As nonprofit professionals, our “always on” digital lifestyle challenges our ability to find solitude or to contemplate quietly. We have all become experts at being hyper-connected, always in touch and informed, that we have forgotten how to embrace time away from digital devices, screens, and electronic communications. This lack of stillness time can accelerate the symptoms of burnout.
In our book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact Without Burnout, we talk about both our individual need to practice self-care around how we use technology and the need for organizations, from boards to executive directors to staff, to be more mindful of the way they use—or abuse—technology. We provide many tips in our book to help develop what we call Tech Wellness skills.
With the myriad of ways our tech use impacts our bodies and brains, it stands to reason that incorporating Tech Wellness will alleviate the stress and damage tech overuse is causing to our health and wellbeing and even our relationships. Tech Wellness starts with awareness of how we relate to our tech and how it affects us on a daily basis.
We all need to move from a mindless use of our smartphones and mobile devices to being more in control and mindful. Despite the need to take breaks and unplug from our devices, we can also use technology as instruments of wellbeing. We advocate using tech gadgets and apps such as fitness motivators like Fitbit, nutrition trackers, mindfulness reminders, and even relaxation devices.
For example, reflective practice—taking time to sit quietly and reflect on a meeting, encounter with a co-worker, or other occurrence during our day—gives us the time to process a situation to help keep stress at bay. Some meditative apps that offer guided audio meditations and are great for beginners include Headspace and Calm.
While it might seem counterintuitive, sometimes a certain type of noise can be relaxing or help us focus. The wrong kind of noise or too many distracting sounds, particularly around the office, can cause a release of excess cortisol, negatively affecting brain function. But experimenting with specific kinds of ambient sound can help you identify the background noise that helps you concentrate better. Apps like Noisli, with atmospheric nature sounds like rain, and Coffitivity, that plays sounds you might hear if you were working from a café, could help you relax, even at the office. Who would have thought noise could be relaxing?
Taking stretch breaks instead of sitting for long periods of time at your desk can help you avoid what Jacqui Burge, founder of Desk Yogi, calls “numb butt.”
“When I sat for more than four hours a day, I would actually lose feeling in my butt and down my legs,” explains Burge. “That’s why I invested in a standing desk, but then my legs hurt because I still needed to move my body.”
Burge created Desk Yogi, an app for your computer that reminds you to pause and stretch and guides you through easy yoga moves, breathing exercises, and stretches right at your desk. Any movement tied to breath is beneficial, Burge explains.
Feeling and expressing gratitude can be another powerful stress buster.
“Writing a gratitude journal is a good personal exercise. It has been transformative for me personally,” says Amber Hacker, alumni relations manager at Interfaith Youth Core. “Every day, I write down three things I’m thankful for. I’ve started noticing more things to be thankful for.” 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.
The app Happier lets you post about things you’re grateful for and share them with friends on the app or more widely through Facebook and Twitter, helping you send positive ripples throughout your social networks and giving you the benefits of doing so.
We are both fans of coloring books, and we are also obsessed with pens and markers. Coloring and drawing brings us back to our childhood love of making art, something Aliza described in the introduction of our book. This kind of association can be comforting while stimulating creativity. An app like Colorfy can be both meditative and relaxing.
We want to reiterate that we love technology and do not see technology as a barrier to our quest for less stress. Tech Wellness is about intentional use of technology—whether to work or destress. While taking technology breaks or “digital detoxes” is an essential part of tech wellness, you can use the technology itself—like the apps we’ve described—to help you destress and avoid burnout.
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 acclaimed master trainer and speaker.
Aliza Sherman @alizasherman is a web and social media pioneer; founder of Cybergrrl, Inc., the first women-owned, full-service Internet company; and Webgrrls International, the first Internet networking organization for women. She is a motivational keynote speaker and the author of 11 books, including Social Media Engagement for Dummies.