Favourite podcasts to Unwind and Reset

I travel a lot for work and find that flights or train rides are an ideal time to catch up on readings, emails and to-do lists. But sometimes I need to completely switch off from trauma work and take a real break, and for that, podcasts are fantastic. I tend to find that watching movies or TV shows doesn’t leave me particularly refreshed or restored, but podcasts always seem to do the trick. They are also great for long car rides or when I am cooking a big batch of food for the week.

In a recent post (link here) I provided a list of my favourite books to manage stress, secondary trauma and burnout. Today, I wanted to offer some podcast recommendations here. Feel free to add your top choices in the comments section below!

If you are not familiar with what podcasts are, they are basically radio shows/special interest topics that you can download to your devices and listen to them even while offline. Many of them are free and you can subscribe to them through your app store, Itunes, Spotify or companies like Audible. I mostly use the app store on my phone for these and almost all of the ones that I listen to are free. I signed up and now I get them delivered into my podcast app automatically.

Now, podcast choices are very personal and not everyone has the same tastes, so it is important to try several of them out. Do you like history? Food? Design? Sports? Crime stories? (now, not too many crime stories, friends! Remember to protect yourself from unneeded trauma exposure during your leisure times).

My Top 5 faves:

  • Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell (2 seasons). Fascinating exploration of unexplored aspects of a past event that everyone remembers. I listened to the entire first series during a long drive, and had to finish it in my friend’s driveway before going in. I couldn’t stop.
  • 99% Invisible: Short shows on the intersection between social science and urban design. This one is hard to describe, just check it out. I particularly liked the one on “Unpleasant design” and how spaces are sometimes deliberately built to discourage loitering, sleeping or skateboarding. I notice that now every time that I try to get comfortable in an airport chair that has deliberately been designed to prevent us from lying down. Thanks a lot.

 

  • This American Life TAL is a very famous podcast, and the topics are all human interest and vary each week. When I don’t like it, I just skip to the next one. There was a riveting account of the experience of being a refugee trying to gain entry into the US. Some stories are more disturbing than others so choose wisely.

 

  • Hardcore History by Dan Carlin My husband and son are huge fans of these epic multi-hour explorations of historical events. I loved “The Wrath of the Khans” and the show on the protestant reform. In fact, I weeded my entire garden listening to that last one. Strange, but true.

 

  • Death, Sex and Money Yep, doesn’t get much better than those three topics.

 

Good Reads for Helpers

If you’ve met me before, you will know that I am a huge believer in bibliotherapy, the transformative power of books – at least for those who enjoy reading. (I will have other suggestions in a future post for the rest of you.)

I was once told, at the end of a two-day compassion fatigue training that I had “recommended too many books” – Impossible, I say!

When I had a private practice, I had a shelf full of my top ten reads which I would lend to clients until I realised that the return rate was, ahem, random at best. So, instead, I started compiling lists of recommended readings which I continue to share in my workshops and trainings.

On these cold winter days, snuggling up with a good read and learning new strategies to combat compassion fatigue and general stress sounds like a healthy way to beat the winter blues.

My favourite books to help professionals stay healthy and compassionate:

 

Compassion Fatigue/Vicarious Trauma

Trauma Stewardship by Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky (2009) 

The Compassion Fatigue Workbook by Françoise Mathieu (2012) (available here)

 

Organizational Health

Is work Killing You? A Doctor’s Prescription for Treating Workplace Stress (2013) by David Posen 

Building Resilient Teams by Patricia Fisher (2016) (available here)

 

Trauma and the Body 

Bouncing back: rewiring your brain for maximum happiness by Linda Graham (2013)

 Childhood Disrupted: How your Biography Becomes your Biology by Donna Jackson Nakazawa, (2015).

 The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, (2014).

The Body Bears the Burden: Trauma, Dissociation and Disease by Robert Scaer, (2014).

 

Stress/Immune System

When the Body Says No by Gabor Maté

Resilience, Balance & Meaning Workbook by Patricia Fisher (available at here)

 

Work/Life Balance

Take Time for Your Life: a 7 Step Program for Creating the Life you Want by Cheryl Richardson (1999)

 Self Care/Stress Reduction

 Little book of stress relief by David Posen

 Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter by Elaine St James

 

Developing An Action Plan

via GIPHY

New Year – New you Part 4 – Developing an action plan

Part one: New Year – New You  link here

Part two: Taming the Inner Critic link here

Part three: link here

One of my favourite books on making lifestyle changes is Take time for your life by Cheryl Richardson. Written quite some time ago, it remains, to my mind, one of the best life coaching books out there.

