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?

Your HeART’s Work with Jessica Dolce

guest-blog-jessica-dolce-your-hearts-work

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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Becoming Trauma-Informed – A Key to Sustaining Compassion and Offering High Quality Care

by Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC. RP.

Every single helping professional I have ever met has told me that, at some point in their career, they had the following reflections:

1) Why wasn’t I properly trained to work with difficult clients/patients?

2) If I knew then what I know now, maybe I would have been more patient and compassionate with this particular client/patient

 and they have also asked themselves a variation of this question:

How do I stay compassionate with the “non-compliant”, difficult, “manipulative” clients?

Those of you who know me will know why I put those two terms in brackets – I utterly dislike those two words “non-compliant” and “manipulative” and I have tried to never use them in my own practice when referring to clients I have worked with. Would you not agree that they are words laden with our own judgment and feelings of frustration –  us, the exasperated service providers who feel that the folks we serve are not behaving according to the plan that would make our work so much easier? Or, at times, that those words are a reflection of our sadness for what we see as self-destructive sabotage on our clients’ part, and that this understandably upsets us?

A diabetes nurse recently said to me: “it’s so frustrating, our patients need to do some basic things – check their sugars, eat right, move their bodies, take their insulin, and so many of them don’t – with dire consequences. I can’t seem to get through to them, and then, they get worse. I have run out of ideas and energy to help them!”

I have heard the same from so many different helping professionals: domestic violence workers who see a person return to a terrible situation, addiction counselors, judges, police officers who work with victims of sex trafficking, paramedics who roll their eyes at “frequent flyers” … the list gets longer each time I meet a new group of helpers.

If you’re like me, and you’ve been in the helping field for 20 years or more, the odds are that you didn’t learn a lot or anything about the long term consequences of childhood trauma and neglect back when you were studying to become a professional. Although I went to two excellent graduate schools, my training programs barely touched on trauma at all, except for a brief class on PTSD, but that was mostly in relation to soldiers, and not much else was said about it.

But that has changed now. We have solid research and tools to allow each one of us to become more trauma-informed and this knowledge can allow us to work with challenging clients (and colleagues) with a better understanding of the reasons for some of their actions and choices. This, in turn, can allow us to remain compassionate and to be more helpful to them during their challenging and brave journeys through life.

Here are some resources to become more Trauma-Informed and continue the journey towards compassion for others and for ourselves.

TED TALK: Watch Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris’ amazing presentation on the Adverse Childhood Experience Study for a 16-minute overview. A must-watch!

https://www.ted.com/talks/nadine_burke_harris_how_childhood_trauma_affects_health_across_a_lifetime/up-next

BOOKS:

Childhood Disrupted: How your Biography becomes your Biology and how you can Heal” by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

“In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction” by Gabor Maté

Webinar to stay compassionate: Compassion Fatigue 101

Websites:

Trauma Informed Care Project http://www.traumainformedcareproject.org

ACES too High website: https://acestoohigh.com

What is Organizational Health?

Organizational Health

Downloadable PDF to share with your organization

It is widely accepted that many jobs are stressful. Anyone working in fast-paced, high-pressure environments can attest to the wear and tear that they can experience over time when the demand outweighs their capacity to deliver, or when the work is dangerous or numbingly repetitive, when the hours are long, and the pay is low, or when they work in a service industry where dissatisfied customers use staff as a lightning rod for their frustration or even, at times, their rage.

Ask any airline customer service agent what it is like to handle a horde of angry travellers when all flights have been delayed by an unexpected storm and this poor person’s power to solve the dilemma is limited, or even non-existent. Ask the factory worker operating a dangerous machine for 12 hours a day on a line with poor working conditions and a hostile climate. Ask the call centre operator (call centres have one of the highest turnover rate of any job at the current time) where you are underpaid, monitored for the length of your calls (“that was too long” “you said the wrong thing, take the next call, go go go!”), and sometimes they don’t even have the right to go to the bathroom during a shift without being penalized. The speech writers working to deadline, the day trader, the server in a diner who is on their feet for 12-hour shifts, air traffic controllers … the list is long, and most of us have worked in such settings at some point in our lives.

