Conversations on Compassion Fatigue with a Mental Health Advocate

conversations-compassion-fatigue-mental-health-advocate

Conversations on Compassion Fatigue is a new series where we interview professionals from high-stress and trauma-exposed environments and discuss issues around compassion fatigue, organizational health, vicarious trauma, moral distress and self-care. 

In this first installment, we sit down with a Mental Health Advocate to discuss her real world experience of compassion fatigue on the job.


Can you describe to us what you do as a Mental Health Advocate?

“My day-to-day has a lot of variety but most of my time is spent talking on the phone and meeting with patients, their families and/or their substitute decision maker.  I speak with them to ensure that they know their rights, their liberties and to help them to understand what is happening in terms of their treatment plan. My job is to support the patient and advocate for their wishes concerning what medications they take, what procedures they under-go, etc.

I work separately from the staff at the various hospitals that I visit throughout the region. This is a deliberate model so that I can take my patients’ issues forward to the hospitals without the fear of repercussions that, say a nurse or doctor, may face in a similar situation.

Many of my clients I work with have experienced many obstacles throughout their life; childhood trauma, poverty, unsafe housing,etc.

People who struggle with mental health issues can be very vulnerable – and the medical staff have huge power over their patients (and often rightly so). However, by the time my patients and their families end up with me, they have had years of bad things happening to them and are very angry at the system. I often hear things like – “Why is this happening to me?”

I also do quite a bit of public speaking in my job – ensuring that new and in-coming staff have education around patients’ rights.”

 

Have you heard about compassion fatigue before?

“Learning about compassion fatigue was, for me, a real light bulb moment. I first encountered the term during a workshop at an annual staff training. I was new on the job – just a few years in – when I first learned about it.

A big take away for me was the idea that “if you have compassion, you will have compassion fatigue.” It was also really helpful to learn that compassion fatigue was a normal experience.

I used to think to myself “How do people get so mean?”,“You didn’t start off by being awful to your patients – so what happened?”  Now I see compassion fatigue all over the place.

I think the problem is that, if there isn’t a culture of supporting or recognizing that compassion fatigue happens, it can fester. I’ve seen this manifest in the form of disrespect and staff being dismissive of the people that they are here to care for. If this culture is left unchecked, it can start to taint even the “good” staff.

Learning about compassion fatigue has also been really helpful for me in situations when I’m dealing with staff. It helps keep me from “getting on my high horse” about things. I have more empathy towards the staff. It helps me to re-frame the situation and keeps me from dehumanizing them (which is interesting since that “dehumanizing” is what caused the situation in the first place).”

 

Have you personally experienced compassion fatigue in your work?

“Absolutely. There was a time in my life when a bunch of things had happened – not just work-related. But I was so tearful and I remember always making the excuse of going to the bathroom just to get a break. Anything would set me off.

I did go for counselling but found the experience to be unsatisfactory. Overtime things got better as I paid more attention to my self-care. However, the experience bothered me because of how it manifested. I felt so weak. It was frustrating.”

 

What does your self-care practice look like? Has your work encouraged you to do self-care?

For self-care, I take it solely upon myself. My work pays lip service to it, but it really is up to me. I am, however, lucky that my manager is incredibly accommodating. If I needed to take time off, I could.

In my down time I love to run and I play piano too.

Another thing that helps me is to find the humour in things – even though the work that I do is serious, there are moments that can be quite funny. I look for those.

I also collect quotes – those really help me.

I do think that work-life balance is a bit of myth – it always seems to be skewed one way or the other.

Photo of a quote in her office. It reads: “The Secret to Change is to focus all your energy – Not on fighting the Old: But on Buildling the New – Socrates”

 

In your field, what do you think could be done to help mitigate the effects of compassion fatigue?

“Oh I have lots of ideas for this! *laughs*

One thing that I think would be really effective is to have a rotation system for front-line staff. This way, staff wouldn’t be seeing the same people over and over again, year after year. Everyone needs a change of pace.

The idea that you’re stuck in one place for the rest of your career is really hard. Perhaps we could move people to research projects, professional development, etc. This would give everyone a break – including the patients.”

 

What do you find challenging about your work?

“My job is to advocate and act on what the patient wants – not what I think is the best decision for the patient. This can be really hard when I know that a certain medication or treatment would really benefit them – however, as much as I wish I could help them, that’s not my job.

Another thing that can be hard with this job is navigating the barriers in the system. So, here’s a small example and one that happens a lot – I wish that I could give my clients a drive. Sometimes it will be miserable outside and we’re going to the same place, however, due to liability issues, I can’t offer them a ride. I feel so bad about that.”

 

What do you find rewarding about your work?

When you do work that you feel is meaningful, you don’t realize how much you grow along with it.  After doing this work, I’m so different from who I used to be.

Even though it can be challenging, my job is a blessing. I consider myself to be very lucky. Speaking with my patients and being even a small part of their life is such a privilege.”

 

Are there any resources you would recommend?

“I highly recommend the work of Dr. Patricia Deegan.”


You can find a list of Dr. Deegan’s work here.

