Addressing Workplace Stress: A Comprehensive Wellness Imperative for Individuals and Their Organizations

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HUFFPOST, THE BLOG 07/02/2013 06:45 pm ET | Updated Sep 01, 2013 Addressing Workplace Stress: A Comprehensive Wellness Imperative for Individuals and Their Organizations By Patricia Fisher, Megan Cleghorn • • Identifying the most pronounced sources of stress in your life is rarely difficult. However, pinpointing some of the less overt stress triggers is more challenging. Understanding how multiple sources of stress in your life act in concert to create your own individualized risk and resiliency profile is even more complex.

One thing we know with certainty is that your health and wellness cannot be compartmentalized. No area of your life is exempt from impact if one or more other areas of your life are burdened with high stress. Similarly, just as no discrete part of your life is singularly impacted by high-stress exposure, you are not the only one impacted. Your stress level has many consequences for your organization’s health that manifest in terms of direct and indirect costs as well as detrimental effects on the work environment. As a result, your organization has a vested interest in your ability to effectively address stress and burnout, because your wellness drives your organization’s performance. Accordingly, creation of a robust organizational wellness infrastructure and implementation of research and experience based stress-management programs should be embraced as a central operational priority.

A comprehensive approach to stress management requires a thorough understanding of the many sources of stress in your life as well an appreciation of all the sources of support and resilience. This provides a balanced framework to examine the wide-ranging impacts of stress on your physical and mental health, your professional and personal relationships, and your overall capacity to function optimally. Gaining an accurate understanding and awareness of your stress profile supports meaningful actions and the development of a comprehensive wellness plan that will reduce the negative impacts of stress on your mind, body, relationships and performance. Consider the following integral steps to raising awareness and spurring meaningful progress :

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What Does My Risk Profile Look Like?

Gaining an accurate awareness of your stress risk and resiliency profile in your professional and personal life is an important initial step toward enhanced wellness. There will be factors that are supportive and resiliencebuilding and other factors that increase your experienced stress. With respect to your professional life, for example, consider factors such as workload, level of control, job demands, role ambiguity, and compensation and advancement opportunities. Also consider your individual risk factors such as work/family conflict, and your belief in the value of your work. Consider the same in your personal life. This analysis helps you determine how at risk you are to develop stress and trauma symptoms.

How Well Am I Taking Care Of Myself?

Our bodies and minds are not designed to sustain consistent exposure to high levels of chronic stress. Evaluate what you are currently doing to manage your stress professionally and personally. Take a holistic approach to your selfassessment because a balanced lifestyle is central to effective self-care. Often we find that our self-care may be quite good in some areas of our lives and neglected in others. The more balanced we are, the more we are able to cope with the stresses and demands that we face. Unfortunately, many of us find ourselves caught in a tornado of work, family responsibilities, household tasks, and other personal obligations. Life can then become a succession of stressful events, deadlines and obligations, leaving little opportunity for renewal or even for simple pleasures. Consider what steps you are currently taking to manage your self-care physically, psychologically and emotionally, cognitively, behaviorally, interpersonally and spiritually.

What Is My Stress Symptom Profile?

We know that chronic stress plays a central role in the development of stressrelated physical and mental health challenges, cognitive functioning, professional and personal relationships, and the ability to see life with optimism, hope and energy. Once you have established your risk and resiliency profile and your self-care profile, consider your individual profile of stress symptoms and effects, focusing on physical health challenges such as stress-related illness and disease, and mental health consequences such as depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. It is also essential to probe the specific symptoms you experience relating to job stress, burnout, harassment, and exposure to direct and vicarious trauma.
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Where Do I Go From Here?

In moving from awareness to action, it is essential that you acknowledge and accept the magnitude of your stress symptoms and commit to developing an active and practical wellness plan. That wellness plan should be constructed to allow you to recover from any existing stress effects, to then maintain a level of self-care that matches the level of demands placed on you, and to engage in proactive practices to increase your resilience. Ultimately, to succeed in enhancing your individual wellness and, in turn, your organization’s health, you must build a comprehensive lifestyle that supports and sustains you through work and personal stresses. Sustainability rests on the principle that you have to replace that which has been depleted. If you are going to be a productive, active, effective person and teammate, you need to be well-nourished at all levels. To make durable changes in your professional and personal life, you and your key stakeholders must partner in (1) making a serious commitment to address the impact of stress in your lives, (2) taking responsibility for what you choose to do about your stress-management, and (3) taking action from an attitude of care, concern and respect. We need to clearly understand that for both individuals and organizations to flourish, we must treat our individual and collective wellness as a central operational imperative.