The term organizational health refers to the varied and often complicated factors that affect the capacity and performance of an organization. Work hours, type of work, stress levels, budgets, workload, turnover and so many other factors all have an impact on the health of an organization.  At the very core of this is the health of each individual including: how they feel about their jobs, how they perform them, how committed they are to their roles and how their jobs are affecting them personally.

How Does Workplace Trauma Exposure Affect Organizational Health?

Stress has an enormous impact on the health of an organization, and when the added element of secondary and/or direct trauma exposure is present, balancing workplace wellness becomes far more complicated, and we would argue, even more critical. High-stress, trauma-exposed work environments such as health care, law enforcement, mental health services, child welfare and many other related fields have unique and specialized organizational health needs.

 

Why Don’t Employee Wellness Initiatives Always Work?

Many human resource companies have become interested in staff wellness over the past two decades and have explored ways to reduce burnout, increase employee satisfaction and eliminate workplace grievances, disability claims and attrition. Some of those initiatives have been effective, but the generic “in-the-box” workplace wellness programs have not always been successful in the complex settings that we, at TEND, work in: hospitals, correctional facilities, child welfare, law enforcement, anti-human trafficking, refugee boards and similar challenging work environments. Over the years, we have been approached by leadership in these workplaces who are extremely concerned about the emotional and physical health of their staff and are witnessing high turnover rates, low morale, and difficulty attracting and retaining skilled labour.

 

A Framework to Understand Organizational Health in Trauma-Exposed Settings

 TEND’s Co-Executive Director, clinical psychologist and trauma specialist Dr. Patricia Fisher, became very interested in the truly unique characteristics of workplaces that have regular exposure to a combination of high stress, high volume of work, diminished resources and trauma. Dr. Fisher has spent the past two decades developing a framework to understand these workplaces which she refers to as “high-stress, trauma-exposed” work settings.

Dr. Fisher developed the Organizational Health Model for Complex Stress environments that can assist leadership in developing a better understanding of best practices and effective interventions to support their teams.

Dr. Fisher’s model has demonstrated that we need to start with the foundation elements which are Leadership, Succession Planning and Health and Wellness.

Leadership: Leaders are people too, and they are powerful role models for their staff. Leaders are also often working under extremely high stress burdens themselves. We also need to remember that leaders are often promoted into their roles with very little training or experience managing other people, and we need to give them the time, support and training to get competent in their new role.

Succession planning refers to several factors: addressing the inevitable loss of staff through retirement (a very large demographic shift that we are in the midst of, with many Baby Boomers retiring), illness and job change, and the critical need to attract and retain new hires such as Millennials who often have different priorities and values in terms of work-life balance. As the proportion of new workers in teams increases, we often find that the more experienced staff are depleted and have sometimes become disillusioned and are, as a result, unable to perform the crucial role of supporting and guiding their more junior team members.

Health and wellness is also an essential element. New research on the impact of toxic stress has clarified how trauma-exposed work creates a unique climate with increased risk for serious stress and burnout effects for individuals, leaders and teams. These can inevitably lead to a rise in sick time, low morale, lack of team cohesion and high turnover. These consequences can, in turn, seriously limit a team’s ability to work effectively and efficiently.

 

Where to Start?

The good news is that there are some excellent resources to help high-stress, trauma-exposed organizations assess their functional capacity and decide where to begin in implementing effective strategies to support their teams.

 

1) The Secondary Traumatic Stress Informed Organization Assessment Tool (STSI-OA)

Dr. Ginny Sprang, from the University of Kentucky and some of her colleagues (Sprang et al, 2014) developed a free Organizational assessment tool: the Secondary Traumatic Stress Informed Organization Assessment Tool (STSI-OA). The STSI-OA is an assessment instrument that can be used by any organizational member at any level to evaluate the degree to which their organization is STS-informed, and able to respond to the impact of secondary traumatic stress in the workplace.