Selected articles:

Deegan, P.E. (1996). Recovery as a Journey of the Heart. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal 19, 3, p. 91–97.    [PDF available here, provided by the Toronto CMHA]

Deegan, P.E. (1988). Recovery: The lived experience of rehabilitation. Psychosocial Rehabilitation Journal, 9, 4, 11-19.   [PDF available here, provided by the Toronto CMHA]

 

Addressing Compassion Fatigue – An Ethical Mandate

 

 Addressing Compassion Fatigue – An Ethical Mandate

Webinar Roundtable – American Bar Association, aired September 30, 2015


Working with clients in trauma can impact lawyers who represent children in the child welfare system, both personally and professionally.  Prolonged or repeated exposure to the abuse and neglect suffered by child victims can result in an acute form of burnout called compassion fatigue.

However, child lawyers, unlike other helping professionals, rarely have language for this loss of capacity nor support systems in place to combat it.  Large caseloads, inadequate resources and systems that sometimes re-victimize instead of rehabilitate, leave practitioners feeling ineffective, incompetent and lacking compassion. These conditions compromise the child lawyer’s ethical duty to provide competent representation.

Speakers focus on preventative and responsive strategies for solo practitioners, agency lawyers and leaders who manage child lawyers, as well as the ethical implications of compassion fatigue on child representation.

Speakers:
Trenny Stovall, Esq., DeKalb County Child Advocacy Center, Decatur, GA (moderator)
Alexandra Dolan, MSS, LSW, Support Center for Child Advocates, Philadelphia, PA
Josh Spitalnick, PhD, ABPP, Adjunct Asst. Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University SOM, Atlanta, GA
Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC., Co-Executive Director, TEND, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Danielle Lynch, Esq.,  Supervising Attorney. DeKalb Child Advocacy Center, Decatur, GA

Source

Basic Ingredients for a Healthy Staff with Laurie Barkin

 

basic-ingredients-healthy-staff-laurie-barkin-comfort-garden

Laurie Barkin, RN, MS has worked as a staff nurse, head nurse, nurse manager, instructor, and psych liaison nurse.

Her book, The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit, won the American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Award and a Nautilus Award for excellence in writing.

In this guest blog post, Laurie shares personal insights into caregiver stress and the role of institutional support from her years of working with trauma survivors. You can find out more about Laurie on her website.


 

How can those of us who bear witness to trauma make sense of the violence inequity, injustice, and waste of human potential that confronts us daily? What should we do with the feelings we feel?

I needed to talk about how awful it is to come face to face with evil in the world. I asked for what I needed. That was hard enough. Did I violate a taboo by asking?…Other trauma programs incorporate time each week for staff to talk about such things. Why can’t we?”

– adapted from The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit 

 

Too many front-line healthcare clinicians are struggling with burn-out, compassion fatigue, and moral distress at work. Contributing factors include high patient acuity, fear of making medical errors, unrelenting exposure to human pain and suffering, and inadequate staff resources.

When front-line staff are stressed, the entire system is negatively impacted. The solution is a combination of “self-care” and institutional support.

I came to this conclusion after attending a psychological trauma conference in the late 90s where I heard the phrases “vicarious traumatization” and “secondary traumatic stress” for the first time. Back then, I had been working as a psych nurse consultant on the trauma unit of a large hospital for a few years.

Many symptoms described by presenters resonated with me: nightmares and intrusive images related to my patients’ stories, palpitations, shortness of breath, excessive worry for my children’s safety, and emotional fatigue, to name a few.

I knew I wasn’t the only one. Each week, all of us on the psychiatric consult service were hearing horrific stories of abuse and neglect. Several of us had requested support groups for staff. Each time we did, our administrator politely turned us down and made the same suggestion:

“Do it on your own time.”

At the conference I learned that the antidotes to caregiver stress were staff support groups and a commitment to good self-care practices. In speaking with other trauma professionals, I learned that many trauma programs provided time each week for staff to process and reflect. These practitioners were incredulous that our program—affiliated with a major teaching hospital—did not.

Months later, after listening to a particularly vicious story from a survivor of sexual violence, I requested time in our staff meeting to talk about it. Again, I was turned down.

That’s when I decided that, because my mental health was worth protecting, I had to resign my position. 

 

The Caregiving Personality

 

Since then, I’ve been writing about the experience of bearing witness to others’ pain and suffering. One of the questions I’ve considered is this: Is caregiver stress solely attributable to the work itself or do aspects of the caregiver personality play a role?

Most people who decide to pursue caregiving careers are naturally empathic. From where does this wellspring of empathy originate?

In my decades as a psych nurse, I’ve spoken to many nurses (and other healthcare clinicians) about why they chose their professions.

Many grew up in families that provided fertile ground for caregiving experiences. In families battered by addictions and trauma or stressed by disability and illness, these future caregivers often assumed responsibility for younger siblings, grandparents, parents, or themselves when adults were unavailable. In this way, they learned to be responsible caretakers, sensitive clinicians, conflict managers, and family administrators.

Because of the skills honed in our families, we are good at what we do. However, if the emotional pain of the family crucible still lives within us, i.e. our feelings remain “unresolved,” we may be especially prone to caregiver stress.