Cheryl Richardson invites us to take stock of all the drains on our energy: financial, emotional, spiritual, physical, clutter, etc. and helps us map out an actionable plan.

Another good book is Finding your own north star by Martha Beck.

Both of these authors invite us to reflect on our priorities and assess whether our daily decisions reflect what matters to us most.

So, where can you begin?

Who do you need in your corner? Do you have an accountability partner?

What obstacles do you anticipate?

If your goals don’t pan out at first, what is your plan to remain compassionate towards yourself and reassess your goals and adjust them?

I have always found it easier to focus on manageable changes in my life. I may not be able to pay off my mortgage in a year, but I can certainly commit to not buying lunch three days a week and put that money aside in a savings account.

It can also be helpful to create a support system with a few friends who share your goals and you can offer each other moral support when things get challenging. I know for a fact that I only get up to go to my 6am workout five times a week because I really enjoy my gym friends and we encourage each other to show up each day. If I don’t show up, I get a text that says “come tomorrow!” and so I do.

In conclusion, I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, but I do think that we can all make small realistic changes that can have a powerful cumulative impact on our physical and emotional wellbeing. The key is to decide where to begin and be prepared to make many course corrections along the way.

More resources: The Compassion Fatigue Workbook, TEND Resources.

Taking Stock

Taking Stock

Part one: link here

Part two: link here

 I learned a long time ago that self-blame and the inner critic are not my friends, and that beating myself up for what I did or did not do last week, last month, or even last year won’t help make me feel better.

So, when I’ve given myself some loving support and quelled the critic, I open my laptop and take control back, moving forward.  I don’t spend a lot of time on what happened in the past months that lead me to fall off the wagon, I look ahead and make some real plans to get back on track. This is not the same as making massive commitments that I won’t follow through on. These are called “Micro-movements”.

The author SARK has a great book called Make your Creative Dreams Real on the topic of micro-movements, which we at TEND sometimes also call 1% changes. These are very small, realistic and achievable steps.

I tend to take inventory (gently, with self-compassion) weekly. This may or may not work for you but let me share what I do:

Sundays are my “reset” day for the week that just passed and the one to come.  For example, this is the day where, in my house, we meal plan for the week. We pick 2-3 easy meals that can be done in 30 minutes or less for busy nights, or we make a big batch of something healthy that will keep us going for 3 meals during the hectic work week.

I make a grocery list, and go get what we need. If we opted for big batch, Sunday afternoon is spent cooking this up while listening to a great podcast or some music.

On Sundays, I also do a gentle check in with my physical health and finances:

Exercise:

Have I been able to exercise (long walks count, no need for sweaty Crossfit sessions here) at least 3-4 times in the past week? There is great literature on the benefits of 45-minute walks per day and lifting weights to help bone mass and ongoing strength as we age. Have I done at least 2 sessions of heavy weights? Mobility is also very important – staying flexible and strong to keep our hips and knees going. There is also some great new research on the benefits of shorter intense workouts. For some good reads on this topic check out the “7 minute workout” and the books Younger Next Year and The Telomere effect.

 If I am travelling a lot, I don’t get nearly as much exercise as I would like. In those cases, I move on and just plan to do more the weeks that I am home. Sometimes sleeping in is the best idea vs dragging myself, sleep-deprived, to an early workout.

Eating

Have I been eating enough greens? Too much caffeine or sugar? I don’t linger on the week that was passed, I just make plans to add some healthy things to my diet. I know what works for my body and what makes me feel bloated and uncomfortable. When I travel, it is harder to get enough fruit and vegetables so I try to increase those when I am home. I also don’t have forbidden foods because that is known to increase the likelihood of bingeing. But I ramp up the good healthy stuff on my plate.

If you didn’t have a chance to listen to our great conversation with Dr. Deb Thompson of “Your Nourished Life” in December, have a listen now. Link Here. Deb is a psychologist and expert in weight wellness. Her website and facebook page are full of compassionate, realistic and healthy approaches to achieving weight wellness. Learn more about Dr. Deb Thompson here. Deb has a totally new way to look at our relationship with food and our body.

Finances

Many helping professionals have told me that they are not particularly good with money management. If that is your case, I highly recommend reading Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s book Debt-free forever. It is a simple, step-by-step series of tools to get a handle on your finances.

Numbing out

Now for the most important one – numbing out. Many of us who work in highly demanding and stressful fields also tend to feel emotionally and physically drained at the end of the day. Watching a show or two, playing a game of solitaire or enjoying a bit of online browsing might be a nice way to reset when our brain is full and we just don’t have the energy to do any heavy lifting intellectually. However, we all know the difference between a nice restorative break and numbing out, don’t we? One delicious glass of wine with dinner is the not the same as reaching for the bottle when we walk in from work. When watching two episodes of your favourite show turns into a 5 hour Netflix marathon, it is clear that we are using it to self-medicate from stress or overload.

