Gratitude is underrated. Even the holiday devoted to acknowledging what keeps us going -- namely friends and family -- is getting the short shrift this year. With the Christmas decorations already overflowing in most retail locations in our town, it feels like Thanksgiving got run over by a reindeer. Am I right? Perhaps appreciation is a lost art.
But, gratitude shouldn’t be overlooked. It may be one of the most powerful tactics in the your arsenal to combat stress. For overwhelmed nonprofit staff and volunteers, it can be an amazing coping strategy. Consider my recent experience with a sports injury.
Getting Injured Sucks
Five weeks ago (and counting), I sprained my ankle playing soccer. After a few days on crutches, my dreams of a quick recovery slowly faded into a tearful sunset. It was pretty severe. For two weeks, I hobbled throughout the house, waking to extreme pain as the blood rushed to my ankle each morning as I climbed out of bed. My arms were weak, and because I’ve gained weight in recent years, I could barely hold myself above my crutches. Navigating the stairs in our house was a nightmare with my walking sticks, with the risk of a gnarly tumble if I slipped.
After two weeks on the couch, the swelling in my ankle persisted. An orthopedist put me in a walking boot and prescribed physical therapy. It would be at least another month before things would be close to normal, and another year before I would play soccer without a brace. So much for returning to my team this season.
In my frustration, I remembered how I had weathered tough times in the past. I knew that my reality was really determined by my own outlook. And, I had some choices to make. So, I chose gratitude and began to list the things I was thankful for.
- I had health insurance
- I had a caring husband to help out
- My injury was temporary
- I only had one set of stairs to climb up and down
- I empathized even more with the struggles my friends with disabilities had to endure
- I worked from home, so I could keep earning while I was incapacitated
- I had a laptop computer, so I could work while my foot was up
- My friendly kitty cat kept me company
- My injury taught me patience and gave me more respect for the limits of a middle aged body
- I was now more inspired than ever to get back to the gym and get fit
And, an amazing thing happened. My frustration evaporated. I quit fighting my current reality and became focused on my recovery. Things began to flow. Every time I found myself slipping into old thoughts, I started my list again. And, my injury had valuable lessons for me, yet another thing to be grateful for.
Now, I’m happy to say, the swelling is down, the boot is off most of the time, and I’m looking forward to starting an accommodated exercise program next week. Life is good, and I’m less stressed out.
And you can be, too.
Make it Work for You
Nonprofit staff live with incredible demands. Our work, though often maligned as less than the outputs of private industry, is not for the faint of heart. We must juggle the priorities of multiple constituencies. We must squeeze results out of every drop of meager resources we are afforded. We must cope with the crises, both small and large, of the people we serve. We must keep our chins up and lead even when things are at their worst. And, we must continue to hope for the changes we wish to see in the world.
It’s a tall order and it’s so easy to get burnt out and frustrated. But, there’s an upside -- you have the power to change your point of view.
Next time you or your team is feeling down, try gratitude. Make a list of what you are thankful for. Then, make that list your personal mantra. Bring it up any time you find yourself slipping into old thought patterns.
By turning things on their head, you’ll be amazed at what happens. Resistance will be transformed into resilience, and you’ll begin to see new opportunities for yourself and your team. You'll see your morale go from low to light overnight. It may sound corny, but give it a try. It really does work.
And, this week, as I manage the stresses of coast-to-coast holiday travel, I’ve already started my list -- 1) I get to see my family and adorable nephews, 2) My hubby and I get a break together, and 3) I’m not on crutches anymore! Woo-hoo!!
I'm grateful for you, too. Thank you for staying connected, and have a safe and relaxing Thanksgiving.