Skip to content

The Good Enough Club

A few of the alums from my Compassion in Balance course have been doing a 30 Days of Yoga practice together this past month. Since New Year’s Day, we’ve been following a series of free yoga videos and checking in online every day to help each other stay accountable to our commitment to take care of ourselves in 2016.

External accountability is the bees knees.

One of the booby-traps that we’re being mindful of as we practice is all or nothing thinking.

It’s been really interesting to see how we mess with ourselves. Some of us miss a few days in a row and think we can’t show up again. Some of us feel weird about doing the daily practices out of order or one day behind everyone else. Others have trouble when they need to adjust their schedule.

We all want everything to be perfectly on point, so when it doesn’t go that way (spoiler: it never does), we start thinking we should just stop. Try again some other day when that stuff won’t happen.

A lot of us struggle with this common mind trap in our work and personal lives. We absolutely do this in our work as helping professionals. We set very high, unrealistic standards that we can save them all, then we feel like constant failures that we only saved some. All of our good work gets negated by not being able to get that impossibly perfect score.

The sense of never being good enough, of always falling short of your goals, is so defeating and depressing. It’s a fast-track to Burnoutville.

good enough


But just for now, let’s take a look at how it messes with our self-care in particular, because that’s one way we can start to navigate this mind trap more skillfully. With practice we can take it into all aspects of our lives.

It goes something like this:

I missed 2 days/weeks/months of yoga class because things got crazy and now I’m so far behind, it’s all ruined. I blew it. Maybe I’ll try again some other time when life won’t get in the way.

I was going to do yoga/run/eat only three cookies a day/go to bed earlier, but now is such a bad time! I’ll wait until work isn’t so busy to start my new routine and then I’ll be able to do it right.

I tried to do an hour yoga class/run 5 miles/write a book/swim 30 laps/eat anything but cookies, but I failed. I can never do those things. I suck at self-care.

You see the problem with this way of thinking right?

First, we’re tricking ourselves into thinking there will be this magical time when our to-do list is 100% done (second spoiler alert: that magical time never happens).

Then we fool ourselves into thinking that as soon as that happens, we’ll have tons of free time and the ability to finally exercise/eat/meditate/sleep perfectly.

Last, we set the bar super high for ourselves which almost always guarantees that we’ll fail. Then we think: why even bother?

This all or nothing thinking winds up being yet another excuse for not taking care of ourselves. Either we do it all perfectly (which is totally subjective, by the way) or we don’t do it at all.

Our little yoga group is pushing back on this defeating, distorted thought pattern. If you missed a day or three of yoga. No problem. Come on back. If you didn’t start on January 1st with the rest of us, make today your Day One. If you can’t do the whole practice yet, lower the bar and do what you are able to do now.

As our BFF Voltaire would say: We are not allowing perfect to be the enemy of the good. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instead we’ve become what I’m affectionately calling The Good Enough Club.

Here are our club rules when it comes to self-care:

  • We believe doing something is better than nothing (unless that nothing is meditating in which case, rock on with your being-not-doing self).
  • A slip up or a lapse isn’t a failure. In fact, there are no “failures” – big or small – that will keep us from showing up to try again.
  • Instead of harsh criticism and judgement, we offer ourselves self-compassion and kindness.
  • Instead of rigidity and perfectionism, we stay flexible to accommodate the wackiness that is life.
  • We commit to taking care of ourselves, even though we can’t do it perfectly.

 

You can join The Good Enough Club too! To be a card carrying member (there are no cards…yet) all you have to do is keep trying despite hitting bumps in the road, practice being kind and forgiving to yourself when things don’t unfold perfectly, and remain aware of how your thoughts are influencing your actions.

Basically, just keep on truckin’ baby.

Here’s something to think on (or take 10 to write about it, if you’re inclined to journal your way to new insights):

Has all or nothing aka black and white thinking caused you stress in your personal life? At work? Maybe even with your pets (like your DINOS)? How so? What will you do in 2016 to lessen that stress?

p.s. Read this if you’d like to understand the difference between perfectionism and healthy striving, plus tips for coping with this particular mind trap.