When slow is the only way to go

turtle

I recently had elective hip surgery – it was a long-awaited repair to a torn ligament for something that is often called an “athletic injury”. This term is perhaps overly flattering , frankly, for someone like me who has never been more than a mediocre athlete – better that than an “ageing injury” I guess! This operation will hopefully mean that after 2.5 years of not being able to run or cross-country ski or do many of my favourite things, I may soon be able to get back to vigorous exercise.  This rather prolonged hiatus has been challenging for me – not a terrible, life-altering, drama-filled ordeal – I am well aware of the immense privilege I have to be healthy and otherwise able to move and live my life, but it did mean that I lost, for several years, access to my favourite stress relief activities. There is nothing like being outside on a crisp sunny winter day on a cross-country ski trail. I miss that badly. Or being able to go for a nice long run to clear my head when there is too much on my plate.

Anyhow, now I’m in recovery. The challenge of recuperating from hip surgery is that you can’t move really fast – you have to take your time, walk a few steps when you feel able to, stop when you don’t and, in the first few weeks, you have to spend a lot of time lying flat on your back with some well-positioned ice packs, to let your body recover from the surgery and to allow the hip to heal. You also need to learn to ask for help and allow others to do things for you.

For some people, this sounds pretty idyllic, right? Lie on the couch all day while you are being served? Well, for me, it is very difficult.

My lovely sister-in-law came to help for the first few days after the operation and we had a great time sitting in my living room, chatting, doing our Christmas shopping online and putting the world to rights. But, once she left and I started emerging from the post-operative haze, I was forced to face the reality that my speed was going to be severely curtailed.

I do most things fast – I act quickly, I move fast, I think fast, I talk fast. Ask anyone who knows me – I tend to like having several things on the go at once. I never run just one errand, I usually strike four things off my list every time I head out the door.  And now, all of a sudden, I have become a turtle, someone who has to take a nap after going out to buy a pair of socks.  “Now you can be like the rest of us humans!” said a good friend of mine, which was perhaps a slight exaggeration about my normal speedy state and also very cute and frankly a little bit true. Maybe I do too much because I can. Because that’s how I like life to go.

So, does this mean that I have learned a deep lesson about slowing down that will stay with me forever, even when I am back to full mobility? I can’t promise that. But it has taught me a few things: not to take my health for granted, that maybe pushing myself to get 15 things off my to do list every day isn’t such a great long term plan as I age, and that I have control issues about letting other people do things for me.

Having a bit more down time has allowed me to rest, to pour over some great cookbooks I hadn’t had time to explore (the new Moosewood cookbook is absolutely fantastic, btw), visit with friends I usually am too busy to see, and drink tea on the couch. Maybe going slow(er) is ok after all.

 

 

 

 

Great resource! Self-Care Starter Kit

The University at Buffalo School of Social Work has developed an excellent self-care starter kit aimed at social work students and other professionals. They have an extensive bibliography, readings, checklists and other resources. They also have a great infographic called “How To Flourish in Social Work” which you can view here.

It’s very exciting to see such good quality resources emerging from the trenches. If you are an educator, preceptor or supervisor, please share this resource with your folks. This is a great tool for all helping professionals.

 

Summertime reads, recipe and an invitation to stay in touch

Here’s a quick post for you today with three items: new reads, a recipe and an invitation…

It’s finally summer!  This is hopefully a time for you to slow down a bit, enjoy the beautiful weather, have a picnic, maybe go to a local market or outdoor music festival on your day off.

June was a very busy time for me, starting with the wonderful Care4You conference (photos will be posted next week!), a work trip the Florida Panhandle,  and a trek to England to visit family and friends.

Needless to say that by July 1st, I felt the need for a little r&r after all of this excitement.

Whenever I finish a hectic time and need to refuel, I try to go back to the basics: get more sleep, eat more greens and less carbs, ditch the caffeine and get more exercise. Those simple things help keep me grounded, and when I go too long without them I start feeling tired, unwell and irritable. So I went back to read my favourite healthy eating blogs and spent a bit more time in the kitchen juicing and making homemade meals. I came across this weird and wonderful gluten-free bread recipe that I will share with you below. There are also some newly published compassion fatigue articles to recommend, for your time in the hammock!