 

The Institutional Role

 

So, in addition to self-care practices such as yoga, meditation, journaling, exercising, maintaining adequate sleep and good nutrition, etc., I’m all for people pursuing individual psychotherapy as another tool in one’s self-care practice.

But since the antidote to caregiver stress is both personal and institutional, hospital administrators and executives also have an important role to play in decreasing job stress among clinical staff.

In addition to limiting mandatory overtime, creating a safe environment, paying competitive salaries, and improving general work conditions, they could, for example, provide on-site childcare and banking services, host farmers’ markets on campus, champion support groups, and sponsor staff wellness centers.

Additionally, they could offer regular staff retreats, on-site mini-massages, and an on-call confidential counseling service for work-related issues, to name a few.

Nurses and physicians who value caring want to provide excellent care for their patients. Actual caring—as opposed to performing tasks associated with caring—requires time and emotional labor. When clinicians are bolstered by self-care practices and supported by administrative practices, they are energized by their work, not burned out by it. 

Actual caring requires time and emotional labor. When clinicians are bolstered by self-care practices and supported by administrative practices, they are energized by their work, not burned out by it.  Click To Tweet

 

Here are my questions to you:

Do you have a regular self-care practice at home and at work? If so, what does this include? If not, what prevents you from doing so?

How does your workplace support your work as a caregiver?


 

Mental Health and the Classroom – with Dr. Mike Condra

 

“Mental Health and the Classroom” with Dr. Mike Condra

 

 

Presented as part of a panel discussion on mental health in Kingston, ON, April 11, 2015. 


TEND Associate Dr. Mike Condra is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Queen’s University and has taught in the undergraduate and graduate programs in the Department of Psychology and in the faculties of Education and Law. 

If you’re interested in having Dr. Condra speak at your organization, contact us at info@tendacademy.ca.

Learn more about Dr. Condra’s live training.

Mental Health: Awareness, Anti-stigma and Helping Skills

Compassion Fatigue and Secondary Trauma – Essentials

Contact us for a customized training for your workshop.

Breathe, Reset, Refuel. Rinse, Repeat.

francoise-mathieu-breathe-reset-refuel-self-care-compassion-fatige

 

I have been thinking a lot about energy and pacing lately.

More specifically, I have been reflecting on the fuel that we put in our tanks with the aim to do our best at work, to care for our loved ones and to get a few (or many) of the grown-up things off our list.

I don’t know about you, but I think that, although being an adult has many perks  – like eating what we want, when we want (toast for dinner! Popcorn for breakfast!) and going to bed early or staying up too late to watch our favourite shows (ok, maybe I watched Pippi Longstocking too many times. My goodness, I loved her so…) –  sometimes being a responsible grown-up can feel really overwhelming.

At this very moment, I can hear my washing machine rattling like an airplane taking off. The repair person told me it’s finished, and we need a new one. Well, ok, he told me that in August and that if I didn’t do anything, one day it would leak all over the place. But I got busy, and so it’s on the List.

My furnace too, apparently needs replacing  – on the List.

I have 93 unread emails that all say “TIME SENSITIVE!” – on the List.

Today, my son lost his dorm keys and is asking me to find them in his bedroom at home and ship them to him urgently. My daughter just called. She needs me to call our insurance company about something ASAP. On the List!

A friend just had very upsetting news, and I deeply care about him, so he’s on my mind right now, too.

That’s probably only 1% of my list, but it all rattles around in my head, trying to prioritize and make sure I don’t drop too many balls.

Can you relate to this?

(Note that there is nothing on that list about self-care, it just gets pushed to the bottom, because, you know, it can wait, right?)

 

Are you “the General” in your life?

 

I recently pinched something in my arm which caused this weird impingement all the way from my shoulder, into my elbow and into my hand. It wasn’t horrible, but it was very uncomfortable. I wasn’t able to use my arm to drive or do yoga or carry things or sleep properly.

“Poor posture” was the physio’s diagnosis. (Wow. Thanks!) When that didn’t help, I went to see a great massage therapist and he hummed and hawed and tapped and poked and prodded. After a solid hour of this, he said to me: “Are you the General in your life? At work and at home?”

I paused.

Well, yes, as a matter of fact I am.

I think of myself as an ultra-responsible, reliable, loving, caring person (read “Disappoint Someone Today” for more on this, if you want). I have two members of my family who live with ADHD which can lead to some very interesting and sometimes intense situations for them and for the rest of our family. I think of them as neuro-exceptional as they are super bright, passionate, high energy people – but they also struggle with lost items, low frustration tolerance, intense irritability and a need for order to manage the chaos that frequently enters their brain.

We openly talk about this in my home, and we have developed many strategies over the years to help reduce stress for all of us. But sometimes, it’s a lot.

At the end of our session, the massage therapist gave me this advice: “Less planning, less thinking, more rest, more quiet, long walks, and more expressive arts – use the part of your brain that doesn’t require thinking and being in charge all the time.”

He was basically saying “Slow down! Quiet that mind a bit!”

 

How much is enough?

 

We were training a wonderful group recently, and one participant asked us: “How much self-care is the recommended amount?” This is a surprisingly tough question to answer.

