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Kenny, a part time volunteer manager recently said, “my brain is sometimes so overloaded that I feel like I’m going to explode. I have duties as a thrift store manager which is a full time job overseeing all the donations, ordering supplies, keeping the store clean and organized and then I also manage about 20 volunteers who are really a different type of managing from my four employees. I’m constantly juggling all the needs of customers, staff and volunteers. I feel like the constant stress is just building up and there’s no way to get rid of it.”

Stress is a volunteer manager’s BFF.  It looks over our shoulder as we guzzle our first cup of coffee and crawls into bed with us at night. It’s hanging around from the first stir of our PC’s until well after we arrive home still thinking about whether we should make one more phone call to make sure the volunteers have what they need for that event in the morning. Our jobs are never done and there is hardly ever a break from that needy shadowy voice that whispers, “you should have called volunteer Emma to see how her trip went”.  We listen to volunteers’ stories in the grocery store. We field calls and emails after hours. We are recruiting as we wait for that donut and coffee. We show up at events on weekends, fill in for volunteers that call off, and network while getting our cars washed. It’s no wonder that we live with the annoying grip of continuous stress. So how do we unwind? How do we duck into a side door to ditch stress for just a few moments? Well, here are a few suggestions from volunteer managers I have known:

Do something ridiculously silly: Go sing at a karaoke, dress in a costume and attend a non-costume party, play a crazy board game with friends. Let loose and make fun of yourself and laugh until your sides hurt. When you are genuinely laughing, your focus is on the fun and those nagging thoughts about how you forgot volunteer Mary’s grand dog’s birthday are banished, thus giving yourself a much needed break from the seriousness of work.

Build something: Put on your old clothes, get your hands dirty and dig a moat around your house, make a 3 foot statue of your ex, construct an outside igloo in summer, or make Mount Everest out of paper clips . Concentrating on the task at hand frees your mind from the worry that staff member Giselle will make 87 year old volunteer Dan carry all the boxes of event stuff up two flights of stairs which will probably give him a heart attack .

Hide for a day: Go off the grid and bar the door. Watch that movie about bugs who sing, sleep, or practice your banjo. Do not clean, answer any communication nor entertain guests. Make it a good 24 hours of nothing. Eat whatever you feel like eating and don’t comb your hair. Banish your stress buddy by unplugging and binge watching those television shows about two roommates who are really zombies. By immersing yourself in a fantasy escape, you can artificially express your emotions without consequence and “care” about something that is not real nor consequential.

Let the sadness escape: Spend some time watching the saddest movie ever, read a poignant story, find a documentary on tragedies and cry until you are dehydrated and reaching for the Gatorade. In the helping professions, we deal with true sadness and tragedy every day and yet we know that breakdowns do not help our clients so we stifle sadness. It needs to come out so let it escape with “Terms of Endearment” or “Sophie’s Choice” and a six pack of boxed tissues.

Find a qualified BFF. Someone has to understand exactly what we are going through, so find a person who has either been a volunteer manager or has an ability to relate to your frustrations and confide in them regularly. Of course they must be discreet, but you can use fake names when speaking about that volunteer that keeps going to the CEO about the lack of proper bathroom tissue in the stalls.  Sometimes we just need a respected good friend to tell us we’re not nuts.

I’m sure you have other great ideas about how you de-stress and honestly, we all would love to hear them, especially if there are ways to mini de-stress during workdays.

Stress is always going to be a part of a volunteer manager’s job so we need to keep it from buying us matching best friends forever bracelets. Hang on, I think “Titanic” is just about to come on. Sniff