Can you take a gentle inventory of your favourite unwinding activity? How do you know when it has morphed into avoidance and self-medication? I invite you to monitor your pattern for a week or two and see whether this is helping you reset or whether it has become a problematic behavior.

Next week: Developing an action plan

Taming the Inner Critic

 Part two – Taming the Inner Critic

To read week one go here: https://www.tendacademy.ca/newyearnewyou/

Ah, the inner critic… You know, that angry, negative voice that most of us carry within us. The one that is hurling insults and blame at us and saying things like “what’s wrong with you? You’ve been here before, how can you have allowed this to happen YET again?” a well-honed voice that knows exactly what to say to make you feel like you have failed in your new commitments to do better.

 When I feel overwhelmed and unhappy with my physical, emotional or financial health, I start by taking a deep breath.

Really, try it now. Take a nice long deep breath.

Next, I start paying attention to my inner-critic and try to have a detached compassionate look at what is going on.

I acknowledge the inner critic and I try to park it to the side: “I hear you, old friend, there you are, good old faithful negative voice, you!”

If that doesn’t work and I feel really overwhelmed by the negative voice, I call or text a friend, someone who knows me well and who will lovingly provide me with support. Someone who has been around long enough to know my patterns and can be a strong sounding board. This person doesn’t need to solve anything, they just need to be able to listen, with love.

If that doesn’t work, and I’m really feeling distressed and paralyzed, I call a trusted therapist and get some additional support.

Over time, I have found some strategies that have helped me stay on top of my stuff.  One of them is reflection and processing work. Getting a better understanding of my family history, the triggers and strengths and a sense of the lifelong patterns of my life.  If you had a difficult childhood, and this is a continuous struggle for you, I highly recommend that you read Donna Nakazawa’s book “Childhood Disrupted” which is full of tools to manage difficult emotions for those who had adverse childhood events.

The tool that I use daily is called self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff is the author of a book and series of resources on Self-Compassion, and I highly recommend that you check it out (http://self-compassion.org).

The key aim of self-compassion is to learn ways to soothe ourselves when we are overwhelmed and self-blaming. The fact is that sometimes we make mistakes, maybe even really screw up, and other times what is happening to us is truly outside of our control. Neff offers some powerful words of wisdom and some guided meditation tools on her website.

Helping professionals tend to be pleasers, doers and often perfectionists. It makes us great at our jobs but also puts us at risk for overcommitting ourselves, burnout, exhaustion and self-neglect. We need to find ways to manage our own energy before we can be of service to others. A good starting place is to make self-care resolutions that are realistic and achievable.

Next Week: Take stock

Week four: Develop an action plan

New Year – New You?

 

If you stop using that new gym membership by February – you are not alone

Week One

As I have written before, (“Beyond Kale and Pedicures”  link here) we are a very enthusiastic self-help culture. Many of us love the feeling of fresh starts and make frequent commitments to better lifestyle choices and behaviors.

Making resolutions brings temporary relief to whatever mess we feel we’re in (financial, weight, exercise, TV, sugar, alcohol – insert your favorite struggle here) until we fall off the wagon. And, as the data shows, we fall off the wagon a lot!

Fitness centers count on this very human flaw of ours: They know that only 33% of all of the memberships they sell will convert into regular users. Put it this way: if everyone who buys a membership actually used the gym, fitness centers would be completely over capacity, every day!  And that never happens, right? Gyms have a few peak hours, of course, after work or on weekends (and especially in January), where you may have to line up for a machine or have to sign-up for a particularly popular class, but over the year this all works itself out since sixty-seven per cent of all paying members never use the place.

Yet many people keep on paying their dues, either because they are locked into a year-long commitment, or because having the membership alleviates their guilt. Somehow having that gym card in our wallets provides the ongoing promise to ourselves that next week, (next week for sure!) we will go and recoup that investment.

But many of us don’t.

That is also why there is a thriving multi-billion dollar self-improvement industry that keeps on pumping out new wisdom and tips every January: We buy new books and follow “lifestyle” gurus, we spend more money on organizers and products that will make us look younger, thinner or bigger, stronger and richer.

