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.”

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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!

Letting Go

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by Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC., RP

This is a post about transitions and making time for reflection.

And listening to podcasts.

Yes, it may seem like a strange combo, but stay with me for a sec.

I have been doing a lot of driving this summer: back and forth from my home to the cottage to deal with a septic tank (oh yes, my life is full of glamour), one trip to visit my sister and her gorgeous new baby, one to drop off my son and his buddies on their back-country camping adventure and then to bring them home four days later (the car slightly less fragrant on the way back) and two trips for memorial services and major events in our extended family.

For some of those trips, I wasn’t in a huge rush, and I decided to take some country roads to break it up and skip our major highway which seems to be full of construction and sleep-deprived truck drivers these days.

This is a big transition summer for my family as our youngest prepares to go away to university (in less than 30 days! But apparently, I’m the only one doing that countdown, and no, it’s not because I can’t wait for him to leave), and our oldest goes back to Nova Scotia to complete her final year and starts thinking about next steps.

 

Pic of my son and his friends canoeing towards a forest fire and thunderstorms. Symbolism aplenty.

So, in order to maximize time with my kids while they work summer jobs, I haven’t taken a holiday per se, but I have worked shorter hours so I can be home for a spontaneous BBQ with them and their friends, or a quick trip to the ice cream shop – or, quite frankly, just work from my little garden in the back of our house and grab a few minute to chat as they come and go. It’s precious and sweet, and I cherish my time with these two incredible young adults. Granted, they don’t do many dishes, lose their wallets and keys regularly, and text me “What’s for dinner?” or “Can I have the car?” almost daily.

It’s hectic, but it’s so fun.

One night, we all took the local ferry (20 minutes to cross, free!) to Wolfe Island and had a leisurely dinner with friends on a patio and watched the sun set and the blood moon emerge. It felt like a week-long vacation but we were minutes from our house. Amazing.

 

Kingston also has a gorgeous new urban beach which is just down the street from where I live. I love that everyone in our city finally has free access to a beautiful swimming spot. My friend Amber took this pic a few days ago, and it was likely early in the day as the beach is full to the rafters by midday:

 

When I drive alone, I love to listen to podcasts. Here are the ones I have been listening to:

 


Hidden Brain – NPR: A podcast about social psychology with Shankar Vedantam

Check out these two episodes:


Revisionist History (season 3) – Malcolm Gladwell: Gladwell is back with a third season of his fantastic RH podcast

From their website: “Each week for 10 weeks, Revisionist History will go back and reinterpret something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.”

Two great episodes that focus on memory and recall (and throws in a great story about a spy and Ingrid Bergman):


Bodies – Allison Behringer: recently launched, Bodies starts each episode with a medical mystery and does a deep dive.

The first episode is called “Sex Hurts” where Behringer explores her own journey with pelvic pain with complete candor and presents some very interesting findings in the literature and expert interviews. She also discusses the ongoing lack of knowledge among medical professionals about women’s health. This is a powerful and important topic.

I am really looking forward to the next episodes in this series.


So anyway, this is all to say that I’ve deliberately carved out time this summer to process, reflect and mull over what this massive change means in my family’s life. 

And I have also decided that mini-breaks and staycations can be sweet and restorative.

I hope that you enjoy these podcast recommendations.

Your HeART’s Work with Jessica Dolce

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Here at TEND, we are fortunate to encounter some wonderful people who work in a wide variety of fields and professions. One of those wonderful people is Jessica Dolce.

Jessica’s work focuses on helping animal care and welfare professionals navigate compassion-related stress, as well as cultivate resilience in their work and life. She’s a Certified Compassion Fatigue Educator, coach, writer and dog walker, as well as the creator of Dogs in Need of Space. 

Jessica joined us for our Train the Trainer course in 2015, and we’re so excited to see her bring the discussion of compassion fatigue into the world of animal welfare. 

 We love Jessica’s playful and edgy style – one of our favourite messages of hers is that of #CompassionateBadassery:

“Practicing compassionate badassery means mindfully making vulnerable, courageous choices that support sustainable, ethical, and satisfying caregiving.”

Today, we’re excited to share one of Jessica’s blog post as featured on HeART’s Speak. She discusses the intersection of animal care and compassion fatigue, as well as shares strategies to help manage compassion fatigue-related stress. 

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Ask anyone why they volunteer or work with animals and you’ll probably get the same answer: fast cars, fame, and heaps of money. Oh wait, that’s why people want to be rock stars! People who work with animals do it because they care. Because it is their heart’s work. 

So let me ask you something, just between us: When was the last time you thought about how the work you do with animals is having an impact on your heart?

As a volunteer or a staff member at a shelter or rescue, you’re exposed to so many animals and people who are in need of help. And all day long you collect their stories, take their photos, and care for them through your compassionate actions. At the end of the day, where do all those stories and worries go? They’re gathered in your heart (and your body and your mind).

That’s a heavy load to carry.

Compassion fatigue, according to Dr. Charles Figley, is the natural consequence of stress resulting from caring for traumatized people and animals. In other words, it’s the physical and emotional exhaustion that arises from the constant demand to be compassionate and effective in helping those in need and who are suffering.

