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More than ever, it's important to integrate self-care in your work schedule and space. Imagine how much more effective you and your community organization could be if you took care of yourself as you take care of those your group serves. Incorporating self-care reinforces the good habits that help fortify you against stress. Here are four easy things you can do that could help bring about greater change in how you work.

1. Unplug

How you start your day can make a big difference in your stress levels. Are you waking up to work before you've even had your morning cup of coffee or tea?

Sara Beesley, Center Director at the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center, stopped using her phone as an alarm clock, a simple technique to help curb over dependence on mobile devices.

"Every day, the alarm on my phone would go off, and I would reach over, turn it off, and immediately switch over to my email and check the emails I missed between going to bed and waking up," says Beesley. "I would end up staying in bed another 30 minutes, answering emails via phone because others were already up and working, and I felt I had to appear to be right there with them. After I gave it up, I suddenly had much more free time in the morning and feel calmer." Beesley now gives her mobile phone and email a curfew.

2. Give Your Brain Some Downtime

You can train your brain to pay more attention, to be aware and more attentive, by giving it a rest through mindfulness practices. A simple way to get started with training your attention is the following exercise that can be done at your desk or a quiet spot in the office, or if the weather is nice, on a bench or under a tree at a park nearby:

  • Bring gentle and consistent attention to your breath for two minutes. Every time your attention wanders, bring it back.
  • Sit without an agenda for two minutes. Shift from doing to being.
  • Shift between the two methods for two minutes.

The above practice gets you to the essence of mindfulness and is only four minutes out of your day. If you practice it enough, it deepens the calm and clarity of your mind. Use this technique when you are overwhelmed at home or work.

Sara Beesley from Mitchell Lake Audubon Center, meditates in the morning before heading off to work.

"As my coffee brews, I sit down and clear my brain," Beesley says. "I don't know if everyone else's brain is always mentally adding and reordering things on the to-do list, but mine rarely stops. So now I take four minutes and stop. I listen to and smell the coffee brewing and just breathe." This mini-mindfulness moment also helps Beesley later in the day to be more focused at work, tackling her never ending to-do list.

3. Get Creative

A more relaxed mind can help you be more productive and also more creative. In the reverse, being creative can help reduce stress and stimulate your brain to be more productive. The act of being creative activates different parts of your brain — something proven by scientists through the use of brain scans.

Susan Nesbitt from Make School says: "I wasn't as 'creatively alive' as I wanted to be because I just didn't give myself permission. I started drawing, and I find that it lights up my brain in different ways, and it helps me focus. Rather than being a passive consumer of entertainment, creating something by sketching has had enormous benefits."

Researchers have found that doing different crafting activities can have a variety of health benefits. Peggy Duvette, Director of Social at NetSuite, uses knitting to help her relax.

"I got back into knitting around eight years ago as a personal commitment to hand make most of my Christmas presents for my family," Duvette says. "While at first, it was a decision led by my environmental practice and my desire to reduce consumption, I realized it has become a creative outlet and helped with stress relief."

4. Tap Into Gratitude

You can change your brain and how you perceive your environment and others around you is to engage in gratitude activities. Studies show that some of the benefits of gratitude include better sleep, higher self-esteem, increased empathy, and more resilience.

Even the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, advocates happiness as one way to prevent disease and live a longer, healthier life. Some experts recommend spending five minutes a day on identifying the things you are grateful for and feeling gratitude.

Amber Hacker, Alumni Relations Manager at Interfaith Youth Core, admits she rolled her eyes when she first heard about keeping a gratitude journal. She soon became convinced of its benefits.

"Writing a gratitude journal is a good personal exercise. It has been transformative for me personally," says Hacker. "Every day, I write down three things I’m thankful for. I’ve started noticing more things to be thankful for."

More than one-third of our lives are spent at work. If you are doing good work in a bad environment and leaving isn't an immediate option for you, you can inoculate yourself against the contagion of chronic stress with your self-care regimen.

Authors Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman will be on tour promoting their book from Jan. 31 through Feb. 10. You can see a list of book tour dates in San Francisco, Oakland, Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. with registration information here: https://bit.ly/hhbooktour



Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman

Beth Kanter @kanter was named one of the most influential women in technology by Fast Company and is the award-winning author of The Networked Nonprofit books. She is an internationally