How to Manage Stress and Avoid Burnout as a Change Maker

Today I want to talk to you about
something really important – stress and burnout. What these things are, and how
you can prevent them while you’re doing the important work that you do to change
the world. I’m Amber Melanie Smith, and I’m a nonprofit founder and speaker on
social impact! I make these videos to help everyday folks who want to improve
their communities and change the world do just that. I’ve been doing social
impact work for over a decade now and I can tell you that managing stress can be
a challenge. I have definitely gotten to the brink of burnout in some cases. It’s
really hard to admit, but there have been some times where I’ve come pretty close
to calling it quits or giving up, even though I love the work that I do with
every fiber of my being. If you don’t take steps to manage your stress while
you’re doing this important work, it can lead to burnout. So, what is burnout?
Burnout is emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and
prolonged stress. A lot of people facing burnout experience physical symptoms
like losing their appetite, or feeling tired all the time. This can often be
combined with mental and emotional issues like anxiety or depression. In my
personal experience, burnout feels like the complete inability to move a muscle
even to do things you fully know or believe are really important to do. Like
any force in the world could just not compel you to do it. And all this can be
combined with feelings like you are letting people down, feelings of guilt, or
you’re letting down the cause that you care about. People in careers that
involve helping others or fighting for positive social change are especially
prone to burnout. Even people who work as volunteers or who are making an impact
as philanthropists can be subject to fatigue and stress from these efforts.
I’ve heard stories of burnout from other change makers I so love and admire and
it really breaks my heart to know that people who are just out there trying to
make a difference are suffering from these things. So I wanted to make a video
that highlights some of the things that I do for myself
as a change maker to manage my stress and prevent burnout in the hopes that it
can help others who are trying to do the
same thing. It’s important to remember that burnout is more than just stress. I
used to think that burnout was just this inevitable phase I was going to hit and
that it was just a matter of time. But I recently found this great article called “Burnout and the Brain” by Alexandra Michel. This article explains really well
how burnout is not just caused by stress or prolonged stress; that specifically
it’s caused by stress AND a lack of adequate resources to support you and
the work that you’re doing. This concept actually brought me a lot of hope,
because it meant that maybe I could create an environment and support system
around me that could help me manage the stress and prevent burnout. To do this, I
started doing a series of things regularly to protect myself from burnout
and keep myself energized so that I can be the best leader for social change I
can possibly be while also being kind to myself. So here are 11 things I do to
manage stress and avoid burnout as a change maker! Number one: Setting boundaries. For the
past year or so I’ve maintained a policy of not responding to work-related emails
or phone calls on evenings or weekends with rare exception. I do allow myself to
check a little bit if I’m super excited about something I’m working on – but the
key is knowing that I’ve given myself permission to not work on these things
during off hours. And with a little bit of work, the people around me have
learned to accept and respect these boundaries too. Now, I have an amazing
team and I know that this doesn’t work for everybody. If you’re in a situation
where people around you are not respecting these boundaries, try having a
frank conversation with them about how you’re feeling. You can also make a
mutual commitment to respect THEIR boundaries in this work. Opening up
about it might help you identify friends or allies who can help you prevent
burnout in ways you didn’t expect. Number two: Mandatory rest days. As part
of setting boundaries for the past year so I have declared at least one
mandatory rest day for myself per week. On these days I don’t expect myself to
do anything! That is, of course, unless I want to or I feel like it. Part of
creating the support system around you and the environment to prevent burnout
is loving yourself and giving yourself permission and making sure that you can
be the best friend to yourself. So giving yourself permission to rest without
feeling guilty is a key part of developing the support system around you
to prevent burnout. I’m not gonna lie when I first started doing this it was a
little bit difficult to avoid the temptation of wanting to work or check
my emails during these mandatory rest days. So it might be a work in progress,
but you’ve got to start somewhere. One thing I learned after successfully doing
it for a couple months is that the world really doesn’t stop if you don’t work, or
don’t answer an email that immediate day. Everything is going to be okay if you
take a break. In fact, it’ll be better than okay! Number three: Post-it note successes! Okay, so this is a really fun one. This is a really easy, small thing that I started
doing a couple months ago that has really turned things around for me. I was
going through a period where I was feeling kind of down, and like I wasn’t
making a lot of progress towards the goals I had for my cause. So to combat
this, I started taking note of every victory I was having, big or small, that
showed that I really was making progress towards my goals. And then what I did was
I wrote these down on post-it notes – just naming the success, naming the victory,
and I put a date on it. And then I put it up on a board, just above my desk. So any
time I was feeling like I wasn’t really making progress, I could just look up and
see that I was. This means that I always have a place I can look to to see my
successes and feel grateful for those. And reminds me that I’m not just
spinning my wheels; we are actually moving forward, making progress, and
contributing to changing the world. Number four is journaling. Keeping a
journal is common advice that I hear for overall success in any field, any type of
work, but I have found it helpful for me in preventing burnout, to being able to
articulate my fears, my concerns, things that are making me upset, or angry. It has
really been helpful in helping me identify the root of my problems and
then take a look back and think about better ways that I might be able to
address these problems. And of course it’s just a great way to vent. Number five is self-indulgence! I have a
lot of fun with this one. When I’m in a rut and I’m not feeling motivated to do
much of anything, I try to help myself out by asking myself one simple question: “Amber, what is one thing you could feasibly do right now that would make