We all start out with the best of intentions, of course. But then, then our real life becomes challenging again – a loved one gets ill, deadlines pile up and we can’t make it to the workouts, or we get sick and are too tired to keep cooking healthy foods … then we stop completely and feel guilty about it. By March, that new treadmill in your basement becomes a drying rack for your kid’s hockey equipment, and that juicer starts collecting dust above your fridge. Then, as a result of this  so-called failure, we self-blame which leads to more eating/spending/inertia/nine hour Netflix binges or whatever is your Achilles heel.

You know what I mean?

How can we break that cycle?

To celebrate the start of 2018, I would like to share some of my favorite strategies in the coming weeks. I will also mention some great resources that I have used for years to stay well and to stop committing to resolutions that set me up for failure.

If you are interested in reading more on self-care, please have a look at The Compassion Fatigue Workbook  (link here) where I discuss self-assessment strategies in depth.

Warmly,

Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC., RP

Specialist in High-Stress Workplaces
Co-Executive Director, TEND

Next blog post: Taming the inner critic

Week three: Take stock

Week four: Develop an action plan

A Chat with Dr. Deb Thompson from Your Nourished Life — Dec. 4th, 2017

 

A webinar on how to curb emotional eating and over-eating. 

Is your weight up and wellness down, along with your energy, mojo, and sense of self?
Are you sick and tired of feeling frumpy, lumpy and dumpy in ho hum clothes?
Are you generally thoughtful and kind, but not so compassionate or nurturing with yourself?
 
Françoise Mathieu hosted this webinar with co-presenter, Dr. Deb Thompson, a clinical psychologist and a Licensed Coach who has had her own weight-loss journey.
Enjoy listening to a chat about the elephant in the room — How so many of us use food for comfort against the general wear and tear of life.

Listen to the archived webinar here:

[Updated 2018] – Find our more about Dr. Deb Thompson at www.drdebthompson.com

Download the PDFs.

 
The amazing quote is from Caitlin Moran’s website – Minding Therapy

TEND Associate Rebecca Brown on Workplace Compassion Fatigue

 

Rebecca Brown has a Master’s Degree in Social work and her career has spanned 28 years including medical social work, child welfare and domestic violence. For the majority of her career Rebecca was a Child Protection Team Supervisor at the Children’s Aid Society and was a founding member of the Critical Incident Debriefing Team for CAS staff following traumatic work events. She was a provincial trainer for the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies and taught the curriculum on Wellness and Self Care. Rebecca has recently been appointed as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine, Schulich School of Medicine, Western University.

Rebecca now has a particular interest in Lifestyle Medicine and incorporates this into her practice of Wellness Coaching. Rebecca has been working with Francoise Mathieu and delivering workshops and seminars on the topics of Vicarious Trauma and Compassion Fatigue to helping professionals in a variety of social settings to balance the impact of the “cost of caring” for those in need.

Warning signs of Vicarious Trauma/Secondary Traumatic Stress and Compassion Fatigue

The information in this article is adapted from “The Compassion Fatigue Workbook

Click here for downloadable PDF to share with your organization

 

Learning to recognise one’s own warning signs of compassion fatigue (CF) and vicarious/secondary trauma (VT/STS) serves a two-fold purpose:

First, it can serve as an important check-in process for someone who has been feeling unhappy and dissatisfied, but does not have the words to explain what is happening to them.

Secondly, developing a warning system allows you to track your levels of emotional and physical depletion. It also offers you tools and strategies that you can implement right away.

 

Developing a Warning System

 

Say that you were to learn to identify your CF/STS symptoms on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the worst you have ever felt about your work/compassion/energy, and 1 being the best that you have ever felt).

Then, you learn to identify what an 8 or a 9 looks like for you i.e. “when I’m getting up to an 8, I notice it because I don’t return phone calls, think about calling in sick a lot and can’t watch any violence on TV” or “I know that I’m moving towards a 7 when I turn down my best friend’s invitation to go out for dinner because I’m too drained to talk to someone else, and when I stop exercising.”

Being able to recognize that your level of CF/STS is creeping up to the red zone is the most effective way to implement strategies immediately before things get worse.

But look back to what also emerges in this process: you are starting to identify the solutions to your depletion.

If I know that I am getting close to an 8, I may not take on new clients with a trauma history, I may take a day off a week, or I may return to see my own therapist.

In order for you to develop your warning scale, you need to develop an understanding and an increased awareness of your own symptoms of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma/STS.

For a more complete list of Warning Signs, have a look at the Compassion Fatigue Workbook or Compassion Fatigue 101 Course.

 

Three Levels of Symptoms

 

In their book Transforming the Pain, Saakvitne and Pearlman (1996) have suggested that we look at symptoms on three levels: physical, behavioural and psychological/emotional. As you will see, there is often overlap between these categories.

