Breathe, Reset, Refuel. Rinse, Repeat.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

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

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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.

 

Three Simple Guidelines for Health Living

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We were recently visiting beloved old friends for a rare weekend away. Sitting together over a leisurely breakfast, we could see the warm Fall sunshine pouring into the dining room through the windows  – fresh fruit, yogurt and croissants offered on a beautiful table made of reclaimed wood. Delicious coffee, warm hearts. Real talk.

One them said: “Now that I am almost 60, I have high blood pressure, some other health concerns and I am worried. I know that I need to make changes to my lifestyle, but I don’t know where to start! How do I introduce more plant foods in my diet? I hate veggies. My mom used to boil the life out of veg and I have never liked them. I feel stuck.”

Another friend said to me, just last week: “We are bombarded by information about what we need to do to stay healthy, 50 ways to lose weight, 75 ways to sleep better… and a great deal of the information actually contradicts the previous studies. I feel overwhelmed – Should we fast? Should we eat only protein? No protein? Bubbly water? Flat water? It’s too much!”

They are right – it’s confusing out there.

So many research papers, reports and books on healthy living, weight loss, anti-ageing, debt reduction, decluttering… it’s a multi-million dollar industry for a reason. Nothing sticks and some of the fads are so extreme that very few people can adhere to them for more than a few weeks.

However, there is a way to simplify the body of research to a few essential guidelines. I recently attended a very interesting training on the connection between gut health, the brain and the body. They explored the most recent science on chronic inflammation and its toxic impact on our entire body and soul and how it can have a powerful influence on our immune system, mental health and increase vulnerability to disease.

Here’s a cheat sheet for my two friends (and for you if you are feeling the same way). 

 

 Guideline #1 – Eat more plants. Every day

Try to gradually increase your fresh vegetable consumption – add chopped peppers, cherry tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers or whatever raw veg you enjoy to your lunches and snacks. Bring a small tub of hummus or tzatziki to dip them in if that helps. Add a fresh green salad or lightly steamed vegetables to your dinner. Make a simple dressing from oil and vinegar, not the stuff in the bottles.

Focus on colourful vegetables: beautiful squash, rainbow chard, sweet potatoes, fresh peas, and eat lots of leafy greens, the darker the green the better. If you’re not a fan of plain cooked vegetables, steam them briefly and lightly saute them in a small amount of olive oil and garlic. Start with a small serving and increase over time. Go to the farmer’s markets and try a new vegetable each week.

My family became huge fans of spiralized zucchini this summer (a spiralizer is a little hand-cranked machine that grates vegetables into spaghetti strands). We throw the “zoodles” into a bit of garlic and olive oil in a pan, toss around for about 5 minutes and serve with fresh tomato sauce or pesto I made from the garden with whatever I had around: fresh basil, spinach, arugula, or a mixture, walnuts, almonds or cashews, (doesn’t matter), garlic and nutritional yeast instead of parmesan for my dairy-free daughter, oil, salt and pepper and you’re off to the races. Add some shrimp for the meat eaters or pork tenderloin on the side or tofu for the vegetarians and vegans.

Voila.

By the end of summer, my kids were eating one of those baseball bat-sized zucchinis each. Yes, each. That’s a lot of zucchini, but when the markets are full of them, it’s a cheap and quick source of vegetables.

 

Guideline #2 – Reduce sugar, go for simpler foods

Refined carbs are one of the main sources of inflammation-causing foods. Eating foods in their least transformed states will help you avoid refined carbohydrates, which are often full of sugar, trans-fats and excess salt (breakfast cereal, most store-bought breads, white pasta, crackers, for example) and avoid white sugar in drinks such as pop and anything sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFC). If you don’t eat stuff out of a package, can or a box, you don’t need to worry about this so much.

If you crave something sweet and transformed and full of refined carbs and other goo, go for it! Have a small serving of it. Just don’t do it at every meal.

 

Guideline #3 – Move at least 45 minutes a day

I have a friend who doesn’t seem to age. It’s weird. I know that she is in her fifties, but in the decade that I have known her, she has not changed at all. And, no, it’s not what you think – no weird injections and creepy fillers.

Her answer: she walks. A lot.

(Ok, and she most likely has great genes, probably avoided the sun and didn’t smoke).

But she makes a point of walking every single day, rain or shine. If she is somewhere where she can’t walk outside – like a hotel in the middle of an overpass (don’t laugh, that’s my weekly lot in life when I am on the road), she will do a few sessions up and down the stairs. If she’s in an airport, she takes the stairs instead of the escalators. During breaks, she walks through the hospital where she works.