My amazing co-facilitator replied something like this: “I don’t think that the aim is to race through our days at rocket speed and then collapse in a heap at the end of the day on our couch or yoga mat and call that “self-care”. I think that self-care needs to be a moment by moment process, where we notice, we pause, we breathe, and then we keep on doing what we’re doing, if we have to, or we take some time out to refuel and reset.”

I don’t think that the aim is to race through our days at rocket speed and then collapse in a heap at the end of the day on our couch or yoga mat and call that “self-care”. I think that self-care needs to be a moment by moment process Click To Tweet

 

I drove my son back to university yesterday. It’s a stressful 3-hour drive on a major highway. Lots of trucks, freezing rain, bad drivers … you know the kind of drive I’m talking about.

After dropping him off, I drove another 45 minutes through even worse conditions and went to my favourite airport hotel on my way to a gig out-of-province. And, get this – that hotel has a wicker swing in the lobby! You know those big egg-shaped swings from the 70s? I swear, if they get rid of that swing I’m never going to that hotel again.

Anyhow, I sat cross legged in that swing for three hours, answering emails, reading a book and just rocking gently and resting. I could feel my nervous system calming right down and after this lovely pause, I felt completely refreshed. I texted a friend and said “I don’t need a week long trip to the beach, I just need three hours in a swing!”

So, for all of us, what are micro-moments that we can integrate in our days so that we can reset, refuel and take pause when we don’t have a three-hour blissful break from everything?

And yes, I’m going to work on my posture too 😉

I wish you a happy, restful and refueling start to 2019!


Recommended Resources:

[Online course] WTF – Strategies to keep helping professionals grounded and centered by Diana Tikasz, MSW, RSW

[Book] Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much by Tony Crabbe

[Website] calm.com


 

Unspoken Impact of Trauma on First Responders by Michael V. Genovese

unspoken-trauma-first-responders-michael-genovese

Michael V. Genovese, M.D., J.D., is the chief medical officer of Acadia Healthcare which operates a network of 585 behavioral health facilities with approximately 17,900 beds in 40 States, the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico. As well, he is the Medical Director of the Officer Safety and Wellness Committee of the FBI National Academy Associates. Dr. Genovese is also an advocate for attorneys and first responders seeking treatment for addiction and co-occurring disorders.

Dr. Genovese writes, speaks, teaches and consults widely in the disciplines of pharmacology, neuromodulation and pharmacogenomics. He has kindly agreed to allow us to share his article on the impact of trauma on first responders. 


Bravery is one act, but courage is consistent. And our nation’s first responders are the very definition of courage. Each day, they make the difficult choice to run towards the danger that we run from. In doing so, these officers experience significant trauma, yet rarely have the opportunity to process those experiences before speeding off to the next emergency. 

Science shows that repeated trauma alters the neural pathways and injures the brain. These Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries are linked to startling, yet often unreported, rates of mental health illness, which can manifest into substance abuse or worse. In fact, first responders are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. 

So why are our heroes not receiving the help they need? In my role as medical director of the Officer Safety and Wellness Committee of the FBI National Academy Associates, I’ve met countless officers who have struggled to overcome the trauma experienced in their line of work. Many say they’re expected to be mentally and physically tough, and the stigma around mental health treatment prevails. Admitting they have a problem may cost them their badge – and their identity. 

This is quickly becoming a national crisis, but too many departments are reluctant to admit this crisis exists, much less implement programs to address it. Here are four ways we can change that:

 

Acknowledge mental health injury

Post-traumatic stress is an injury, not a weakness. If a first responder broke his or her leg in the line of duty, treatment would be a no-brainer. We must recognize and treat brain injuries in the same way. 

 

Build resiliency through training

It is not enough to wait until officers are injured. We need to proactively provide training to help officers build resiliency. Resiliency can be learned and can help officers manage the extreme pressure and trauma inherent in the job. 

 

Shift the culture, from the top

Law enforcement agencies must normalize mental health care by proactively offering support services and treatment. This requires a shift in culture which must be led from the top. Support systems can include employee assistance programs, peer support policies and confidential resources, to name just a few.

I am proud to be a part of Treatment Placement Specialists, which provides treatment guidance that reflects the individualized needs of officers. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also provides excellent resources for mental health treatment.

 

Build pathways back to work

In most professions, overcoming personal challenges, such as depression or substance abuse, is supported and celebrated. But for first responders, the result is often the loss of their job. This severe punishment is unnecessary and leads to further trauma and depression. We need to formalize a pathway back to service, so individuals aren’t penalized for seeking help. 

These are not just academic suggestions. These are practical measures that progressive departments are already taking – and they are working. 

We all know the saying, “To whom much is given, much is required.” When we consider all that is asked of our first responders, we should consider a new phrase:

From whom much is required, much should be given.

We must support those who serve by acknowledging the trauma they experience and providing treatment to address the very real impacts on their health. Will you join me? 

References: 

Genovese, M. (2018, October). How Trauma Causes Alternate Pathways in the BrainRebuilding Officer Resiliency: A Treatment Guide, 4-6.