To access this test, go here: http://www.uky.edu/CTAC/STSI-OA

Click Here to read an article on the psychometric properties of the STSI-OA

 

2) Organizational Health in Trauma-Exposed Environments – Online Course

This intensive online course was designed by Dr. Patricia Fisher for managers and supervisors of teams working in high stress, trauma-exposed environments. The course supports participants to be effective leaders and to build strong, resilient and productive teams by exploring their vital role in Organizational Health and recognizing the impact of chronic stress on individuals, teams and organizations.

LINK to the COURSE Here

 

3) The Organizational Health Roadmap

Dr. Fisher also developed the Organizational Health Roadmap to meet the needs of the thousands of individuals from so many trauma-exposed fields who have taken our Organizational Health and Leadership training and who asked for more resources to take them beyond the basics. The Organizational Health Roadmap provides a guided 10-module program that supports your Implementation Team as you develop a practical and sustainable action plan to meet the specific need and circumstances of your team.

While trauma-exposed organizations share a range of specific risks and resiliency factors, the Roadmap program recognizes that each workplace experiences a unique profile. You are the experts in your own workplaces – and the Roadmap is designed to guide you as you first evaluate your own unique resiliency and risk profile, and then build a custom set of practical solutions and implementation plans to fit your specific circumstances.

Organizational Health, wellness

Learn more about the Roadmap here
Books by Dr. Patricia Fisher

 

Sources:

 Fisher, P. (2016) Building Resilient Teams: Facilitating Workplace Wellness & Organizational Health in Trauma-Exposed Environments. Kingston, TEND ACADEMY.

 Sprang, G., Ross, L., Blackshear, K., Miller, B. Vrabel, C., Ham, J., Henry, J. and Caringi, J. (2014).  The Secondary Traumatic Stress Informed Organization Assessment (STSI-OA) tool, University of Kentucky Center on Trauma and Children, #14-STS001, Lexington, Kentucky.

Balancing our Work and Life while Staying Well – Five Essential Tools

By Françoise Mathieu

This post was initially published on the Oregon OEA Choice Trust website: http://oeachoice.com/5-essential-tools-for-balancing-your-work-and-life-while-staying-well/

I grew up in a family of educators. My parents moved from Montreal to the high arctic in the early 1960s and worked in a variety of schools in very remote Inuit communities for the following decades. Over the years, my father was a teacher and then became school principal, then superintendent and eventually director general of an entire region. He travelled extensively for work, visiting numerous villages for a third of each year, dealing with labour disputes, financial cutbacks and the complex societal challenges facing First Nations communities. My mother co-developed one of the very first teacher training program for Inuit women in Canada.

Needless to say, my parents were very dedicated and hard-working. Education reform and the challenges of the work was daily conversation in our household. Working as educators in small communities presented many challenges and rewards: our house was often the informal hotel, food bank and shelter, and villagers would frequently knock on our door for advice or support.

Are you living in the community that you serve?

If you live and work in the same community, you may have experienced something similar: you go to the grocery store on a Saturday in your sweatpants, and a parent accosts you for advice on their child’s problematic learning difficulties. You go to a party and are immediately grilled on your thoughts about educational policies or the best ways to beat the SATS.

How do you find balance between work and your private life?

I would say, in hindsight, that my parents were frequently completely exhausted at night, and did not know a thing about work-life balance. Being from the War Generation, born in the 1940s, their cohort had not learned about the importance of balance and self-care. For them, you worked until you fell down, and then you got up again and worked some more. They had very little time for themselves. This was the norm among the educators that I knew.

Burnout Research

So how can we find balance working in the education field? How do we learn to set limits so that we can bring our best selves to work and yet not burn out? How do we juggle the competing demands of our home lives and careers?

Notions of self-care are fairly new to the education field. In fact, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that researchers started investigating the concept of work-related burnout among mental health professionals and nurses.  Compassion fatigue, the emotional and physical exhaustion that can lead to a shift in our ability to experience empathy for others is a concept that emerged in the 1990s and lead to the growth of an entirely new field exploring provider wellness.