How much walking? The recommended daily minimum is 45 minutes of walking each day – it doesn’t have to be all at once. You could do two or three shorter walking sessions a day if that works better for you. But you need to walk vigorously enough to be a bit out of breath and not able to carry out a conversation comfortably while you are doing it. So that’s pretty active walking for most of us.

My friend also has another trick: She always wears comfortable shoes that she can walk in. So, no stiletto excuses. Personally, I carry super comfortable little shoes in my briefcase at all times. So then I can switch out of my fancy shoes any time I want to walk.

 

How to stick to it

So that’s it. Three things: more plants, less refined carbs and sugar, more walking. 

But please if you are new to this, don’t go all New Year’s resolution on yourself, just take a look at your daily habits and make one small change each day.

A study by Woolley and Fishbach (2016) explored why many resolutions – which they call “Long Term Goals” – don’t seem to work. They concluded that most of us mere mortals need immediate rewards to stay motivated. An immediate reward, the study explained, could be simply feeling a sense of enjoyment during or immediately after the activity.

An example of this could be listening to your favourite music while doing your power-walk or your favourite book on tape. I like to listen to a great podcast series while I prepare my veggies and healthy lunches for the week ahead. It has become a Sunday ritual and I look forward to it. When I am trying to solve a problem at work and I feel stuck, I make myself leave my desk and go for a walk down to the lake close to where I live. I always come back refreshed and ready to crack the problem that was stumping me.

So that’s it – to riff on Michael Pollan’s famous recommendations:

“Eat real foods, mostly plants and not too much, walk briskly at least 45 minutes per day, not necessarily all at once, and reduce/avoid refined carbs, white sugar and HFC from your diet as much as possible. Do these things while doing something else that you enjoy.”

—–

Good Reads:

Blackburn, Elizabeth & Epel, Elissa (2017) The Telomere Effect

Hamshaw, Gena (2015) Food 52 Vegan: 60 vegetable-driven recipes from any kitchen

Liddon, Angela (2014) Oh She Glows Cookbook: Over 100 Vegan recipes to Glow from the Inside out  – (try the lentil sloppy joes, amazing).

Pollan, Michael (2008) In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

 

Websites for more plant-based cooking:

Oh She Glows  – This Canadian author wrote her first cookbook to introduce her meat eating partner to vegan cooking. Therefore the recipes are highly accessible for omnivores as well as vegans and anyone in between.

The Full Helping – Gena Hamshaw is my favourite vegan food blogger but her recipes are a little more “intermediate” level than Liddon’s. Gena does a lot of batch cooking on Sundays for the week ahead. Her sweet potato hummus is fantastic.

 

 

A Fresh Start for Fall

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September is always a welcome reset time for me. I know that not everyone feels that way about the Fall, and I have some friends who openly talk about it being a rather melancholy time for them, with the weather shifting and the lighter schedule of summer ending, but I love it all.

The farmers’ markets are filled with beautiful late summer produce, which motivates me to start cooking more; the light is changing, which makes for better photos; and I have more energy when the temperature cools. I like getting organised and back to a bit more of a sensible daily routine.

This is the first September without my lovely son at home as he has just gone off to university. There it is – the proverbial and much-discussed “empty nest”.  I coped with this wrenching loss (and excitement for him, of course) by doing a massive declutter of the house. Anyone else out there manage sadness, anger, irritation, lack of control etc. by cleaning? I find it very therapeutic.

When I was driving him to drop-off last week, I told my son that I wasn’t sure if I was more upset about him leaving or more excited about finally getting into his room to give it a deep clean. (I found about 50 single socks under his bed. Impressive).

I was only half-kidding of course.

These are profound life transitions and anyone who has been through it likely knows what I mean. A complex roller-coaster of melancholy, happiness about more free time, worry about my kids being safe and well, missing them, happiness about more free time, (wait I said that already right?) a much tidier house, and the need to make some major adjustments or just sit with this gigantic life event and maybe not change anything at all.

But even if you’re not going through such a profound life transition this Fall, we all need a reset once in a while. I have written a lot about self-care on this blog about the importance of regular good quality sleep, exercise, healthy eating, meaningful social connections and restorative time.

Here are a few things that I am doing this September to reset and get in a healthy place before my busy travel schedule starts.

 

Going on a digital mini-diet

I deleted my Facebook a few months ago (no judgement if you love FB, it was just a time-wasting vortex for me). Instead, I have committed to reading a book before bed rather than watch “just one more episode” of whatever on Netflix. I fall asleep faster and sleep better. (Of course, the truth is that I watched 33 episodes of Inspector Morse this summer, so I sound more virtuous than I really am.)