1) New Reads

I just had two new articles published and a book chapter which I co-wrote with my colleague Leslie McLean from Capital Health Cancer Care, in Halifax.

For Family Caregivers: When the Juggling Act Isn’t Working: 5 Key Strategies to Reduce Compassion Fatigue and Burnout. Click here

For nurses: Occupational Hazards: Compassion Fatigue, Vicarious Trauma and Burnout. Click here

New Book Chapter: Managing Compassion Fatigue, Burnout and Moral Distress in Person and Family Centered Care Click here

 

2) Healthy Eating, Cool Gluten-Free Bread Recipe

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I am a big fan of healthy eating and enjoy reading food blogs for pleasure. My two current favourites are Choosing Raw by Gena Hamshaw, a New York nutritionist, and My New Roots, a beautiful whole food blog by Sarah B. a Canadian who now lives in Denmark but recently spent 6 weeks in Bali (yes, I know, tough). What I like about these bloggers is that they propose easy, fresh recipes without dogma.

Sarah B. posted a crazy-sounding gluten-free bread recipe last year, called “The Life Changing Loaf of Bread” which may seem like a rather bold statement. I was intrigued, but did not have time to gather the ingredients to try it out until yesterday. Well, what a success! This produces a very dense, toastable seed bread. Not suitable for sandwiches but perfect for toasting. Fantastic! Click here for a the link to the recipe.

3)  Join the anti-spam brigade, and make sure you stay on our mailing list!

Finally, an important note to any of you on my mailing list. If you are a Canadian reader, you will likely have been deluged by emails lately from all sorts of businesses asking you to confirm that you wish to continue receiving their emails. A new anti-spam legislation became effective july 1st, 2014 and if you do not confirm your desire to receive emails from us, we will have to remove you to comply with the regulation. So please take a minute to click on the “confirm” button in the email we sent you recently.  Thanks!

Now, I’m going to go watch some tennis and World cup soccer and drink some romaine, cucumber fennel juice. (It sounds weird but it tastes great.)

Here’s wishing you a lovely summer!

Being Healthy: It’s all about Perspective

Every day this week, we are sharing with you some highlights of the upcoming Compassion Fatigue Care4You Conference June 3-4th, 2014

Plenary Session: Being Healthy – It’s all about Perspective

Take a quick look at any magazine stand at your local supermarket – the headlines are either about celebrities or weight loss (or both at the same time):  “Flat abs in two weeks”, “Miracle new pill that lets you lose weight while you sleep”, “Huge muscles” (for men) and “Strong and toned, but not too bulky” (for women). Doesn’t it get a little confusing and just a bit overwhelming? What is healthy eating? What does “being fit” really mean?

Exploring the connection between healthy minds and healthy bodies, this session features three experts with a passion for health, inside and out, and a message about keeping your quest for “health” in proper perspective.

Challenging “Self-Care”: The power of changing your attitude toward diet and exercise

Carrie Watson, MSW, RSW

Carrie Watson Counselling, Kingston

Carrie Watson is passionate about working with individuals and families struggling with eating disorders, disordered eating, poor body image, and self-esteem issues. She believes in building confidence from a variety of sources including healthy relationships, meaningful daily practices, self-reflection, and mindful living. Carrie guides her clients to consider how the body can support the life of which they dream, and teaches the value of being gentle and forgiving with one’s self. Carrie has eight years of clinical experience in community settings, and has taught at the high school and college levels. Carrie currently divides her time between her clinical practice at the North Kingston Community Health Centre and her private practice.

Nutrition: The fuel for mental health

Jess Sherman, Registered Holistic Nutritionist

Jess Sherman Nutrition, Kingston

Jess Sherman work as a nutritionist, primarily with mothers and families. She started her career as a teacher and earned degrees from McGill, Queen’s, and UofT.  But found that the classroom was not where she could most effectively help children. So she left to study nutrition and developed a particular interest in the connection between food and development/behaviour.  Jess coaches her clients in how to use food to help their children and themselves thrive. She also coaches parents around issues of self-care through her MamaCare program.

Be kind to your body: Who said fitness had to be punishing?

