Prioritising our wellbeing when our causes keep demanding more

by Vicki Evans, Certified Coach It’s imperative we have changemakers in a post-COVID world. It’s no secret that those in the community sector were operating with constrained resources prior to COVID-19. For many, working in a high-stress, high-stakes environment is the norm. Many of our organisations are already seeing increased demand due to COVID. If we’re not already in the throes of responding, we’re readying ourselves for the shockwave to hit. But still, attending to the pressing needs of our cause or community is the priority. The downside? This leaves little time or energy to invest in our own wellbeing. Many of us have experienced if not chronic stress, then burnout, or other health issues as a result. Whilst the constraints and urgency we operate under are real, the causes we work on tend to be long-term, and systemic in nature, so they will not – no matter how much we want them to – go away overnight. This work is a long game. And common sense, along with a growing evidence base tells us of the interconnectedness between individual and societal change.

We need a strong foundation of wellbeing within to best effect social and environmental change without

What if we could be daring and use this crisis as an opportunity to step back and re-organise the way in which we approach our work? What if we could say yes to our own wellbeing – recognising that working smarter, and from a more grounded, resilient perspective, may in fact be the most effective path toward social and environmental impact? What if we could radically accept the realities we are facing – the amplified need in our communities, the urgency of climate change – and still accept that burning the candle at both ends is not the only response? Might it be possible to perceive the world through different glasses – a pair through which you can both serve your cause, and serve yourself? What if we could change the story we tell about who we are as a sector? From self-sacrificing, to solid in the knowledge that as leaders, helpers and changemakers, our wellbeing is the foundation on which social and environmental change can most effectively be led. And what if we supported it not only in ourselves, but our teams, colleagues and partners? What if we collectively held each other to account? What impact might that create – not only in our work, but in our personal and family lives too?

Embracing not-doing

If putting your needs further up the priority list sounds like a big ask, don’t add extra pressure by making it another thing you have to “do”. Instead, see it as an opportunity to not-do. To drop or shed the less important stuff. To be more. This might be found in gazing out the window, resting, pausing for a few mindful breaths, or tuning into your senses as you notice your surroundings – all things we rarely do in today’s work environment. It doesn’t have to be about doing five extra sessions at the gym each week. Simply ask yourself – what can I drop this week? What can I not do today? How might I take a few moments to make space for whatever’s going on inside?

Time to try it

Here’s a simple structure you might like to try with yourself, or in your team:
  1. Take a short pause and tune into your breathing. Don’t change it, just notice how it for now. Is it fast? Slow? Shallow? Deep? Do you notice any physical sensations accompanying it? Now consciously focus on breathing into your belly, for three or more slow breaths.
  2. Check in with your thinking self. What’s on your mind right now? What are you thinking about, or saying to yourself? What’s the internal narrative that’s running?
  3. Check in with your feeling self. How are you feeling in this moment? Can you identify any particular emotions? Do you recognise any of the core emotions: joy, fear, sadness or anger? Whatever you notice is fine.
  4. Check in with your body. What physical sensations are present? Warmth or coolness? Tension or openness? Movement, such as tingling, buzzing, pulsing. Or is there a particular shape or quality to what you feel?
  5. And finally, what shifted in you as you tuned inward? From this more embodied place, what matters as you move ahead with your day, or the task at hand?
This simple act is an invaluable way of building our own foundation of wellbeing. By bringing our whole self into the present, we become more connected and open to what is. And from that place, as leaders, helpers and changemakers, we are kinder to ourselves and others, we become grounded in what needs to happen, and we make conscious choices about where to invest our time.

Vicki Evans has spent her career in the for-purpose sector, working as a programme and funding manager in the health system, central and local government, philanthropy, and with non-profits and social enterprises. Her work has had a strong focus on innovation, equity and systems change. She also works independently as a Certified Coach, helping people navigate big transitions, become their most effective selves in work, and navigate stress and overwhelm.