Here’s what we now know: we cannot expect to work in highly demanding and frequently under-resourced environments without taking some active steps to maintain our emotional and physical health. Some workplaces have implemented some very successful workplace wellness initiatives and we have featured them in our article “Beyond Kale and pedicures” (https://www.tendacademy.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/BEYOND-KALE-AND-PEDICURES-Article.pdf)

The good news is that we now have over 25 years of research that map out what works and steps that we can each take to stay well. I have written extensively on this topic in my book The Compassion Fatigue Workbook and related articles.

Here are my top five favourites:

What works? 5 Key steps

Step one: Take stock

Cheryl Richardson wrote an outstanding book called Take Time for your Life in 1990 which provides a great self-assessment checklist called “What’s draining you?”. Richardson invites readers to identify the main drains on their energy: relationships, environment, body mind and spirit, work and money. Completing this checklist allows you to decide where to begin. Which of these areas is causing you the most stress at the moment? Which area shows the most possibility of improvement?

Step two: Identify your warning signs

How do you know you’re headed for trouble? What are your most recurrent physical warning signs? What about emotional reactions? Have you noticed some predictable behavioural patterns that show up when you’re overloaded? Learning to recognise your top three warning signs can help you catch things early before you become too depleted.

Step three: Pick your battles at work

The field of education is complex, and frequently under-resourced. Some of us deal with these realities more successfully than others. If you work with a colleague or a team that is frequently negative or engage in constant office gossip or naysaying, consider making more strategic alliances in the workplace. Venting once in a while is fine, daily gripe sessions bring nothing constructive to the workplace.

Step four: develop a community of support

Research has shown that social support is one of the best strategies to address compassion fatigue and burnout. Who are your accountability partners? Who do you spend time with at work and at home? Can they be there to help you stay on target with your self-care goals?

Step five: Reassess where you are at regularly

I recently wrote a new year’s resolution blog post on my website: www.tendacademy.ca where I discuss my lack of enthusiasm for new year’s resolutions. Rather than making big commitments once a year, I prefer to have weekly tweaks and adjustments. On Sundays, each week, I take gentle stock: how am I doing? What needs more attention? What needs tweaking?

Conclusion

My parents excelled in their careers, but it took a significant toll on their health and their personal lives. I look back on their work with admiration but also see a cautionary tale of working without balance. We know better now. Where will you start?

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

 

Tools to Reduce Vicarious Trauma/ Secondary Trauma and Compassion Fatigue

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

Click here for a downloadable PDF to share with your organization

 

“What can I do personally and professionally to reduce the negative stress-related effects of my work?”

We have many resources to recommend. At the bottom of this page, you will find an extensive list of resources, recommendations and selected articles.

[Please note that the outside resources listed here are for reference and personal interest only. It is not intended as a recommendation or endorsement of organizations.]

 

Where to start?

 

For starters, it is helpful to identify the main challenges that you are facing: Is it related to too much exposure to difficult stories or a lack of referral resources? Is it work overload or an unsupportive supervisor/toxic team? Are you struggling with difficult personal circumstances that are affecting your ability to manage your stress? Do you feel overwhelmed with your complex case load and feel that you lack training in managing the most difficult and challenging situations?

The answers will likely be as varied as there are professions and individuals reading these lines. So where can we start?

We often disappoint people who come to us for sound bites and “quick fixes” to these complex issues – the solutions are complicated, just like the work that we do is multi-faceted and challenging. But here are some places to start:

 

Which of these factors are true for you?

 

Recent research in the field of STS and Compassion fatigue suggests that there are particular vulnerability factors that can increase your likelihood of being negatively impacted by your work:

 

Personal Vulnerability

Do you have your own history of trauma? Are you currently struggling with a difficult family/personal circumstance? Do you work with a population
that shares some of your own personal experiences of oppression and/or discrimination? Do you have a history of mental illness or addiction that is currently re-emerging? All of these factors can contribute to increased vulnerability when doing high-stress, trauma-exposed work.

Traumatic Grief & Loss in the Workplace

Have you experienced losses at work? The death(s) of clients or patients, someone that you worked with who disappeared and never returned, providing you with no closure? A beloved colleague who died unexpectedly or retired or was laid off? The loss of a well-respected supportive supervisor or mentor? Significant changes to your workplace?