I’m probably just between shows right now, but I find it a better routine for me. I have been enjoying Tina Brown’s Vanity Fair Diaries, a book which was given to me a bit sheepishly by a lovely senior physician at our local hospital as a thank-you for a talk that I gave. He said “sometimes, we just need something decadent and completely superficial” and he was so right. I am almost through the entire brick and love tucking into it once my day is done.

 

Clean up my finances

I have enjoyed several personal finance/frugality blogs in the past. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading financial guru Gail Vaz-Oxlade in the past, I highly recommend her book Debt-Free Forever:

Here is a link to Gail’s website which is full of resources.

Here are a couple of financial blogs I have been reading recently. You don’t need to aspire to their extreme money-saving beliefs to enjoy these. “Our Next Life” has a great blog post about being a road warrior if you fly a lot for work.

Frugalwoods (and they also have a book): 

Our Next Life 

Eat more vegetables

My partner switched to a primarily plant-based diet several years ago for health reasons and became a fantastic cook. Although I am not vegetarian, I have enjoyed lightening my diet (and having a happier gut) by adding more gorgeous fresh vegetables to our meals. Here are some of the cookbooks and foods blogs we like to check out regularly:

Cookbooks

Food 52 vegan: 60 Vegetable-Driven Recipes for Any Kitchen by Gena Hamshaw

A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones

Whitewater Cooks Pure, Simple and Real Creations from the Fresh Tracks Cafe by Shelley Adams

Food Blogs

The Full Helping 

Smitten Kitchen

Food52

From the TEND resource page – A chat with Deb Thompson from Your Nourished Life – “the Elephant in the room — how so many of us use food for comfort against the general wear and tear of life.” 

Exercise

I had hip surgery several years ago to repair a torn ligament and had to completely stop my beloved long-distance running. It took time to find a replacement for this stress-relieving and creative protected time in my day. I now do a combination of cross-training 2-3 times a week and yoga 1-2 times a week when I’m feeling really dedicated. I try to fit in a long walk at least twice a week.

My dear colleague Diana, who is far more disciplined than I am, ensures that she walks 45 minutes each and every single day, rain or shine. My challenge is that when I’m on the road (which is a lot), I get more sedentary and I don’t do as much as I should. I am going to try to add some walking to my schedule. We know it’s good for us and it requires no equipment.

Books

The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer by Elizabeth Blackburn & Elissa Epel

Video

23 and 1/2 hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health? by Dr. Mike Evans

 

Improve my Sleep

Some people seem to be able to drink coffee right up until bedtime and are totally unaffected. I started feeling “revved-up” when I got to work this summer and was having difficulty falling asleep or would wake up at 3am unable to fall asleep again.

I realised that I had started increasing my caffeine consumption and needed to take it down a notch. Therefore, I have cut back on coffee by using a really good quality decaf coffee bean. I feel much better overall.

That’s it! Those are my Fall commitments to myself. What are you going to do to reset and take good care this September?

Stop. Pause. Play – Using Music for Self-Care

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by Amanda Williams, MTA, MT-BC, NMT

“Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional. It has no power to represent anything particular or external, but it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation.” 

-Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain


It’s Monday morning.

Your car makes the slow crawl down the congested and crowded 401 highway. You’re running late. Even though you know that the clock on your car dashboard is five minutes fast, the visual reminder heightens your anxiety. You have a meeting in 20 minutes.

And to top it all off, you didn’t have time to get a coffee. 

Talk about stressful.

However, this scenario is becoming more and more common in our fast and frenetic lives. We’ve found ourselves with too much to do, too many places to be, and too many people to please. We try to clear our mind, invoke our breathing practice, channel positive thinking – all to no avail. Today it isn’t working. Today is just too awful.

So, when time is short and our tempers even shorter, what’s a person to do? How can we care for ourselves? 

My advice to you – stop, pause, and press play.

Music. 

Music is part of being human

We respond to music on a deep and fundamental level – even below our level of consciousness.  It can affect our bodies and brains in profound ways without us needing to do much more than sit and listen. 

We all have the ability and capacity to respond to music (despite what your crusty, old music teacher might have implied in grade school). This is because music is a human invention – made by humans, for humans – and has been around for many, many moons. There are even some who suggest that humans may have been singing before they ever spoke a word. To quote Oliver Sacks from his fascinating book Musicophillia: Tales of Music and the Brain  – “music is part of being human.” 

And that isn’t just a nice, poetic thought.