Take a look at the list below and notice which ones are your most frequent warning signs:

Physical Warning Signs

  • Exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Increased susceptibility to illness
  • Sore back and neck
  • Irritable bowel, GI distress
  • Rashes, breakouts
  • Grinding your teeth at night
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hypochondria

Behavioural Signs

  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs
  • Anger and Irritability at home and/or at work
  • Avoidance of clients/patients
  • Watching excessive amounts of TV/Netflix at night
  • Consuming high trauma media as entertainment
  • Not returning phone calls at work and/or at home
  • Avoiding colleagues and staff gatherings
  • Avoiding social events
  • Impaired ability to make decisions
  • Feeling helpless when hearing a difficult client story
  • Impostor syndrome – feeling unskilled in your job
  • Problems in personal relationships
  • Difficulty with sex and intimacy due to trauma exposure at work
  • Thinking about quitting your job (not always a bad idea by the way!)
  • Compromised care for clients/patients
  • Engaging in frequent negative gossip/venting at work
  • Impaired appetite or binge eating

Emotional/Psychological Signs

  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Negative self-image
  • Depression
  • Increased anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Impaired appetite or binge eating
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Guilt
  • Reduced ability to feel sympathy and empathy towards clients or family/friends
  • Cynicism at work
  • Anger at work
  • Resentment of demands being put on you at work and/or at home
  • Dread of working with certain clients/patients/certain case files
  • Diminished sense of enjoyment/career(i.e., low compassion satisfaction)
  • Depersonalization – spacing out during work or the drive home
  • Disruption of world view/heightened anxiety or irrational fears
  • Intrusive imagery (You can read an excellent description of this in Eric Gentry’s Crucible of Transformation article).
  • Hypersensitivity to emotionally charged stimuli
  • Insensitivity to emotional material/numbing
  • Difficulty separating personal and professional lives
  • Failure to nurture and develop non-work related aspects of life
  • Suicidal thoughts

Suicidal or hopeless thoughts? Get help: Remember that no matter how stressful and/or traumatic our work, it is not a normal consequence of VT/STS to experience suicidal thoughts or prolonged bouts of depression or hopelessness. Please seek help as soon as you notice these symptoms in yourself. If you are worried about confidentiality, or unsure where to turn, please consult online sources of support. There are urgent suicide support hotlines available 24/7. Don’t suffer alone. Get help. You deserve it and so do the people who love you.

Check out this additional post for more information on symptoms: Extra Information on Signs and Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma

 

Take Stock

 

Once you have read through and circled your most frequent warning signs, try and identify your top three most frequent signs. I call them the “Big Three”. Are they all physical, emotional or behavioural, or do you see a mixture of signs from each category? Would you say that you are currently in the Green (healthy), Yellow (warning sign) or Red zone with your overall functioning?

Now, ask a loved one or close colleague to share with you what they think your “Big Three” warning signs are, at home and at work.

 

Next Steps

 

Each warning sign has specific tools that can help reduce your levels of stress. For example, if you are experiencing a lot of secondary exposure-related symptoms, you may wish to examine your caseload or the availability of debriefing and grounding strategies. You may also  need to assess the level of extraneous trauma images and stories that you are exposing yourself to in your personal life.

If you have a lot of emotional symptoms, you may consider consulting with a well-trained mental health professional who is familiar with vicarious trauma and the nature of the work that you do.

Continue reading: Tools to Reduce Vicarious Trauma, Secondary Trauma, and Compassion Fatigue

Need more resources? Check out our online courses.

 


Resources for Individuals

 


Sources:

Figley, C.R. (Ed). (1995) Compassion Fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Figley, C.R. (Ed.). (2002) Treating Compassion Fatigue, New York: Brunner/Routledge.

Gentry, E. J., (2002) Compassion Fatigue: A Crucible of Transformation in Journal of Trauma Practice, Vol 1. No. 3/4. pp.37-61.

Killian, K. (2008). Helping till it hurts? A multimethod study of compassion fatigue, burnout, and self care in clinicians working with trauma survivors in Traumatology, (14, 2) 32-44.

Mathieu, F (2012) The Compassion Fatigue Workbook – New Revised and Expanded Edition

Van Dernoot Lipsky, L. (2009) Trauma Stewardship: A guide to caring for self while caring for others. BK Publishers.

Saakvitne, K.W.; Pearlman, L. A., & the Staff of the Traumatic Stress Institute (1996): Transforming the pain: A workbook on vicarious traumatization. New York: W.W. Norton.

 

© Françoise Mathieu 2017