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creating space to breathe with Kim Dechaine

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Have you ever felt overwhelmed, like giving up? Or maybe just really burnt out?

You are not alone! Nonprofit employees are always at risk of burnout. Pre-pandemic, our work was already demanding. And now the pandemic has left us even more stressed and with no capacity to deal with any more ups and downs.

In this episode, Kim Dechaine, Founder of Inner Powered Leaders, will discuss how we can change our mindset, and prevent and overcome burnout at work. If you're struggling with burnout, this episode is for you!

Myths that Kim wants us to walk away from:

  • Being busy and overwhelmed is normal. We have been told over the years that being busy and getting many things done is a good thing. But these are just the expectations of our society, especially in our sector. In reality, we need to listen to our body, and we need to take a break from work, slow down and take care of ourselves to prevent burning out.

  • We can’t control burnout. In order to find balanced energy, we need to have self-leadership which is learning to control our thoughts, feelings, and actions. We can have more balance and connection when we slow down, practice mindfulness, compassion, and gratitude.

Kim’s thoughts around Burnout

  • Mindfulness: Slowing down our minds and being quiet allows us to choose more of our energies. We can choose more creativity and flow. We can listen to what our body is telling us. Mindfulness helps us to focus on one thing at a time and we can train ourselves to be mindful by doing breathing exercises.

  • Compassion: Stepping into another person’s shoes. It is looking at their situation from their perspective without judgment. We need to practice breathing and quieting our minds first, which allows us to choose how we are going to react, what action we should take, and how we can look at a situation from someone else's perspective.

  • Practice Gratitude: Kim suggests practicing gratitude in three ways. First, by writing down three things that you are grateful for every day. This doesn’t have to be massive, we can find it with the small things. Second, saying you’re grateful right when the moment happens. Lastly, when you feel like you are in a difficult moment, you can pause for a moment and choose gratitude instead of reacting in a situation. Gratitude helps us to shift our perspective.

Favorite Quotes from Today’s Episode

Post your favorite quote on social media to share with us!

“We have been taught this from a very young age that actually being busy and overwhelmed is the norm. And it makes us a better person because we're doing more because we are, you know, look at how much work she gets done. Look at how the time, oh, look who spends the longest at work. Right. And it's almost like we applaud those actions and we cannot do that. And honestly, the only way we can change burnout is each of us taking control and deciding we're going to change this. We're going to change the outlook of society and the expectations.”

“What is my body trying to tell me? And honestly, you need to listen. You have to sit and you have to listen and take a moment to decide is this fear of me not going forward? And your head is going to know your body's going to tell you, well, I know this is fear because I know this is what I want to do. And you ask the question, do I want the outcome on the other side? And if it, if your body's like, heck yeah, Then that's when you push through, if the outcome is, do I want to feel like complete crap tomorrow? Uh, no, I don't then that's my body telling me. You need to listen to what I am saying now.”

Resources from this Episode


Cindy W.: It has been a year, it has been two years. Everyone I know is suffering from some level of burnout and often very high levels of burnout and it's overwhelming and exhausting. So I hope that you are planning some time off over the holiday season or right after because we all need it, we need a break, we need some space in our lives and our brains to recuperate and really approach our lives and problem-solving in our work in the most productive and helpful way. And the only way we can do that really is with a little bit of space and quiet, and that's really hard to find. So I'm really excited that my guest today is helping us find that she is going to talk to us all about how little things that we can do to build space into our lives day-to-day so that we don't get burned out. Sounds good.

So I'm your host, Cindy Wagman, and you are listening to The Small Nonprofit podcast where we bring you practical down-to-earth advice on how you can get more done for your cause and mission and small nonprofit. You are going to change the world, and we are here to help.

Kim Dechaine is a feminine leadership guide and the founder of Inner Powered Leaders and the Female Changemakers Membership. She is passionate about helping high-achieving, self-aware executives to level up and find their seats at the decision-making tables without overwhelm and burnout. Kim supports those changemakers to embrace and activate their energy and transform their leadership. Please join me in welcoming Kim to the podcast. Kim, welcome to the podcast.

