Stress Management Tips for Nonprofit Professionals

By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.

Working in a nonprofit dedicated to empowering children, youth and young adults ages 5-21 with Serious Emotional Disturbances (SED) to become independent, Project Director of NFusion IV Desoto County Tracey Humphrey, M.A., PCMHT, P-LPC, knows a thing or two about workplace stress.

She and her team are not only trained to look for signs of stress in both NFusion’s young clients and their families; they’re also practitioners and teachers of mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and journaling. “We freely teach any of these methods to anyone who is interested in learning,” she said.

These types of techniques can be of great help to any hardworking nonprofit professional feeling stressed at or about work. Knowing and sharing them in your organization can also be a great way to practice not only self-care but also colleague-care.

How can you tell if someone at work might be ready for a little de-stressing? “Stress can manifest in many ways,” Tracy said. “There are physical manifestations such as headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, muscle tension and change in appetite. And it can also manifest as anxiety, nervousness, depression and crying, and anger.” Social withdrawal, isolation, nervousness, disorganization, difficulty concentrating, and insomnia are other signs you or your co-workers are stressed out.

Stress is a whole-person problem; it affects your mind, emotions and body—every system, every organ, even down to the tissues. If you’re constantly stressed, your body is in “fight or flight” mode. The adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol, causing your heart to beat faster, raise blood pressure and boost your glucose levels. Your muscles tense up, or contract, causing tension headaches, backaches, jaw pain and more. When you breathe more shallowly and ore quickly, it can cause panic attacks, not to mention shortchanging yourself in terms of oxygen intake. Your racing, pounding heart isn’t doing your blood vessels any good, either. All of that extra wear and tear on your body can lead to increased illness. So taking a break to destress could just be the most overlooked productivity tool.

Tracy encourages employers and supervisors to learn not only the various ways that stress can manifest itself but also to really get to know their staff as individuals so you can spot it when they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. “One of my staff will start to self-loathe, second guess herself and become paranoid,” Tracy explained. “Another person will begin to talk very rapidly, has difficulty staying on task and becomes forgetful. A former staff member would often develop physical symptoms and need to take time off. “

A listening ear is also key. If you have an open-door policy, small stressors don’t grow into productivity and health-busters. Pitching in helps, too, Tracy shared. “When I notice someone on our team is stressed, I ask if I can take something off their load. In this office, we approach everything as a team.”

What can you do for yourself and others when the stress starts to build? Break the routine, Tracy said.

“When I see staff are collectively burning out or overly stressed, I order in lunch, or bring in art supplies so we can do a creative activity during our weekly staff meeting.” Tracy shared that she’d love to have an office pet, but in the meantime, a staff member brings in their puppy for everyone to snuggle.

A few minutes of yoga, mindfulness, or journaling can be relaxing. And don’t discount a quick walk, a trip up the stairs or some deep breathing exercises like the breath of joy for burning off anxiety. And nothing beats a good laugh for stress relief. So, go ahead, watch that Carol Burnett comedy sketch one more time!

Here at Turnaround Life, Inc., we aim to help organizations and programs that make it possible for people to turn their lives around. For more information about us, visit our website.

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