Here’s the thing: Compassion fatigue is a normal, predictable result of doing this work. We can’t help others without being affected by it at some point. It’s an occupational hazard.

So why aren’t we better prepared to deal with it? When you first began your work with animals, did anyone pull you aside and tell you that you needed a game plan to cope with the emotional and physical challenges of doing this heartfelt work? Were you given any tools or strategies to help you cope? For most of us, the answer is no.

So many of us are experiencing compassion fatigue symptoms without ever having heard about it. So let’s talk about it a little here, ok?

Continue reading Jessica’s blog post here.


HeARTs Speak is an international nonprofit organization that’s uniting art and advocacy to increase the visibility of shelter animals. You can learn more about them on their website, or check out this feature article by consumersadvocate.org, HeARTs Speak – Because Every Voice Matters.

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Interested in joining the team of Compassion Fatigue trainers? Check out Compassion Fatigue: Train the Trainer – an online course starting February 2019. 

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Disappoint Someone Today

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by Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC., RP

A few years ago, I was running late one morning and rushed out of the house to get to work. My teenage daughter called me a few hours later and told me on speakerphone, with all her friends in the car, “mom, you left the straightening iron on, it could have caused a fire. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.” And then she burst out laughing. Other than my dangerous oversight, this was a funny interaction because my daughter was using language that she clearly had heard several times in her life (from me, I might as well admit it right now) and she was enjoying the role reversal.

I don’t know if you’re like me, but there is very little I dislike more than knowing that I have disappointed someone. I think that a lot of us caregivers have this natural predisposition to please others and take care of everyone else’s needs. This makes us excellent friends, family members and professionals. There are also deeply fulfilling positives to feeling needed, helpful and caring. I would not trade that for the world.

However, there can also be a cost to being super-human caregivers, because, it turns out, the need will ALWAYS outweigh what we can provide. This is true professionally, as well as personally.

I recently went to a grocery store to pick up several favourite food items for my family and it wasn’t until I got back to the car and drove away that I realised that I had not for a second thought about getting what I myself needed or wanted. I parked the car on a side road, and took a few minutes to breathe. What was I trying to prove? To whom? That I am invincible, without needs? That I can always take care of everyone else, no matter what?

We learn these patterns early, and they become embedded in our identity.

I come from a long line of caregivers, and maybe you do too. My mother told me about caring for her depressed mother, cooking meals for the family, taking care of household chores at age five (yes, five years old, not even in primary school yet). My brother and I took on adult responsibilities at ages nine and twelve when our parents got divorced and things were tough in our house. We are still both known for our solid, dependable, reliable character. We pride ourselves on it. It has brought us professional rewards and tremendous satisfaction. My mother too, as a matter of fact. She was a shining star in her field, and was highly recognised for her incredible work ethic, fairness and trustworthiness.

And then, one day, we start to realise that we are running on empty. Or maybe we drop the ball, forget something, let someone down inadvertently. Or we get sick, or start feeling low. Or we completely max out our bandwidth and we simply cannot do it all because the demand is completely exceeding our capacity.

The wonderful author Cheryl Richardson has written about “Extreme Self Care” in several of her books. She invites us to reassess life’s true priorities, apart from the basics of safety, shelter, food and love. I return to Richardson’s books time and again and always find a quote to support what I know to be what I truly need.  

Here is one from her book “The Art of Extreme Self-Care”: “if you want to live an authentic, meaningful life, you need to master the art of disappointing and upsetting others, hurting feelings, and living with the reality that some people just won’t like you. It may not be easy, but it’s essential if you want your life to reflect your deepest desires, values and needs.”

So, taking a page out of Cheryl’s work, I would like to invite us all to look at what’s on our plate at the moment, perhaps in the coming two months. Is there something that you have already agreed to do (personally and/or professionally) that you could say no to? What would the consequences be, of saying no? Will someone be disappointed? Is that the fear? And then what? What if, in fact, we DO need to disappoint sometimes? Are we afraid of losing love, respect, friendships? Do we exist if we are not the “go-to” at all times?

These are profound questions. I will admit. Things that I grapple with almost daily.

I had to disappoint people that I deeply care about recently. At first, I resisted. I felt so guilty, I was going to upset them, without a doubt. But something had to give. I was completely stretched at work and at home and I was totally overwhelmed. So, I did what I always do when I feel like my head is going to burst: first, I went for a long walk. Then, the next time I had an hour to myself, I went to yoga. Then I got a full night’s sleep. Finally, I went to talk to a trusted advisor.

A trusted advisor can be a dear friend, a coach, therapist or a spiritual counsellor. In my case, I am very lucky to have several wise women in my life who know me well and aren’t afraid to challenge me. They know my patterns and can also call me on my bullshit. I went to see one of them and I probably talked for 45 minutes uninterrupted, unloading my dilemmas and multitude items on my to do list. Finally my friend said “it just can’t all be done. You are going to have to disappoint some people, but also recognise that you have set a pattern over years of always saying yes and, therefore, their reaction will likely not be very good. So be prepared for that. But also, be honest, tell them what’s going on, and why you are saying no.”

