by B.J. Rogers
Leadership in animal welfare (or anywhere) can be a risky proposition. It’s also powerfully fulfilling and in high demand. To stay “in it” and make an impact, it’s critical that we collect tools to keep ourselves clear-headed and healthy. Though “self-care” sometimes sparks eye-rolls, it doesn’t just mean indulgent investment in a weekend spa retreat (not that I think that’s necessarily indulgent!), because it’s really the daily practices that keep us upright and able to change the world that matter most.
We’re at our best when we’ve got our feet on the ground, our head in the now, and our best selves front and center. So, when the you-know-what hits the fan, start here.
Feeling tension? Breathe intentionally.
Tip 1: Exhaaaaaaale.
“Take a deep breath” – context depending – is either compassionately helpful or irritatingly condescending. Either way, the advice isn’t quite right. If you’re aiming to de-escalate your system’s amped-up response, it’s actually your exhale that will serve you well.
To slow your heart-rate and take some of the edge off those fight or flight feelings you’re experiencing, simply lengthen your exhale by inhaling to a count of four and exhaling to a count of six. Do it once, do it for a minute (or 5). Just do it!
Tip 2: Left, right. Left, right.
Another tool to slow your heart rate and ground your breath is ANB (Alternate Nostril Breathing). Preliminary research shows oodles of potential benefits including reducing anxiety and regulating heart rate. And all you need is you!
With your right thumb, close your right nostril. Exhale and then inhale through your left nostril. With your forefinger, close your left nostril, release your right, and repeat (and keep repeating).
Tip 3: Take a second; take an inventory.
The simple act of asking what we’re feeling in a tense moment can be incredibly enlightening while also revealing potential over-reaction. Keep these few questions handy and do a quick inventory when you find yourself confronting a trigger.
What exactly am I feeling (what’s happening physically – flushing face, pounding pulse, sweaty palms)?
What emotion seems to be the source (sadness, fear, anxiety)?
Is my reaction proportionate to the reality? And is it helpful?
By now, you’ve taken 30 seconds and bridged the gap from your emotional brain to your rational one. It doesn’t mean the emotion or the responses disappear, but being aware of them is a great first step in the right direction. Sometimes one small remove can shift your perspective and make all the difference!