Kim D.: Thank you so much, Cindy. I'm so excited to be here.

Cindy W.: I'm so excited to have this conversation before we started recording. I just said to you, I need a holiday. I'm ready for a break that's not in my house, and I know I'm not alone. And you said something that really resonated with me that I want to share with our audience to kick off this conversation. You said like, how do we go into the pandemic from a place of strength and feeling refreshed and energized, we would have had better coping skills, but pre-pandemic we were already burnt out. We were already exhausted. In fact, it feels like it's expected of our sector and of our work. And then we have no bandwidth or no almost elasticity to be able to handle this kind of strain. So let's start the conversation there. And we're talking about burnout and how we can overcome that.

So what, let's start with the basics. What is burnout? Why are we all feeling so exhausted right now? And why does this yeah. How do we get into this mess?

Kim D.: Right, how did we? I think at the beginning, I just wanted to tell you to just sit and let's breathe for 30 seconds, because we're just, I can feel it in you and I can feel it in everyone else. It's not just you. We know everyone and like you, we have been taught from a very young age that actually being busy and overwhelmed is the norm. And it makes us a better person because we're doing more because we are, look at how much work she gets done, look at how the time, oh, look who spends the longest at work, and it's almost like we applaud those actions and we cannot do that. And honestly, the only way we can change burnout is by each of us taking control and deciding we're going to change this. We're going to change the outlook of society and the expectations.

And so you had said, what is burnout? Burnout is just when we've hit that wall where we honestly cannot be ourselves anymore. We're literally surviving. I think, a lot of times we use the word drowning where we just feel like we are barely keeping our head above water. I think everyone here knows that feeling. And when we have that feeling, the first time, we need to stop. But what happens is now we're just going to keep going and we're going to sink a little deeper. And then we don't stop then. And we are not listening to our body telling us we're tired, we're hungry, we need to take a holiday, but our, and we'll get into this, but our brain tells us no, we got to keep going because this is what we do. This is the expectation. And so burnout in itself, I want to say is a pandemic, because it's just, especially North America.

This is what we're expected to do to be busy all the time and do. And I think it's just really important that we bring this awareness. And also, I don't want people just to work on ending it. I want us to prevent it. Let's start working on things now so that we don't start getting into this muddy water or a spiral that goes down. Let's do it before that.

Cindy W.: I love that. And. I'm just telling so many people here in my mind, so many people I know are just like, sounds great, but how do we do it? How do you push back? If you're not the boss? If you're not in a position where you can say no, I don't want to do that work. It gets really hard, but I want it. It's not necessarily just about saying no, we're putting up boundaries, which I'm sure is part of it. I want to I'd love for you to talk a little bit about, we talked about the sort of doing a piece where we're so focused on doing more, getting things done. There's an alternative which we need for balance. And so how do we balance that doing?

Kim D.: Yeah, for sure. In my teachings, I talk a lot about masculine energy and feminine energy. Masculine, we all have male and female. We have both. Masculine energy is doing energy. It is the getting stuff done. It is stable confident, strong. Whereas the feminine energy is the creative going with the flow. Big vision intuition. And throughout the years we've been taught that masculine or we'll call it the doing is how life should be. And that is what we have been taught over the years. So now when we get stuck in that one energy or that one side, that's when we burn out. So we need a balance of both.

And so we need some of this being energy, so it really starts with us. And so if we want to be strong leaders within our community we have to have self-leadership. We have to be able to control our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions, and how do we do that? We have to learn to be and to connect to some of those being traits.

And so that can be as simple as taking brain breaks throughout the day, setting your timer. When you had talked about, oh, I can't tell my boss. No, I can't do this work. Okay. Maybe you can't do that, but you can stop every two minutes and do a breathing break. That is the connecting to the being energy, right?

So it can be as simple as breathing in and lifting your shoulders up to your ears, breathing out and letting them drop, and doing that 10 times. See instantly we're shifting now a bit to that more being than the doing, and as you said, we want to try for more of a balance because right now we are completely off balance.