Heyman, M., Dill, J., & Douglas, R. (2018). Mental Health and Suicide of First Responders [White Paper].

 

Ten Tips for Less Evening Over-Eating with Dr. Deb Thompson

ten-tips-for-less-evening-overeating-deb-thompson

Dr. Deb Thompson is a registered psychologist, certified Integral Master Coach™ and longtime colleague of Françoise’s. They met over 23 years ago while working as clinicians at a University Student Counselling Service and subsequently shared a private practice office for many years.

In this guest blog post, Dr. Thompson share’s tips gained from her many years working with clients in the field of body wellness. You can find out more about Deb on her website or follow her on Facebook. 


As a psychologist/coach and course facilitator specializing in weight wellness, I’ve noticed time and time again how over-eating in the evening is such a common and maddening challenge. I also know this terrain personally, as someone who struggled mightily with food, self-care and weight from my teens to late 30’s.

Are you frustrated by the wheels falling off your wellness bus after work and/or at night despite nourishing yourself fairly well during the day?  

Our Inner Critics can attribute this to weakness, but I encourage your Inner Mentor to get more grounded in knowing that our evening over-eating arises from the perfect storm of being hungry, depleted and/or churning with emotions.  

Here are ten tips for circumventing these vulnerabilities with some new or renewed habits, practices and mindset moves:

 

1. Don’t arrive home ravenous!

Plan and pack or buy a snack for late afternoon because high, high hunger is high, high risk! When our blood sugar is dropping and our bellies are growling, our primal brains direct us to mow down, which can make for chunks of cheddar or handfuls of trail mix that not only derail our dinners, but also our wellness over the long run.

Snacks with some protein, such as whole grain crackers with hummus, a hard-boiled egg or cheese string, almonds with an apple, Greek yogurt or a decaf latte, will stick to your ribs and see you through your commute and transition to home. Higher fiber foods like apples or popcorn can be filling too.

See if eating in a planful way during the late afternoon helps you eat less in the evenings, and thereby, helps you to eat less overall. It almost always does!

 

2. Prep a snack

Alternatively, prepare a snack to be ready for you when you get home — a kindly gift from earlier-more-energetic-you to later-whipped-you!  If you have kids, this can also help you get through what I used to call the “Arsenic Hour” when everyone is hangry.

Cut up veggies or fruits with different healthy dips are handy, as well as helpful for getting in our seven or more recommended daily servings of produce.

 

3. Disrupt your pathway

Aside from a planned snack, don’t mindlessly head to the kitchen as soon as you get in the door or you are off duty for the night. Go to a different room, do something different — even a few minutes of belly breathing, getting into comfies, or washing your face can break the auto-pilot pattern of cruising the cupboards or fridge.

As Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.creating the gap is key!

 

4. Take a few minutes to transition

In this space, take a few minutes to transition — after work, change your clothes, put on upbeat or chill music, bring in nice scents with lotions or essential oils, create your own shifting gears ritual…

You may have to train other people to leave you alone for a few minutes, especially if those people are wee ones, but it can be done. You can also create a non-food ritual for exhaling at the end of your second shift… once you are off duty for the evening (more on this in Tip #8).

5. Meal planning for success

A little meal planning and preparation can go a long way to ensure faster and easier healthy suppers on busy work nights… you don’t have to be Martha Stewart, but having veggies ready to stir fry or roast, planned-overs to warm up, a soup or stew or chili in the slow cooker, or a sheet pan dinner ready to assemble in minutes are all golden.

Again, re-frame this as an empathic gift from the person that you are on Sunday afternoons to the person you sometimes become by Tuesday 7pm when you are more depleted, hungry and feeling worn out. Try to keep perfectionism out of the equation to avoid tipping into all-or-nothing thinking or what has been called the “what the hell” phenomenon where we overeat to deal with our emotional frustrations and feelings of self-blame.

Having a sticky note reminder of some quicker-than-take out and healthier-than-cheese-and-crackers options, like scrambled eggs or ready-made soup, is also helpful.  

 

6. Process your thoughts and feelings

The emotional residue of our days often rumbles through us into the evening, and it is so very tempting to soothe, numb and reward with food (and wine!).

One strategy is to use free writing to honour and process thoughts and feelings — set a timer for 7 minutes and write without pausing the pen (or editing — this is a *dump* — not journaling or essay writing!) to help process your day…let it rip, say *anything*… vent, rant, complain, yearn.

When the timer goes, aim to have your Inner Mentor extend kindness and empathy to yourself, as well as see if there are any *Actions* or *Don’t forget* items that need put on your To Do list. Then shred or burn the papers over the sink, wash up and exhale.

Cultivating compassion for having done your best… as well as showing yourself kindness and generosity for the true complexity of the challenges of our work is also a powerful component of this practice. For further strategies for lessening the grip of emotional eating, check out these downloadable resources:

Four N’s Instead of Food as Friend [PDF]

Meeting Emotional Needs without Food [PDF]

Getting support, such as through coaching, counselling and the excellent courses here at TEND also helps with reducing the burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma that can leave us overly vulnerable to turning to food as a (lousy) “friend”.