yourself feel good?” Past answers have included getting a massage, taking a nap,
watching a TV show, or maybe getting a delicious strawberry banana smoothie. But
whatever it is, if it’s in my power to do so, I’m gonna go get it, or do that thing,
and help myself out. This feels like a good way of gaining some control or
power over your situation, and it allows you to get in some fun and relaxation
while you’re at it. Strategy number six: Getting in front of
the people that I’m helping. Sometimes the best way to get reinvigorated to
your social impact work is to get out there and get in front of the people
whose lives you’re impacting. So regularly I try to get out there and
actually talk to and interact with some of the people who I am positively
affecting by my work. If your cause helps kids – going out and meeting some of those
adorable kids! If you’re working with animals – getting some good snuggle time
in with those puppies or kitties! And another way is to talk to someone else
who supports your cause and talk to them about WHY they support your cause. Their
passion for your cause will remind you about your passion for your cause, and
get motivated to keep going. Number seven is choosing a fun work task
to do! Obviously different people have different interpretations and
definitions of what a “fun work task” is, so you just need to ask yourself – What
are some of the activities that you’re doing in your social impact work that
you find the most fun? Most of us love and are passionate about the work we’re
doing to make an impact – that’s why we’re there – but I’ll be the first to admit
that that every single task I’ve got to do for my cause is the most exciting or
fun. But I make sure that I regularly allow myself to take part in at least
one of the more fun or creative aspects of the work that I do. One of the things
that most surprised me and a lot of other people I know about social change
work is the amount of paperwork, and sometimes the bureaucracy involved in
this work! I know it sucks, but that’s why doing these fun tasks in between all the
others can really help you stay excited and invigorated. Another great benefit of
doing this is that it allows you to feel less bogged down by having to do the
tasks that you know are really important for your cause and meeting the goals of
your cause, but are admittedly a little bit less exciting. Number eight is not something I’ve heard
a lot of other people talk about but I found it to be really helpful for me. And in this world in which it’s very hard to be vulnerable and share our feelings, I
think it’s really really critical to be able to do this. So number eight is
creating a culture of openness and vulnerability with the people around you,
especially on your team doing the social impact work with you. So if your social
impact work involves working with other people whether that’s volunteers or
board members or other staff, then talking openly about stress and burnout
can really help you. I find that showing my team members that
it’s okay to openly talk about these things helps me feel less isolated and
alone too, which then of course helps contribute to that environment of
support and feeling like you have the resources and support of other people on
your team to be able to withstand stress. And of course, it helps those other
people manage their stress and burnout by knowing they can count on you to have
an open and honest conversation about what they’re feeling. Number nine is just good advice for any
situation – and that is engage in a fun hobby! Making sure you have something
outside of your social impact work that can help you unwind and have fun is
really important. For me, I’m a very creative person and I like to have as
many creative outlets as possible. So to relax and get out some of those
pent up emotions, I can often be found singing or playing piano, or painting or
drawing, or writing, or even taking my amazing dog out for a walk or hike in
the woods. Everyone’s got that thing that makes them feel super relaxed and at
ease – So whatever that thing is for you, Make sure that you’re carving out time
for it to help you manage stress and avoid burnout. Number 10: unplugging. This is another
piece of advice that you hear often, but I’ve definitely found it to be helpful
for me. Getting off social media, turning off the TV, and getting out of the house –
ideally in nature – ideally with a super cute dog – is scientifically proven to
reduce stress. It’s easy to get distracted or stressed out by or find
yourself mindlessly scrolling on your phone. And when you do, you’re in a
position to go use your time more intentionally by getting out of the
house and finding a way to relax and unwind. These things help you refuel a
lot more quickly so you can bounce back and get back to the work that’s so
important to you. My final and eleventh strategy for
dealing with stress and burnout is one of my favorites, and that is reminding
myself that I’ve made it this far. One of the hardest things about social impact
or nonprofit work is feeling like you’re moving really slowly, constantly getting
rejected, that you’re not really moving the needle on the cause that’s so
important to you. This is combined with always feeling like there’s never enough
resources out there to help you really make a change. All of these things
definitely contribute to burnout, so when I find myself getting stressed out about
something on the horizon, or feeling down because I don’t feel like I’m making
enough progress on my cause, I try to remind myself that I have made it this
far. That I’ve already helped hundreds or even thousands of other people, and that
no matter what happens from here on out, I’m gonna be okay, and I can be at peace
with that. If you think you might already be experiencing the signs and symptoms
of burnout, don’t lose hope. Recognize what you’re going through and take the
time that you need to rest or reflect on if a change is needed at this time in
your life. You’ve got to love and take care of yourself if you’re going to keep
up the stamina that it takes to create true positive social change. Thank you so
much for watching! I really hope you feel encouraged and hopeful about the ways
you might be able to manage your stress and burnout while you’re doing this
really important work. If you found this video helpful please give it a thumbs up
and subscribe to my youtube channel for new videos every week. I’m also involved
in other conversations with other changemakers through my Facebook group, Change the World or Bust! If you’re interested in joining in, please go ahead
and find the link below in the description and come on by – we’d love to
have you. Remember to be kind to yourself! Thanks for watching!

One Reply to “How to Manage Stress and Avoid Burnout as a Change Maker”

  1. I hope you all found this helpful! What are some strategies you have for dealing with stress and burnout?

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