October 10th is World Mental Health Day so we’re marking it with a guest blog from Bird, an organisation working with people to avoid burn out and build resilience. Find out more about what they do and why below…

Please introduce yourself, your work, and who you work with

My name is Hannah Massarella and I am the Founder of Bird. Bird is a coaching and training organisation working predominantly in the not-for-profit sector. We work with staff at all levels to help them build resilience and feel equipped to effectively and energetically deal with the challenges that come with the work.

I used to work in the charity sector myself, supporting women who had survived domestic abuse. I spoke with hundreds of women who had experienced all forms of violence. My clients were in a really dark place and I was there to support them and offer them some hope.

There were so many positives that came from the work. But simultaneously, I wasn’t properly processing the emotions that came up. Alongside the challenges of the work there were difficulties with colleagues too, we were all under constant pressure and juggling emotionally charged demands, and so inevitably some toxicity came up between us.

I ended up completely burning out, and I felt I had to leave; I just didn’t have anything left to give. I knew if I stayed the compassion fatigue I was developing might even have a negative effect on service users, and I wasn’t OK with that.

So I left the sector, and set up Bird, to support all the other people out there who want to deliver great work in the not-for-profit sector, but in a way that feels sustainable and energising.

Why are you passionate about self care?

When I worked in the not-for-profit sector I wasn’t looking after myself effectively. Part of my burn out was down to the fact that I was doing little by way of self-care.

I learnt the hard way that self-care is a priority, not a luxury. Sometimes people feel that it’s selfish to put your own needs first, but it is essential if you are to continue to support others effectively.

I am passionate about promoting self-care in order to try and prevent other people from experiencing the kind of burn out that I did.

What top tips on self-care would you give?

Self-care can include a whole manner of things, and is different from person to person. For me, running, walking, yoga, meditation, counselling, coaching, journaling, gratitude, connecting with people who truly support me, and eating as healthily as I can (including avoiding alcohol and caffeine) are self-care strategies that I know work.

Self-care is about finding your own strategies. I’d encourage you to look at your physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs. Find at least one thing in each area that really serves you.

Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed it can be hard to remember that there are strategies we can implement that might help us. A great response to that is to create a self-care guidebook. Over on the Bird blog we published an article which explores how to do this. Essentially, it’s a very simple process of remembering what self-care practices are helpful when you are feeling a particular way.

What techniques do you recommend to manage stress at work?

I have several recommendations for managing stress at work, all of which are explored more deeply in our Dealing with Stress workshop. Firstly, I recommend finding ways to process emotion in the moment. We run around from task to task and don’t take time to check in with how we really feel. Taking five minutes to identify how you are feeling will allow those emotions to move through you. What happens when we don’t process emotions is we stockpile and suppress them in our bodies, and they end up making us ill or burnt out. When we observe our emotions, by simply noticing them, we are better able to manage the on-going stress around us.

Another technique is to look at that negative self-talk that goes on in our brains. Our brains like to catastrophise, and tell us we’re not good enough, or that we don’t have enough time, or energy, or that everything is going to go wrong. We can make a stressful environment ten times worse with our negative mind talk. When we observe this self-talk it is easier to see that it’s just a thought, and not a reality. To help more with this I recommend the book Taming your Gremlin by Rick Carson.

One more technique to note is Permission Slips. This is a process created by Dr Brené Brown. The process involves writing yourself a simple note, and carrying it round with you through your day. Your note could say something like:

‘I have permission to leave even though my whole to-do list is not complete.’

‘I have permission to take a proper lunch break.’

‘I have permission to worry less about everything going wrong – I can trust that others are doing their job well.’

One final thought…

Self-care whilst supporting others is an absolute priority. If you are caring for others you deserve to care for yourself. Those you support need you to feel healthy and happy and energised, and often this requires you to do things that in the past you might have thought was ‘selfish’. I am here to tell you that self-care is not selfish at all, it is selfless. So go and run a bath, take a walk, make a smoothie… Do whatever it is you need to do to feel well.

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