 

7. Build a Nourished Life

Indeed, everyone benefits from support to build nourished lives such that we have less depletion and stress to prompt us to over-eat after work or at night. This can include creating more belonging, boundaries, a less taxing workload, play/fun/hobbies, rest and sleep, regular enjoyable exercise, emotional supports, and especially: alignment between our core values and our actual lives.

Building a nourished life takes time, and guidance/supports, but it’s important that we put some energy into the prevention of being spread thin, not just coping with it.

What’s ONE thing you might do this week to move the needle a tiny bit on behalf of more movement, rest, play, or connection? You could get to bed 20 minutes earlier, you could do a 15 minute yoga video in your living room, you could plan a coffee date with an old friend, you could sign up for art lessons, you could explore options for coaching or counselling.

 

8. Curate a Menu of Alternatives

Ok, back to more directly disrupting the habit of eating at the end-of-day when you are finally off duty… it’s helpful to develop a menu of alternatives to snacking or imbibing.

Perhaps a bath, a good book, magazine, podcast or show on Netflix? Colouring, crafts, games or texting? A warm drink? Some puttering or light tidying up or getting things ready? Or if this last one feels like more work (which may prompt eating as an escape or reward), then leaving those tasks for morning?

Looking over your menu can help you choose what will soothe, restore and calm you tonight.

 

9. Enjoy a Low Calorie Treat

For end of day, you may like to plan for a yummy-to-you low calorie treat (eating at night is not necessarily problematic unless it involves EXTRA calories)… winter seems like a wonderful time for a baked apple (here’s a microwave recipe).  

It’s helpful to keep high temptation treats like chocolate, chips, ice cream, cookies, etc. either out of the house, or at least out of sight and hard to access… as we do tend to eat more in response to availability. Forbidding these foods is not necessary (and often really backfires into all-or-none yo-yo-ing), but often having single serving options, planned treats when eating out, and healthier alternatives such as popcorn instead of Doritos; broth, decaf or herbal tea instead of wine; or Fudgsicles instead of Hagen Daz are very supportive.

 

10. Reconsider the Division of Labour

If part of your evening over-eating is related to feeling beleaguered and exhausted regarding the division of labour in your home, it can be helpful to have a series of conversations about who does what when with your partner/family. Teaching kids to pitch in can be an investment that pays off in the long run.

If you live alone, get creative in how you might outsource some work  such as cleaning or getting more ready-made foods from the grocery store, and/or have chore or cooking parties with other single friends. Finally, most of us can also lessen our weariness (and vulnerability to emotional or “Eff It” eating) by softening our standards, letting go of impeccability and embracing imperfection with more compassion.


For more, check out this webinar with Dr. Deb Thompson and Françoise Mathieu on how to curb emotional eating [from December 4th, 2017]

Lessons in Resiliency from Military Families

lessons-resiliency-military-families

 

The oak fought the wind and was broken. The willow bent when it must and survived.”

– Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven

 


by Amanda O’Handley, article suggestions by Françoise Mathieu

The Canadian military currently has about 88,000 active personnel serving our beautiful country. We are fortunate to have such a dedicated and well-trained force of people ensuring the safety of our country. 

For each of those 88,000 military personnel is a network of family members and loved ones who support them on a daily basis. While members are away on deployments, trainings and exercises, these are the family members who stay behind to look after children, make sure the bills are paid, ensure that houses are maintained, to mow, rake and shovel.

These are the people who hold down the proverbial fort so their loved ones can serve.

One of the biggest challenges for military families is the reality of being posted every few years. With some postings as short as a year, this means quickly packing up a life – including furniture, children, careers, hopes and dreams – and moving them across the country. 

Add to that a myriad of compounding factors including those more common stressors (financial strain, unpredictable housing markets, increasing debts) and those unique stressors of military life (combat-related illnesses and injuries, higher than average rates of depression and generalized anxiety disorder) and you may wonder how these families manage to stay healthy and connected through multiple postings.

Despite the unpredictable and stressful world that military families navigate, they are some of the most resilient people I have ever met. These are the women, men and children who love someone in the military. And these are the women, men and children who continue to thrive and grow despite the constant upheavals to their lives. 

In my professional life as a music therapist, I’ve had the pleasure of working with military children and getting to know their unique struggles.

In my personal life, I am a military spouse. And as a new-comer to the military family lifestyle, I’ve found myself in a world of exciting opportunities – and overwhelming obstacles. People would often tell me: “There’s no life like it.”

They were right.

I won’t lie – it’s been hard. And I’ve struggled. However, I’ve met many military families who are not only making it work, but thriving!

So, I decided to do some psychological sleuthing on how they managed to stay so resilient through tough times. Here’s a few lessons about resiliency I have learned from the military family community:

 

Lesson #1 – All You Have is Today

 

A few weeks ago, I saw a magazine at the local military family centre with a headline that read: “Live today like they deploy tomorrow.” Although ominous, it was a good reminder. We can make all the plans we want, however the truth is that we only have today.

Military families understand how important it is to live in the present moment. Deployments and trainings can happen unexpectedly. So it is important to make good use of the time that you have together. 

Research has shown that living in the moment is an important part of staying healthy and it can help to increase our resilience. Check out this great post by Grace Bullock on how being present can help buffer the effects of stress.

