How to Avoid Board Member Burnout
Burnout is a combination of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. While the term was initially coined to define what first responder and caregiver roles may face, the experience extends to people in various professions. Being a member of your condo board may be a voluntary role, but it's considered another job in most cases. With so many tasks to undertake and the pressure of making decisions that impact your entire community, burnout can be a real thing for board members.
What Causes Burnout?
Typical sources of burnout include stress caused by work overload or a toxic work environment. Stress brought on by personal relationships or health problems can also be a factor and it goes without saying that navigating life through a pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. This can be especially true for board members as they spent so much time keeping their community safe and following local restrictions that were often changing with little notice. While all these things can lead to burnout, the leading cause is often the lack of appropriate recovery strategies.
How is Stress Defined?
In a recent webinar co-hosted by FirstService Residential and CCI National, guest speaker and author CJ Calvert explained that we most often blame stress on external circumstances and any number of external events at that. We blame stress on daily experiences like traffic, or in the case of being on a condo board, we may blame it on a fellow board member or difficult resident. However, it's not the external factors that are actual stress. It's your internal reaction to everything going on outside.
"Stress is your emotional and physiological response to any perceived threat, any perceived pressure or danger that you don't think you can handle. The most important word in the definition is the word perceived. It doesn't even have to be real," says Calvert.
Understanding the Different Stages of Stress
To better understand how stress can affect a person mentally, physically, and emotionally, you need to know the different stages of stress. The first stage is when the triggering event occurs, and it could be many different things. A traffic jam, a health scare, a complaint from a resident, or a difficult conversation with a fellow board member, to name a few examples. Whatever the trigger might be could be real or imagined.
The second stage is your evaluation of the triggering event, and that evaluation happens in a split second and often happens subconsciously. While you don’t recognize that the evaluation has happened, what your subconscious did was compare the triggering event to your knowledge, life experience, even movies you've seen or stories you've heard and then asks itself if this is worth getting stressed over. If your subconscious said yes, you recognize the response you’ve had to the triggering event and will now experience stress.
Once this happens, your entire stage three, your body prepares itself to go into fight or flight mode. Your brain has now sent a signal to your adrenal glands, which then start producing adrenaline, cortisol, the stress chemicals that give us the energy to run for our lives or fight. Causing our body to physically respond in a way that would help us fight or flight, your heart begins to beat out of your chest, and your hands start to shake as the adrenaline rushes through your body to increase your strength. As this happens, functions or systems not involved in helping us fight or flight are compromised, depressed, or shut down entirely.
How Stress Can Manifest Itself Mentally, Physically and Emotionally
Emotionally, stress can cause a person to become short-tempered or irritable. Mentally, feeling anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed will start to take its toll and physically, the ways stress can manifest itself are endless. Headaches, shoulder, neck or back pain, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, clenching your jaw. All of this adds up to a feeling of overall exhaustion.
What Happens When Stress is Ignored and How Can It Be Handled
Understanding the different stages of stress and how they impact you mentally, physically, and emotionally helps you understand what can happen when stress goes unresolved for one year, two years or more. It leads to burnout. When you're experiencing burnout, this will impact your work and day-to-day life and your effectiveness as a board member.
So how can you mitigate how stress impacts you and avoid burnout? Change your perspective. The answer is simple; however, the follow-through may not be. “Despite all of the different pressures and struggles we face in our lives, changing the way we think about the circumstance can erase some or all of the associated stress," says Calvert. "You need to confront the stressors in your life to mitigate their impact on your life, increase your response time so you can build your resilience and bounce back with more vigour."
So how does one go about changing their perspective and decreasing stress to avoid burnout? There are three key recovery strategies:
Stress-Busting Strategy # 1
If possible, stop the triggering event from happening. This may sound like a challenging first strategy because several things could be considered triggering events that you can't control. However, the key in those situations is to focus on your circle of control. Ask yourself what in that situation you can control. If it's morning rush hour and you know you face traffic that is out of your control, before you leave the house, check a traffic app, and see if there is an alternate route that might take less time.
In some cases, there are events you can't control, but you know they are coming, so you must ask yourself ahead of time if there is something in this situation you can control. As a board member who participates in regular meetings, you know things can get off track and to you, that may be a stressor. So, what are some things you might be able to do ahead of time to help mitigate that stressor? Perhaps it's knowing the agenda of the meeting ahead of time, so you come prepared to discuss specific topics and keep fellow board members on topic.
Stress-Busting Strategy # 2
Strategy one speaks to the first stage of stress, controlling what you can in a situation, whereas strategy two speaks to the second stage of stress, the evaluation process. The second strategy is influencing the way you think of a situation. Again, easier said than done, so let's look at an example.
Perhaps you are the secretary of your board, and just before a board meeting starts, the board president asks you to stick around once the meeting ends for a few minutes. In most cases, your gut reaction will be that you've done something wrong. That feeling will fester throughout the meeting, and the negative thoughts will run wild. Instead of doing this, think of a positive question. What is something that might be happening after the meeting that is positive? It could be as simple as acknowledging your birthday that had passed in between board meetings, or the board president may simply have a project they want your assistance with.
The more positive outcomes you come up with, the easier it is to see that the odds of the interaction being unfavourable are much lower than initially anticipated. The more often you apply this to different circumstances, the easier it will become to control your way of thinking.
Stress-Busting Strategy # 3
If your stress is into stage three and to the point where your body starts to react and enter fight or flight mode, the first two strategies will do little to help. Now you need to get control of your physiology, and to do that, you need to practice deep breathing. Deep breathing will cut right through the stress and trigger a relaxation response.
The key benefit of deep breathing is it’s appropriate in every circumstance. As an example, say you are a new board member taking part in your first board meeting. You must speak in front of the board, and public speaking, regardless of the size of the audience, causes you stress. You are getting close to having to speak, and you've moved past the first two stages of stress and are starting to feel your heart beating and hands shaking. Start to take deep breaths. You don't even have to step away from the meeting to do that and begin to calm yourself down.
Additional Ways to Curb Stress
Many things can be done to curb stress outside the heat of the moment. Intense exercise is an excellent example because it takes your mind off what is causing stress as your focus is on the physical intensity of the activity. Laughter is another great option as it helps your body release endorphins so take some time to enjoy a comedy show or listen to a comedian on your commute or during your lunch break. Most importantly, get a good night's sleep.
The Importance of Taking Time for Yourself
In the fight against stress, it's important to remember to take some quality time for yourself, something Calvert calls joy breaks. "Creating little pauses throughout your day, they can be a minute, five minutes, 10 minutes that are sprinkled into your weekday, evenings or weekend. Those joy breaks can be simple. Going for a walk, petting your pet, reading or playing a game." He continues, "joy breaks paired with a solid, two or three hours of protected time on a weekend to do your favourite hobby can recharge your batteries and help decrease your stress levels.”
Taking time for yourself and consistently using the stress-busting strategies will help increase energy and provide you with more resilience to bounce back more effectively and enjoy life and your community. The community you help improve by being a member of the board.
About CJ Calvert
CJ Calvert is a professional speaker and author of Bouncing Back Through COVID-19. He speaks on a daily basis before world-class organizations such as IBM, Bank of Montreal, and Sick Kids Hospital. Because of his expertise, he has presented on the TEDx stage in Vancouver and been a featured guest on Breakfast Television. He makes his home near Toronto, Ontario with his amazing wife and son.