Direct exposure

Are you exposed to dangerous situations in your work? Have you ever been threatened, assaulted physically or verbally on the job? Is your work high-risk?

Secondary/Vicarious Trauma

Are you regularly exposed to indirect trauma at work? Hearing/viewing difficult case files, traumatic images and stories?

Compassion Fatigue

Have you experienced a shift in your ability to feel empathy for individuals you work with and/or colleagues or loved ones? Some situations can be very depleting – chronically desperate clients who don’t follow through on your recommendations and keep coming back in distress, a very large homogenous case load where all of the stories start sounding the same, years of exposure to traumatic stories that no longer generate any reaction in you.

Systems Failure

Many professionals describe experiencing moral distress around failures of the system: rules, laws and policies that you disagree with but are still mandated to comply with and that you feel are causing further harm, lack of referral resources and other injustices. All of these can lead to a pervasive feeling of anger and contribute to burnout and workplace toxicity and a decrease in the quality of care provided.

Burnout

Burnout can result from a negative overall workplace experience: your hours, your salary, your workload, the health of your work climate, rewards and recognition, who you immediately report to, the quality of your work relationships with colleagues and a perception of fairness and adequate support to do your job in the best way possible. A negative combination of these factors can lead to burnout.

 

 What works?

First, take a look at which elements of this Venn Diagram are most salient for you, and begin by addressing those that feel the most manageable.

As the saying goes “Dig where the ground is soft”. Seek support, formally with a good mental health practitioner or a coach, informally with colleagues and friends, look at ways to reduce trauma exposure in your personal/leisure time.

Learn some stress-reduction techniques; get more training in trauma-informed practices which can be highly protective in retaining compassion when working with difficult cases and finally, please be open to the possibility of changing jobs if things are just too challenging where you are now.

As Cheryl Richardson says in her book “Take time for your life” (1999) “Do not confuse difficult choices with no choice.” There is too much at stake to ignore compassion fatigue and secondary trauma.


TEND Training

Live Training: Bring one of our TEND associates to your organization for specialized training in resilience, compassion fatigue, etc.

Online Courses: Cutting edge online training for high-stress and trauma-exposed workplaces. Discounts available for larger groups. 

Attend a TEND Conference

TEND Books

Building Resilient Teams by Dr. Patricia Fisher – a workbook designed as a practical, realistic and effective approach to building team resiliency and cohesion through a sequence of safe and respectful guided discussions.

Resilience Balance and Meaning Workbook by Dr. Patricia Fisher – designed to provide you with practical help in addressing the effects of workplace stress, burnout and trauma. You will see that it is designed as a highly interactive tool and you are encouraged to make the book your own by responding to the frequent questions, reflections and self-assessments.

The Compassion Fatigue Workbook by Françoise Mathieu – a lifeline for any helping professional facing the physical and emotional exhaustion that can shadow work in the helping professions

TEND Resources

TEND Blog – frequent posts on topics related to stress, wellness, compassion fatigue and trauma from Françoise Mathieu, Dr. Patricia Fisher and TEND associates. 

TEND Newsletter Archives – archived records of past TEND newsletters, a curated collection of resources related to wellness, burnout and stress.

Compassion Fatigue + Resiliency in Professionals – a Facebook group moderated by TEND that encourages discussions related to compassion fatigue and building resiliency in professionals from a vast array of professions and backgrounds

 


Other Suggested Resources

Secondary Traumatic Stress Consortium [Website]

Trauma Stewardship by Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky

Organizational Stress:

Building Resilient Teams by Dr. Patricia Fisher, R.Psych., L.Psych.

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

Stress Reduction

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

Grounding Skills

 Graham, L. (2013) Bouncing back: rewiring your brain for maximum happiness. New World Library.

Tools for Managing Trauma:

NakazawaD.J. (2015) Childhood DisruptedHow your Biography Becomes your Biology. Atria.

 Van Der KolkB. (2014) The Body Keeps the ScoreBrainMind and Body in the Healingof TraumaPenguin Books.

ScaerR. (2014) The Body Bears the BurdenTraumaDissociation and Disease. Routledge.