In this book Human Universals, Donald Brown includes music as one of the cultural universals – meaning that, although the sounds, instruments and melodies may change across the world, music has been independently developed in every known human culture

 

Music affects the Brain

The study of music and the brain is a growing area of research. Here are just a few of the cool things researchers are discovering about music:

  • Music increases our dopamine levels  – the “feel good” hormone.
  • Music is intimately tied to our emotional memory. Ever have that feeling of being transported back in time when you hear a particular song?
  • Music affects our breathing rate and heart rate. We listen to lullabies to sleep, and upbeat tunes to push us through that last set of squats and burpees. 

As a music therapist, I have the unique and wonderful experience of bringing music to my clients, many of whom face extreme challenges to their physical, cognitive and emotional well-being. I’ve experienced first-hand the benefits of using music as an intentional tool for health and wellness. 

Below are some suggestions to incorporate music into your repertoire of self-care strategies.

Five Tips for using Music for Self-Care

1. Get out of that funk by keeping an SOS playlist

Music is a powerful memory stimulant and can evoke strong emotions – you can use this nifty fact to give yourself a boost when you feel bogged down. Create a playlist of songs that have a significant and positive association for you. Maybe it includes the biggest hit when you were in high school rocking that mohawk. Or maybe its a lullaby your grandma used to sing to you. My top song is “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall and Oates (I walked up and down the aisle to this one). 

2. Calm your nerves by listening to music with a slow tempo

Create a playlist of songs with a slower tempo. Try to find songs with a bpm (beats per minute) between 60-80 – the average resting heart rate. There are websites, such as this one, which can help you find the bpm of a song. 

3. Use music to process difficult emotions

Sometimes in our lives and work, we encounter some heavy stuff: whether that be through working with clients facing extreme challenges; hearing a second-hand account of a traumatic event through a colleague; or even seeing something that deeply affects us on the news (which seems to be happening more and more these days). 

I used music for self-care often when I was working on a palliative care unit. This was wonderfully rewarding work. It also left my tank empty. At the end of the day, I was often left with unresolved questions and emotions that needed processing. “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables (the anniversary version only. Sorry, Hugh Jackman) was, undoubtedly, my top played song during this time. It kind of felt like I was talking with someone who completely understood everything I was feeling. It helped me avoid “sliming” my partner with all my difficult stories (to use Françoise’s amazing phrase), as well as tide me over until my next supervision meeting. 

“Low Impact Debriefing – How to Stop Sliming Each Other” by Francoise Mathieu 

4. Have a transition anthem

We all need to be mindful of how we move from our busy time to our down time – else, we run the risk of never having any down time! Music can be a useful tool to help us navigate the transition from work to life by giving us an aural cue that work is done (reminiscent of the school bell), and also help us shift our frame of mind. 

Being from the East Coast (and having an admittedly dry sense of humour) one of my favourite songs for this purpose is “The Idiot” by Stan Rogers. If I feel as though I’m heading home with a heavy load on my shoulders, I’ll reserve the last few minutes of my commute to mindfully listen, and mentally pack up my troubles for the day.

5. Get involved and make some music!

….

Hear me out.

If you’re the kind of person who has sung the “I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket” refrain your whole life, I am here to tell you – you don’t need to be a musician to play music. Don’t let our crazy, elitist, money-obsessed society convince you that music is the domain of the talented (my lest favourite word, by the way). 

Music is a skill which can be learned – just like learning to tying your shoe. 

And it is well documented that participating in music has positive impacts on our mood, self-esteem, cognitive functioning, memory, focus – so much so that musicians even have bigger brains.

“But wait!” you cry. “I’m too old to learn music! You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!’

It’s never too late to learn. Here’s a quote from a great study that was featured in an article from National Geographic:

Jennifer Bugos, an assistant professor of music education at the University of South Florida, Tampa, studied the impact of individual piano instruction on adults between the ages of 60 and 85. After six months, those who had received piano lessons showed more robust gains in memory, verbal fluency, the speed at which they processed information, planning ability, and other cognitive functions, compared with those who had not received lessons.

Even at 85 years old, people are  benefiting from learning and playing music.

So, you now have full permission to join that community choir, dust off those piano keys, or even just belt it out in the shower. 


Suggested Readings:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, by Oliver Sacks

Tune In: Use Music Intentionally to Curb Stress, Boost Morale, and Restore Health. A Music Therapy Approach to Life, by Jennifer Buchanan

The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body by Steven Mithen


Do you have a song that “brings you back?” What is your transition anthem? Share your thoughts with us below!