (The ridiculously, silly feeling invokes an addictive sense of euphoria, immediately followed by an unexplained ability to stop laughing….my absolute favorite…)

Tell us some ways that you relax and release at the office!


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