Note from Beth: This week and next week, Aliza Sherman and I will be visiting a few cities on the West and East Coasts, as part of our Happy Healthy Nonprofit book tour. Please come join us at one of our upcoming events. One of my themes for the year was to write more consistently about self-care and wellbeing in the nonprofit sector to extend the conversation and learning related to the book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit. Before the Christmas break, I had a delightful conversation with colleague Kate Alexandra, co-founder of Radical Self Care Project based in Sydney, Australia. At that time, we talked about the usefulness of having some self-care techniques in your back pocket that you could bring out during a crisis to help you calm down. Given the stress that many of us who work in the nonprofit sector for social justice causes have been feeling lately, Kate’s suggestions are very timely. I’ve seen a few good articles (here and here) providing tips about how to maintain your mental health and sanity in an age of Trump. The articles recommend that you: 1) Limit your media consumption by setting some boundaries; 2) Focus on one or two issues close to your heart, there are too many to do all; 3) Make activism fun. Both articles suggest strongly that you practice self-care and here’s Kate’s tips:
5 Self-Care Hacks that Nonprofit Professionals Can Use in a Crisis by Kate Alexandra
Self-care is both an art and a science, one worth getting intimate with, especially if you are one who’s prone to pushing hard towards what you want out of life.
There are two ways to approach self-care: Preventative and Episodic.
Building a nourishing a daily routine that fuels our health and happiness is part of our long-term burnout prevention plan and could include things like good sleep, healthy food, and regular exercise.
But what if you are approaching a chronic-stress crisis?
Do you have tools ready in your self-care medicine bag, to whip out in an emergency?
Burnout happens when we have too much going on and too few resources to sustain ourselves. The prelude to burnout would typically involve long-term chronic stress: the mind races, the nervous system fires up in ‘fight-flight’ mode and we may experience symptoms such as sleeplessness, extreme fatigue or anxiety.
Understanding chronic stress from the perspective of the nervous system’s in-build ‘emergency response’, helps us to directly impact the physiological needs of our body and bring us back from the edge of burnout.
The 5 techniques I’m sharing below are all about DISRUPTING the stress response. You can think of these techniques as re-routing or snipping the circuit wire that’s fueling your stress. If you can hone in on which techniques most effectively help you snip that circuit wire, you’ll be well equipped to handle peaks of stress and ultimately avoid burnout.
5 Self-Care Hacks to Use in a Crisis
1: Breathe. When we are consumed by stress, our breath becomes shallow and rapid. Slowing down our breathing is a direct and powerful way to balance an over-stimulated nervous system.
Begin by tuning in to the inhalation and the exhalation, notice what the breath is doing, then gradually slow it down, lengthening (in particular) the exhale breath.
Lengthening the exhale breath soothes the nervous system which in turn affects our state of mind and helps release stress.
Try it: Pause now and take some slow deep breaths, count the inhalation, and the exhalation- notice which is longer. Then focus on lengthening the out breath. Make it as long and smooth as possible (without straining) and try to make it a few counts longer than the inhale breath, working towards a 1:2 ratio (i.e. breath in for 3 counts out for 6 counts).
Breathe in an out through the nose if possible, as this will stimulate the vegus nerve- a cranial nerve, positioned directly behind the nasal passageway, which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system function of the major organs, slowing heart rate, relaxing blood vessels and reducing feelings associated with stress.
2: Walk Away and Bathe in Nature. When we are talking about disruption techniques for a crisis situation, walking away is a big one. Remove yourself from the stressful situation, get away from the screen and go outside if you can.
Surrounding yourself in nature has a very pacifying effect on humans. The Japanese have a name for it: Shinrin Yoku / Forest Bathing.
Research has found being surrounded by nature even after just 15 minutes, reduces blood pressure while increasing concentration and mental clarity.
And if you can elevate your heart rate while through walking in nature, even better, it will help oxygenate your brain and release endorphins- the happy hormones, which will help disrupt the stress hormones.
3: Emotional Freedom Technique
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) also called “Tapping” utilizes a gentle, rapid tapping along major meridian lines identified by Chinese Medicine. It is used to disrupt stuck energy caused by negative emotions. While tapping, we repeat a statement, which allows the mind to identify and clearly name the situation, then we affirm love and acceptance of self.
For example “Even though I am feeling (Insert your emotion here) right now. I completely love and accept myself.”
To learn more about how this relatively new mind-body healing technique works, watch EFT Founder Gary Craig, share the basic EFT tapping technique. Have a play around and notice how it works for you.
4: Put Your Legs up the Wall.
Acrobatics when we’re approaching burnout? Yes!
Legs up the Wall (Viparitia Karani in Sanskrit) is a simple relaxing posture from Restorative Yoga. It is highly effective for supporting the body during adrenal fatigue and chronic stress.
Stress hormones such as adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol are catabolic which means they foster a process that burns energy and breaks down cell structures. To disrupt this activity and recover from excessive stress and exhaustion we need to secrete anabolic hormones, such as the growth hormone. The growth hormone is normally released from the pituitary gland during deep sleep, when the body naturally heals and repairs, but if we are not getting enough sleep this mightn’t be happening as effectively it should.
Putting your legs up the wall activates the parasympathetic nervous system and stimulates baroreceptors (blood pressure sensors) in the neck and upper chest triggering reflexes that reduce nerve input into the adrenal glands, slow the heart rate, slow the brain waves, relax blood vessels, and through secretion of the growth hormone, reduce the amount of noradrenalin circulating in the bloodstream.
Try Legs Up the Wall: Lay on the ground with your legs up against a wall, get your buttocks as close to the wall as possible and pelvis should be elevated on a pillow or some folded blankets (get your pelvis higher than your heart this is important to effectively stimulate the baroreceptors). It can be a little awkward to get in to the first time, but jiggle around until you are comfortable. It’s worth it.
If the legs tire of being straight, bend the knees and cross the legs, with knees near the wall.
Lay here for 15-20 minutes. Think of it as your recovery time. If your mind is excessively busy you could listen to a relaxing piece of music or count your breathing.
5: Yoga Nidra Guided Meditation
Yoga nidra is often referred to as “yoga sleep”. It’s a guided relaxation method designed to induce deep rest, promoting healing and rejuvenation. Yoga Nidra begins with a body scan; by tuning in to the sensation of body we by-pass thinking and the body begins to relax.
During yoga nidra we move from the active everyday beta brain waves, through the alpha brain waves (which are typically present during mindfulness, daydreaming or creative flow) and finally we drift into theta brain waves, the brain waves of deep sleep, while still technically awake.
Accessing the slow, theta brain waves while conscious has a powerfully pacifying effect on the body-mind, we also become more receptive to insight which can help us become ‘un-stuck’ from our problems.
Studies show that 20 minutes of yoga nidra gives the equivalent rest of 3 hours deep sleep, making it an essential technique to use in times of chronic stress, insomnia or general exhaustion.
Access a FREE yoga nidra meditation here.
Kate Alexandra is a yoga teacher and co-founder of Radical Self Care Project based in Sydney, Australia. She is a passionate advocate for women’s health and empowerment through the practices of self-care, self-study and conscious activism.