MatéG. (2003When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress/Disease Connection. Wiley & Sons.

Work/Life Balance:

Richardson, C. (1999) Take Time for Your Lifea 7 Step Program for Creating the Lifeyou Want. Broadway books.

Mindfulness & Selfcompassion websites

www.franticworld.com/free-meditations-from-mindfulness

www.self-compassion.org

www.mindfulselfcompassion.org

A Comprehensive Approach to Workplace Stress & Trauma in Fire-Fighting

An academic article by our very own Pat Fisher.

Do you have any firefighters in your lives that you know could use this information? Please share.

Excerpt: “Firefighters are exposed to a wide range of workplace stresses resulting in a wide range of negative physical, psychological, interpersonal and organizational consequences. This paper presents a comprehensive approach to workplace stress in fire-fighting. The Complex Stress Model encompasses the full set of workplace systemic and traumatic stresses encountered by firefighters. The risk/resilience factors, effects and outcomes of systemic and traumatic stress are reviewed, followed by a discussion of the challenges these pose to fire-fighting organizations. Within this framework, effective workplace wellness and organizational health initiatives need to incorporate three strategic elements: building capacity, increasing resiliency, and supporting positive culture change.”

Read the full article here.

Q&A Interview: Dr. Patricia Fisher & Meaghan Welfare

On November 9-10th, Dr. Patricia Fisher & Meaghan Welfare, BA, will be offering Manager’s Guide to Stress, Burnout & Trauma in the Workplace at the Lamplighter Inn in London, ON. Last week, I sat down with Dr. Fisher & Meaghan Welfare to ask them a few questions about this unique training opportunity for managers in trauma-exposed workplaces.

Q) Why did you decide to offer this course together?

Dr. Fisher: I am excited to offer this program with Meaghan both because of her extensive professional background in mediation and compassion fatigue and expertise in working with highly stressful, complex workplaces such as the Canadian Armed Forces, and also because of her enthusiasm, commitment and passion for the work.

Meaghan: Dr. Fisher is a trailblazer in the field of high stress and trauma exposed work places. I am thrilled to be working alongside her to offer this amazing course.

Q) What are typical issues you see manager’s encountering in trauma-exposed workplaces?

A: Many work setting with a high level of trauma exposure such as corrections, child protection services, law enforcement and health care, to name a few, are dealing with significant external pressures such as inadequate funding, escalated staffing challenges with higher staff turnover and recruitment and retention, insufficient resources, interagency complexity, difficulties maintaining a positive and collaborative work culture, generational issues and succession planning, etc. This environment of heightened stress leads to higher levels of negative effects on staff and that in turn impacts the capacity, culture and productivity of the organization at all levels. Given all this, managers typically face multiple competing demands for their time and attention, and are often highly stressed, isolated and pressured themselves. Often managers are forced to be in a reactive, crisis-driven mode where they have to attend to the fire burning highest and closest. The challenges they address are often complex, layered and their immediate crisis-responses can sometimes lead to unintended consequence – these in turn generate more challenges that they need to deal with later.

Q) What kind of management strategies will participants learn about in this course?

A) Participants will learn how to understand the complex stress environment that they work within and to assess for the specific areas of resilience and the focal areas of risk. We will help each participant learn how to increase staff resiliency and reduce stress consequences. We use a risk needs assessment tool to define the participants’ priority action areas and help them develop practical plans and strategies to preserve and amplify their strengths, and address their challenges.

Each participant will be able to re-evaluate the efficacy of their strategies and make necessary adjustments over time.

When we consider the Organizational Health Model – the 12 vital factors are all causally linked and this approach supports them to effectively address the areas of:

·        Leadership

·        Staff wellness

·        Succession planning

·        Trust and respect

·        Communication

·        Work-home balance

·        Training effectiveness

·        Vision

·        Rewards and recognition

·        Ability to adapt

·        Employee commitment and teamwork

 

All of these are central to the capacity of a group to function effectively in a healthy and productive way. With this training, participants will develop skills to help them achieve resiliency and promote these vital factors.

 

Thank you Dr. Fisher & Meaghan!