So I did. I went off and disappointed a whole bunch of people.

And although I felt badly about it, I also felt tremendous relief. I carved out some space to breathe, and the need for me to reassess how much capacity I claim to have, to take on more than I can handle. To be the fixer, the reliable one at all times.

I truly believe that in order to maintain integrity and compassion in the very challenging work that we do, we must be honest about our limits, and to above all else, to be able to show ourselves compassion first before we can truly care for others.

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Recommended Readings:

Resilience, Balance and Meaning Workbook by Dr. Patricia Fisher, R.Psych., L.Psych.

Take Time for Your Life: A 7-Step Program for Creating the Life You Want  by Cheryl Richardson

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself  by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.

Compassion Fatigue Workbook by Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC., RP

#JustTryingToHelpSomeKids

Words of Wisdom from Karen Hangartner of the Huntsville CAC

 
We have had the immense privilege of working with several Child Advocacy Centres (CACs)  in Canada and the US over the past several years. CACs were created to be as the main point of contact for a child and their family who have experienced child abuse and trauma. The aim of the CACs since their inception has been to reduce the negative and potentially retraumatizing impact on children who have to attend numerous different sites and professionals in order for them to offer their testimony and receive the care and treatment they need and deserve. The National CAC in Huntsville, Alabama is one of the leading organizations providing education, treatment and consulting to agencies who work with children who have experienced trauma across the nation. Last week, our dear colleague Karen Hangartner of the Huntsville CAC wrote a powerful piece on managing our own wellness while dealing with our difficult and challenging political landscape.
#JustTryingToHelpSomeKids
 

It has been a tough couple of weeks for our country and for those of us who work with child trauma daily. My immediate, innate response has been to immerse myself in the media coverage of what has been happening on our borders. Watching newscasts has been the first thing I have done in the mornings and the last thing I do before bed. I have been angry, despondent, sad, and have felt powerless to help these children. I assume that my responses are not that much different than most CAC professionals across our country. While many Americans have also been saddened and outraged by the family separation policy, I believe child abuse professionals, in particular, are at an increased risk of being more negatively impacted. We know how wrenching it is for a child to be removed from their family. We know what child trauma looks like. We know the long-term impacts. We did not have to wait to see the images that were finally released to the public to visualize what these kids have been going through. We already had those images in our heads. While the faces might be different, make no mistake, we are all too familiar with the anguish on the faces of children who are experiencing trauma.

Read the rest of the article:

Link to Article : Secondary Trauma and Family Separation

 

Highlights from CARE4YOU Halifax 2018

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Being at the CARE4YOU conference….

Inspires me to keep going!    Reminds me that I deserve to love my work.   Taught me that I need to take care of myself too.   Makes me think that I matter.   Allowed me to ‘reset myself.’   Encouraged me to do more self-care.    Inspires me to tend to myself.

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Thank you to everyone who joined us at CARE4YOU 2018 in Halifax, NS!  We got to work alongside a diversity of wonderful professionals from across North America, including nurses, police officers, social workers, members of the military community, and many others. 

We had the pleasure of experiencing some true East Coast hospitality from our presenting sponsor IWK Health Centre. Special thanks to Holly Murphy and Prasanna Kariyawansa and the rest of the Trauma-Informed Care team for helping make it all happen!

Even though the conference is over, let’s continue the conversation about self-care. Share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIN with #CARE4YOU.

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Thanks to MJ photographics for capturing these wonderful moments from the conference. 

 

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Excerpts from “The San Diego International Conference on Child and Family Maltreatment, 2015”

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Françoise presented her “Beyond Kale and Pedicures” keynote at the Chadwick Center’s annual San Diego Conference on Child and Family Maltreatment conference in January, 2015, during which she reviews the history of compassion fatigue research, as well as suggests new directions for the field.

Below are highlights from the keynote: (Warning: Strong Language)

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The San Diego Conference focuses on multi-disciplinary best-practice efforts to prevent, investigate, treat, and prosecute child and family maltreatment. The objective of this annual conference is to develop and enhance professional skills and knowledge in the prevention, recognition, assessment and treatment of all forms of maltreatment. Learn more about the conference here.

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“My kid got into college! Now what?” – a chat with Dr. Mike Condra

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What is this podcast about?

The transition from high-school to college or university can be a very stressful time for students and their parents/guardians. Leaving home, challenging courses, meeting new people – it can all feel daunting and hard. Sometimes these compounding pressures can feel like too much. If that happens, what should a student do? Who do they turn to?  What are the best options?  For parents/guardians, what are the warning signs that your child is in need of some extra support?

Dr. Mike Condra, a veteran mental health expert with 20+ years of experience working at one of Canada’s top universities has advice to help prepare parents and students understand how to navigate and address the mental health needs of students at post-secondary school. Click here for Dr. Condra’s full biography.

Listen to the full podcast here:


Transition Resources from Dr. Mike Condra:

Beginning Post-secondary Education: Tips for Parents/Guardians PDF

Mental Health Student Handbook (English, French and Accessible versions available)