And when we practice that, we start to slow down our minds and when we slow down our minds, we can then choose more of those energies, we can choose more creativity. We can choose more flow and we can listen to our body, which is that intuition part. You can call it, instinct. Some people call it their gut instinct. We all know when we get that knot in the stomach oh my body's telling me something, but we've been taught. Nope. We're not going to listen to it. Cause it might not even make sense.

Cindy W.: I want to latch onto that for a second. Cause this is always just puzzled me a little bit because, there's this sort of intuition where your body is saying no, but then there's also, I've heard people talk about, where that sort of feeling where your body's keeping you safe and you need to push through it, right? Like it's a sign that we're doing something hard and growing, and I would love if you have thoughts on the difference between our body saying wait for a second, this is uncomfortable for me because it's pushing me to do new things. Even though those things might be really exciting and aligned and I've heard people say I know I'm on the right path because it makes me uncomfortable. And then I've also heard, I know I'm on the wrong path or I need to stop because it makes me uncomfortable. Is there a way to differentiate those two? It's always confused me.

Kim D.: Yeah. That's a great question. And it's so true. And when, so let me just say about our intuition and our body giving us messages, right? If you have any kind of pain that might be physical or literally, your heart hurts. That's your intuition telling you this is not the right path. When there is some kind of pain, and you might have pain in your stomach. You might have pain, strong pain in your arm because it ends up manifesting itself. Physically. Also, when we don't sleep our body keeps telling us we're so tired. And then we say to ourselves, oh I got invited out tonight and I should probably go out with these people. And our body gets that, heavy feeling and that I'm not in the stomach then that's no, my body's talking to me. If it's doing something more, as you had said, I have to push myself. This is the kicker. Is that, is it your body feeling heavy or is it just that little bit of fear? And my way that you have to figure that out is because you have to practice being quiet.

What is my body trying to tell me? And honestly, you need to listen. You have to sit and you have to listen and take a moment to decide if this fear of me not going forward? And your head is going to know, your body's going to tell you I know this is fear because I know this is what I want to do. And you ask the question, do I want the outcome on the other side? And if your body's heck yeah, then that's when you push through. If the outcome is, do I want to feel like complete crap tomorrow? No, I don't, then that's my body telling me you need to listen to what I am saying now. Does that help?

Cindy W.: Definitely. Definitely. I've always said I've always just wondered. I'm like what's the difference, but that does help. And I do I personally know that feeling of the excited but scared versus the just I'm done, I have no more bandwidth and I think that's good, that's a good difference.

So I, I want to go back to, cause a couple of times now you've talked about quiet and space, and some of my favorites like thought leaders on productivity and performance talk about how important that is. So how do we create that white space that blankness, the ability to calm things down in this in our culture, which is not built that way, as you said?

Kim D.: Absolutely. Yeah. So the whole point of it is that we can't stop the overwhelm, okay, or the chaos we can't really know around us, the only thing we can control is us. So if you think of a waterfall, if you have to stand under a waterfall, it would be really heavy. It's going to push us down. We can't see, we can't hear anything. If we step behind the water. The waterfall or the chaos is still there, but I can see now, I can hear now and I'm lighter and so that is what we would call mindfulness. That's one of those words that are out there floating out there, but that's quiet and it is focusing on only one thing because our brain is used to focusing on a hundred things at the same time, which is why it's tiring because it's not meant to do that.

And so when we can focus on one thing at a time, we start training our brain just to slow down and be in that quiet. We can do it in many different ways. We can do practice breathing one minute a day is how you start. And you literally can do I call it four-square breathing, breathe in for the count of four hold for four, breathe out for four hold for four. Another great one is the five senses. So you can do it sitting at your desk while you're driving while you're going for a walk. What do I see right now, here? Taste, smell. And what do I think? And go through those things. So you're not even if the whole thing of just sitting quietly scares you because most people are like, there's no way I can do that has been right. So we need to do some of these exercises and they're just breathing exercises. That's all being quiet but it gives us something to focus on.