There is a quote that a military spouse told me once that I think about often. For me, it’s the perfect reminder of the futility of predicting the future and the dangers of ruminating on the past: 

 “The good news is that nothing lasts forever. The bad news is that nothing lasts forever.”

 

Lesson #2 – Choose Optimism

 

I was working with a young boy whose father was deployed. Every week he would remind me that his father was returning in X number of days. Although I knew that he was anxious about his father being away and that he had been cautioned about how unpredictable deployments could be, he always chose to be hopeful about his father’s return.

Even though the situation may be scary or uncertain, military families know that optimism about the future is the best option. 

This area of psychology is called “Positive psychology” and was originally developed by Dr. Martin Seligman who showed that optimism is not always a natural predisposition but – and here’s the good news – it can be learned.

It’s important to avoid getting caught up in things outside of our control (see Stephen Covey’s work on circles of concern and influence). If we do not have influence over something, the feelings that we have about it (whether we’re excited and hopeful, or terrified and anxious) are irrelevant to the outcome. 

So, if we don’t know what’s going to happen, why not choose to be hopeful about it? At the very least, it makes for a better sleep at night.  

 

Lesson #3 – Don’t Be a Lone Wolf

 

Upon arriving at a new posting, we always receive a folder stuffed with resources and information from our local Military Family Resource Center. As a military family, we’re fortunate to have access to a large network of people and services built around providing support.

Military families know that being a lone wolf is not a sustainable or healthy option. Research has shown that loneliness hurts and –  at its worst – being lonely can be dangerous. A study by Holt-Lunstad, Smith & Layton (2010) concluded that people were more likely to die from loneliness than physical inactivity and obesity.

Child Trauma expert Dr. Bruce Perry has famously said that “There is no more effective neurobiological intervention than a safe relationship.” Humans are social animals and we thrive through connection.

Finding supportive relationships can be a challenge for more introverted military family members who do not have the built-in social structure of work that their serving spouses do. But making connections is essential for everyone’s physical and emotional well-being. Military families know this and that’s why its always one of the first steps of a new posting.

 

Lesson #4 – Who YOU are matters

 

I’ve met military spouses with some of the most amazing and interesting skills – writers, bloggers, some who are bilingual and trilingual, musicians, artists, world-travelers – and all of this in addition to their careers and their parental roles. 

For those who have a family member whose life is inextricably linked to their job – whether that be military, police, justice, EMS – it can be easy to lose your identity in the role of military wife or police husband. These are titles that are worn with pride – however, it can be easy to get swept away by your supporting role.

Research has shown that having a sense of purpose and meaning to your life is linked to positive health outcomes. Check out this great article by Amy Morin about finding purpose and meaning.

Military families know that in order to stay healthy and sane during difficult times, they must carve out their own niche and find time to focus on their own growth and happiness.

 

Lesson #5 – Practice Gratitude

 

I recently met a military spouse who had just returned from a particularly rural posting. Despite the challenges of being posted to a more isolated base (including lack of family support, few job opportunities, etc.), she proceeded to tell me how grateful she was for that posting because it gave her time to re-connect with her children.

If you’ve never been to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador, let me paint you a picture. At a population of a whopping 8,000, it is considered to be the largest population centre in its area. The weather forecast predicts snowfall in 10 out of 12 months of the year.

And yet, despite these challenges, this spouse was grateful for her time there. 

I’ll admit that gratitude has never been my forte. Luckily, there is a wealth of resources to teach us how to cultivate gratitude. Author Gretchen Rubin wrote a fascinating book called “The Happiness Project” where she reports on a full year commitment to tracking and focusings on happiness and gratitude. Learn more on her blog

 —

As a military spouse, these are lessons that I’m still learning. And they are lessons that I hope to one day master.

Speaking of gratitude, I am grateful that resiliency is a skill that can be learned. I like to picture it as a life-long workout. After each new posting, I get a chance to flex my flexibility muscle and show up just a little stronger and more resilient than before.


 

 

TEND Newsletter Archives

tend-newsletter-archives-free-resources

Join our mailing list and get free resources, blog posts and updates on up-coming TEND events sent to your mail box!

 

Edition No. 5 – Feb. 6th, 2019Looking into Mental Health – how can we support students + ourselves?

Edition No. 4 – Jan. 9th, 2019Happy New Year – create good habits, sleeping better + eat more plants.

Edition No. 3 – Nov. 27th, 2018: Toxic workplaces – what is it, how bad is it and what can we do about it? 

Edition No. 2 – Oct. 30th, 2018Overwhelm – behind at work, don’t check those after-work emails!

Edition No. 1 – Sept. 25th, 2018: Feeling Fried – how to revive, CF from the news? + tips to help burnout

 

Learning to Navigate Workplace Conflict

navigate-workplace-conflict-meaghan-welfare-mathieu

 

In today’s world of work, we can be certain of three things: there will be change, there will be stress and these two factors may eventually cause conflict between staff and/or their leaders.