Renee Whitney, Personal Trainer, Owner of Focus Personal Fitness Studio

Focus Personal Fitness Studio, Kingston

Renee Whitney has an honours degree in sports psychology and is a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. With over 20 years of experience in the health and fitness industry, Renee is the owner of a very successful fitness studio in Kingston. At Focus, the emphasis is on using proper form to prevent injury, and on whole-person health and lifestyle changes.

Click here for more information

Work life balance: A load of bunk?

Happy New Year dear readers!

To say that I have been incredibly busy during the past six months is pretty much the understatement of 2013. Since July, I have worked with folks from L.A. County Courts, cancer care workers in Bermuda, amazing trauma therapists in New Haven, visited Vancouver three times to present to ObGyns and refugee protection staff (not at the same time…)

I also met staff from the UNHCR, presented at a children’s hospital in San Diego and had incredible learning experiences with fantastic helping professionals at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto.  My wonderful team of associates have also been busy, travelling to Indiana, Newfoundland and also offering a lot of training right here at home in Ontario. We presented on compassion fatigue, secondary and vicarious trauma, self care, conflict, change leadership, and developed a brand new training on rendering bench decisions to refugee claimants.

I also had the chance to co-develop a new workshop with my friend and colleague Leslie Anne Ross, from the Children’s Institute in Los Angeles, called “a Roadmap for Change Agents.” We are firm believers that the best way to promote healthy workplaces is to encourage the emergence of champions in each agency. This was an opportunity to share best practice ideas with folks from various child welfare departments in L.A. County, and encourage them to spread the learning about healthy workplaces.

Yes, it’s been nuts. But it has also been the most professionally rewarding year of my career. I would like to highlight some personal and professional learnings from the past year and see if some of them resonate for you: Read More

New Year – new projects

Hi, I’m back! It’s been a while since I have had the chance to write a post. The Fall turned into a bit of a whirlwind and time ran away from me. I have a lot of things to share with you in terms of upcoming events and training resources but I will let you know about these in a couple of days as I am waiting for one event registration to go live on the website before I make the announcement – so please come back in a few days. As always, I welcome your feedback and comments, so don’t be shy to email me a note or post a comment on the blog.

This was a very rewarding Fall for me professionally and a challenging one on the personal front: I had the chance to travel to Los Angeles twice to work with some wonderful people in the field of child welfare (and make some new friends along the way), Read More

Who guards your time?

A friend of mine who works in a very busy children’s mental health centre came to work one day to find this life sized Power Ranger guarding her office. If I got the story straight, some of her staff thought she could put him in front of her door to let people know to leave her alone when she needs time to work on stuff. He is her guard. Isn’t that fantastic? Now, of course, only in Los Angeles would you be able to find a full sized action hero mannequin, right? (that’s me on the right, giving him a little squeeze, for those who have never met me).

So here is my question for you, dear reader, on this beautiful Sunday morning, before I dash off to yoga: Who guards your time? Who protects you from unwanted incursions? Do you have a clear sign (or a big red guy) that lets the world that you need to be left alone? How would I know, if I was your friend or your work colleague, that you do not want to be disturbed? Do you answer your phone at all hours of the night and day, or are you comfortable setting limits on calls, texts and emails? Can people drop in on you unannounced any time or are you clear on what works and what does not work for you?

There are ways to set boundaries where you can still be kind and warm to others. Then there are days where I just feel like wearing a t-shirt that says **** off! What are your best strategies?

Chip away at your “to do” lists

I don’t know about you, but I tend to have a feast or famine type of schedule. Well, never really famine, but my work tends to follow seasonal peaks and valleys – December tends to be a quieter month on the workshop front, which gives me a chance to regroup from the Fall months and prepare for the holidays, and the end of June marks the end of my training season until the Fall rolls around again. Once the Compassion Fatigue Conference is done, I tend to spend a week in recovery mode (napping, dealing with email backlog, reading novels and taking time to smell the peonies in my garden). Then after about a week, I start getting a surge of a different kind of energy – not the workshop development vibe, but the “let’s chip away at the piles” type of groove. This is quickly followed by “holy s***! There is so much to do! Which could then easily be followed by feeling discouraged and going back to the couch to read more of Tilda Shalof’s new book and eat more cherries. But here’s what I do instead, and it works every time: I trick myself into getting through the piles. Take my freezer, for example: Read More