Cindy W.: So that is what you want to do. I challenge everyone. One minute a day to start training your brain to do some of these exercises where you're focusing on just that one thing. I actually do that with my son when he feels, when he has over his emotions are very overwhelming to him. We do, we trace his fingers. So when we trace one finger up, he breeds in, and then when we trace it down, he prints out and we do it for the five fingers or four fingers and thumb. And it really helps. I think part of it is the breathing helps them, but also the ritual, yeah, it helps him that he knows that this is his, that's also where we're going in terms of outcome like it's to calm him down and he can let go of everything else. So I definitely have seen the power of that.

Kim D.: And I think that we forget as adults that we need to continue doing it because we have, more stress than even the kids have. And yeah, it's really important.

Cindy W.: I love that because I do it with him but I, which brings me to my next question. Can we build this into how we work as teams? How can we, because it's so hard to be that one person was like, okay, I need, I just need my two minutes or whatever. And we know, and goodness, like everyone is talking about how burnt out everyone is and that the people are leaving their work and their jobs and everyone's fed up. We need that culture shift. So how do you have any ideas or have you seen this done across organizations where you build it into your team's habits, cause I think that'd be really cool.

Kim D.: Yeah, absolutely. And the biggest thing is that. As a leader within your company, within your business, within everything, you are the role model. So just always remember that even though not everyone may jump on the, if we want to say bandwagon, it's more than a bandwagon. We have to still do it all of the time. So we have to have that courage to start something new. First of all right. And it can start as simple as starting your team meetings or meeting every morning.

Of course, it depends on, your thing, but every morning doing, say a three to one exercise, okay, everyone, we are all going to take three deep breaths together. We are all going to say two things we're grateful for. And we're all going to share one act of kindness that you have seen or done in the last week. That grounds everyone instantly. Now you might have some people roll their eyes. Yep. You might. Absolutely. But it's okay. Because the more they do it, the more they are going to they are, it rubs off because the more you do it, the more they get into it. So you have to be excited about it yourself, you also set up opportunities.

So if we look at big companies like Nike Google, LinkedIn, they teach their employees how to do mindfulness at work and every employee takes it. And so I don't think at the beginning, you can say you have to take a mindfulness course, but you are going to offer. Okay. At lunchtime for five minutes. Whoever would like to come, I'm going to do a little breathing exercise, or we're going to talk about what mindfulness is for five minutes. It's this is it. And if one person comes awesome, if no one comes, you offer it again the next week and you have to start, we have to step out of the box. If we want things to change, we have to be the ones that say, okay, I need this to change, and start pausing a whole company. And I, it depends again, how the structure looks like, but I love to say go on your inner comms and say everyone, stop what you're doing and take 10 deep breaths.

Cindy W.: Yeah, I think that I just, I think that's such an important. Future for how we work in terms of building this in, not just, I think what I like about what you described is it's a communal interruption, right? Asking people, oh, we have these resources for you. Go watch. Or like you can, our benefits cover a subscription to breathe app or something like that. It's not the same thing, no. Yeah, I think we need to create the time and space within our workdays and make it something that everyone does and it's part of our wellness.

Kim D.: That's right. Yeah. And it, you can look at the research, it shows that yes, maybe even if you spent a little bit of money on someone doing that, that your rewards are usually quadruple back to you because people are more efficient and they're more productive.

Cindy W.: Yeah. We actually had that recently in our on our team, one of my team members was so burned like she was just, it was also an emotional time for some personal things. And she was like, I got to push through, I got to push through and I said, listen, it's going to take you 10 times as long to do the work. If you're sitting here pushing through, take the day, take the time. If someone else needs to do they work great. Otherwise, you'll come back to it, feeling so much better and it will take you an hour instead of a whole day. But it's hard. It's hard for us to be like, oh, there's so much work because all we see is when I'm done that I have the next project and then I have the next one. And so if I break now, it will have a ripple effect.

But in fact, if you break now, you'll actually be able to do a lot more with way less effort. So I w I, I'm a huge believer in this So we talked about some ways that we, as individuals can take that space that we as non-profits can build into our culture, which is not just saying like even nice benefits, but actually let's interrupt ourselves. Let's create that space collectively. What. What else can we do? We talked a lot about breathing. I know there are some other things, so let's talk about what other tools in our tool belt we can use to shift into that bean space.