We speak to many professionals who work in a wide range of sectors and the most common source of distress is the ever-increasing pace and volume of work. The expectations of working faster with fewer resources and having to do more with less, are causing serious problems. These problems can cause team members to experience resentment and internal conflict.

Many of these issues stem from budget cutbacks. As a result, companies and organizations face massive changes: layoffs, reorganizations, job abolitions, changes in mandate, elevated conflict and a lot of uncertainty and fear of what is yet to come. 

Perhaps one of the most significant changes we have seen in the last few years – again, directly related to budget cutbacks – is the increase in competitive relationships in the workplace. This can directly contribute to interpersonal conflict, increased stress and sick leave, and a general dissatisfaction with work.

Navigating through these challenging times can be hard – even for the most resilient.

So, what can we do about all this change?

While conflict and stress are never truly preventable, we can learn effective approaches for maximizing positive outcomes. Here are three strategies to help you navigate change and conflict. 

Understand the Transition Phase

 

We all know that change can be difficult, however, even more stressful is the time between the end of the old and the beginning of the new – the transition phase.

The ability to navigate through the transition phase is all about the practice of resiliency. By recognizing our strengths and working on our areas of growth, we will be better equipped to deal with the uncertainty of this phase.

It is also important to explore what about the unknown is causing us the most stress. Is it that we are afraid of losing our job? Losing a good manager? Losing control over certain roles and responsibilities?

A good strategy is to focus on the areas of our lives where we have control. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey presents the circles of concern and influence. He encourages us to focus on those things in our lives that we have influence over and avoid squandering our energy on those that are outside of our control.

However, there will be times when we truly have no control over the future. During these times, we can fall into what psychologists refer to as “fortune-telling.” This is when we obsess over all the possible scenarios that may or may not take place. Fortune-telling can be a normal response to uncertainty, but if it dominates our days and nights, we may need to seek outside support from a counsellor, coach or a mentor.

 

Reflect on Your Reactions to Stress

 

Change can be hard for many of us, and it can elicit a whole host of reactions among different people. Understanding your unique response to stress can help you be proactive about taking positive steps to care for yourself.

A good strategy is to reflect on the question: “What does change and uncertainty mean for me?” Consider this question in general terms, not just as it relates to work.

Here are a few more questions to consider:

  • Am I someone who thrives on change? Or, does change make me anxious and irritable? 
  • What are my stress responses? How do I act when I am stressed? 
  • Are my reactions to stress similar or vastly different from those of my colleagues? How can I use this information? 
  • Are my negative reactions to change short-term or longer lasting?

Some of us dislike change and uncertainty but can, with time, adjust extremely well to the new situation. Sharing this process with your close colleague and even a trusted supervisor can help prevent some misunderstandings and ruffled feelings.

 

Embrace Conflict

 

As we navigate through our work days, we are confronted with conflict on different scales – perhaps someone drank the last cup of coffee and didn’t make more; maybe someone jammed the photocopier and walked away; or maybe you are experiencing bullying and harassment.

The fact of the matter is that conflict has a ubiquitous influence on our working relationships.

A 2008 study conducted by CPP Global found that employees spend an average of 2.8 to 3.3 hours a week dealing with conflict. Human resource workers spend upwards of 51% of their week addressing conflicts. 

Unmanaged conflict is costly. It affects the mental health of employees, which results in absenteeism, employee retention issues and a negative institutional reputation. 

Good employees and strong leaders are those who are not only aware of their conflict and communication styles, but are those who are able to direct those styles and skills towards win-win outcomes and positive working relationships.

Let’s face it – the work can be fulfilling, but if the relationships are bad, the ship will sink quickly. Anchor yourself at work with the knowledge and skills you need to participate in meaningful conflict.

There are two elements to understanding conflict:

Know yourself 

If you know your default response to conflict, you will be better prepared to deal with conflicts when they arise. There are many benefits to knowing your style, including; the ability to move seamlessly between styles based on the situation; the ability to adapt your style based on the style of those you are in conflict with; and increased confidence with your ability to deal with conflict.

Know your organizational conflict culture

All companies, organizations and workplaces have unique cultures of conflict. Do you work in an environment where conflict is embraced and seen as a force multiplier, or is conflict avoided at all costs?  If you know the culture, you will be better equipped when conflict arises to be a positive contributor to the culture.

Conflict can be fun! People often laugh at this statement, but it is true. Conflict is inevitable, and the best strategy is to develop a good understanding of your own responses to conflict. Learn to welcome conflict as a productive and enhancing workplace force.

 

Parting Advice

 

Not all workplaces can afford to send their staff to outside training, so employees may need to take matters into their own hands.

Invest in your future by attending workshops and trainings that will enhance your interpersonal skills. Many not-for profit organizations offer inexpensive workshops on conflict management and communication skills.

Here are some great resources to get started:

 

Books: 

Resolving Conflicts at Work by Kenneth Cloke

Conflict Resolution for the Helping Professions by Allan Barsky

Is Work Killing You? A Doctor’s prescription for treating workplace stress by David Posen

Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success by Rick Newman

Building Resilient Teams by Dr. Patricia Fisher

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health trumps everything else in business by Patrick Lencioni


Author: By the TEND team with files from Meaghan Welfare.