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The 7 Pillars of Self-Care for Nonprofit Leaders

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a critical time to prioritize emotional well-being for everyone. For nonprofit leaders like you, the relentless drive to make a difference can leave you feeling emotionally and physically drained. 

Just like airplane safety instructions remind us to put on our oxygen masks first, self-care isn't selfish—it's essential.

A recent National Council of Nonprofits survey paints a concerning picture: "stress" and "burnout" are driving talented staff out the door. Running a nonprofit is a marathon fueled by passion and purpose. But without self-care, even the most dedicated leader can reach their breaking point.

Self-care isn't a badge of weakness; it's a superpower. By taking care of yourself, you become a more effective leader, a happier person, and ultimately, an even stronger advocate for your cause. This article explores the "7 Pillars of Self-Care," offering practical tips designed to fit your busy schedule.  

Keep reading to see how self-care goes beyond bubble baths (although there's nothing wrong with those!). It's about building habits that recharge your batteries, refocus your energy, and help you reimagine what's possible for yourself and your organization.

Pillar 1: Mental Self-Care

Feeling overwhelmed? It's time to prioritize mindfulness and stress management techniques like meditation and deep breathing. Plus, don't underestimate the power of learning new things to keep your mind sharp and engaged.

Morning Boost: Start your day with a 5-minute meditation, or listen to an inspiring podcast or audiobook to keep your mind engaged during your commute.

Power Down, Power Up: Set a specific time each evening to disconnect from technology. This allows your brain to de-stress and recharge for a more productive tomorrow.

Pillar 2: Emotional Self-Care

High-pressure situations can trigger strong emotions. Learn to recognize your triggers and develop healthy coping mechanisms. Setting boundaries and saying "no" is key to protecting your emotional well-being.

Journal Power:  Before diving into your day, spend 5 minutes journaling. Jot down worries or anxieties, and then actively focus on solutions or positive affirmations.

Create "Calm Corners":  Designate a quiet area in your workspace for relaxation. Keep a stress ball, calming essential oils, or a picture of a peaceful scene to help you de-stress during hectic moments.

Pillar 3: Physical Self-Care

You can't pour from an empty cup! Prioritize healthy sleep for optimal energy and focus. Regular exercise is a stress-buster and mood booster. And don't forget to fuel your body with nutritious food to keep you going strong.

Pack Smart, Snack Smart: Keep a stash of healthy snacks like nuts, fruit, and yogurt in your desk or bag to avoid unhealthy vending machine choices. Schedule a lunch break away from your desk for a brisk walk or a mindful eating experience.

Micro-Movement Matters: Schedule short "movement breaks" throughout your day—stretch at your desk, do some jumping jacks, or take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Pillar 4: Environmental Self-Care

Your workspace can make or break your zen. Create a clean, organized environment to reduce stress. Disconnecting from technology after work hours allows your mind to truly rest. And when you need a recharge, spend time in nature—it's a natural mood-booster!

Declutter Dash: Dedicate the first 10 minutes of your workday to tidying your workspace. A clean environment reduces stress and improves focus.

Nature Fix: Swap your usual lunch spot for a park bench, or grab a coffee near a window with a great view. Spending time in nature has a well-documented calming effect.

Pillar 5: Spiritual Self-Care

What drives you? Reconnect with your sense of purpose and the values that fuel your mission. Engage in activities that bring you peace and fulfillment, whether spending time in nature, volunteering for a different cause, or reading a good book.

Mission Moment: Keep a motivating quote or image related to your organization's mission near your workspace. Take a moment each day to refocus on the bigger picture and the positive impact you're making.

Volunteer Variety: Volunteer for a cause outside your usual area of focus. This can offer a fresh perspective and remind you of your broader passion for making a difference.

Pillar 6: Recreational Self-Care

Work-life balance isn't a myth! Schedule time for hobbies and activities you enjoy. Unleash your creativity through music, art, or whatever sparks your joy. Remember, a happy leader is a more effective leader!

Block the Fun: Schedule time for hobbies in your calendar – treat them as important as any work meeting. Even a 20-minute break to play music read a chapter of a book, or call a friend can make a big difference.

Micro-Hobbie: Can't carve out a large chunk of time? Break down your hobbies into smaller, bite-sized activities. Listen to a song you love, do a quick sketch, or spend 10 minutes learning a new language—every little bit counts!

Pillar 7: Social Self-Care

You don't have to do this alone! Nurture supportive relationships with family and friends. Build a network of colleagues in the nonprofit sector – they can be your source of inspiration, support, and even a shoulder to cry on (or a high-five buddy!).

Connect & Collaborate: Join online forums or attend industry events for nonprofit leaders. Share challenges, celebrate successes, and build a network of supportive colleagues who understand your unique role.

Buddy Up: Find an accountability partner within your organization or a friend who shares your interests. Schedule regular check-ins to discuss goals, offer support, and hold each other accountable for self-care practices.

Recharge, Refocus, Reimagine

This May, as we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, remember that self-care isn't a luxury; it's the foundation for a thriving nonprofit leader. By incorporating these "7 Pillars of Self-Care" into your routine, you'll become a more resilient, effective leader and a stronger advocate for your cause. You'll be better equipped to handle the challenges, inspire your team, and ultimately make a lasting impact on the world.

So, take a deep breath, prioritize your well-being, and get ready to recharge, refocus, and reimagine what's possible for yourself and your organization.


Kristin Chute head shot

Kristin Chute is a freelance writer with a passion for helping nonprofits increase their reach and impact. She has written for companies offering SaaS solutions, nonprofits directly, and donor loyalty programs.

Kristin believes in the power of nonprofit organizations to change the world. With expertise stemming from her career and personal connection to volunteering at her childhood summer camp, she shares insights to help nonprofits increase their reach, engage supporters, and amplify fundraising efforts.

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