 

By the way, this blog was originally shared in my e-letter that I sent out a month ago. If you’d like to get this sort of stuff, plus other tidbits, right in your Inbox, you can sign up for my monthly-ish newsletters here.

See you in our Good Enough Clubhouse!

How to Stay Accountable In Online Classes

Have you ever signed up for an online class, but never got around to doing a thing with it? You’re in the right place. We’re gonna talk about online class accountability today.

Taking an online, self-paced course is awesome because you can do it when it fits into your schedule. But let’s be honest: sometimes our pace turns out to be…never.  If you’ve ever registered for an online class and not actually taken it, then we have something in common.

Somewhere out there lives an entire village of untaken, unopened class lessons, desperately waiting for you to log in, so they can teach you how to finally knit your cat a unicorn horn.

I offer some pretty great online classes, but I don’t want you to sign up and not take it. I want you to really benefit from them.

Here’s how:

1. Enroll with a Friend:  Ask a friend or colleague with similar interests to take the class with you. Start the course at the same time and make a schedule together, so that you’re both progressing through the lessons at about the same pace. Then hold each other accountable by planning to discuss it on a regular basis. You can do this in person over brunch or by email. Or try a quick daily check-in message (“DONE!”) with no need for a reply to one another.

Have a lot of friends? Ask a bunch of them to enroll in the class and make it a work project or a book club-like event. My Compassion in Balance alumni group is currently doing a 30 Days of Yoga practice together and we post photos and comments in our private Facebook group to let each other know we’ve hit the mat that day. Group accuntabilty – woot!

Hooray for Accountability Partners (and Keith Haring)!

Hooray for Accountability Buddies (and Keith Haring)!

2. Go Public: We’re more likely to stick to our commitments when other people know about our goals. Tell people in your life that you’re taking the class and what you hope to achieve. Make it known.

I hate to let people down, so I always feel more incentive to do the work when I’ve told people about it. When we keep our goals a secret, we give ourselves the chance to strike all kinds of deals to let ourselves off the hook.

You can also use social media to hold yourself accountable. Sometimes just the act of posting your goals and progress to an audience is enough to keep you plugging away.

3. Create Content:  Bloggers, this one is for you. As a spin off to #2, if you already have an audience, think of the class you’re taking as content fodder. It can be tough to find new things to write about every week. Use the structure of the class to create new content. You can write weekly posts to correspond with each lesson and share your progress. Or your can write a wrap-up post when you finish the class to share what you’ve learned. Announce to your readers early on that you’re in class. Knowing your readers are waiting for your thoughts on the topic will help keep you in school.

4. Schedule It: Before you get started, look at your calendar and life. Is this the right time to start or should you wait a couple of months to dive in? Where can you block out time each week to do the lessons?

Plan to start the course when you feel like it’s realistic for you, but then stick to it by blocking out time in your calendar to do the work. Make a commitment to start each lesson on a specific date and mark down any live calls or webinars. Do this in advance – so your schedule reflects your commitment.

Personal_Accountability

I can never get enough of these chickens. They really speak to my soul, you know? (source)

5. Set Your Intention: Be clear about why you’re taking the class. We’re all so busy and have a trillion things pulling at our attention. Reflect on why you hit “buy now!”, so you know why you’re willing to pass up New Girl reruns to do the homework.

Here’s a question to help you figure out your intention for the class: What do you hope to be able to do differently because of this course? Try to be very specific. This will help keep you motivated when the going gets tough.

 

So that’s it folks – a few ideas for how not to fall off the online-class wagon!

 

If you’re looking for a class to take this year and you work with animals, may I suggest my classes? Let’s hang out!

The Dark Side of Empathy: When Too Much Turns Into None

“I had never been told that empathy is a finite resource. You can run out. As a normal, psychological response, you cannot give of yourself again and again and again without replenishing.”

Emmett Fitzgerald

We need to have a talk about empathy. People who work in helping professions tend to have big old hearts. We’re a naturally sensitive and empathetic bunch. Our ability to feel what another being is feeling is part of what drew us to the work we do.

It makes us great at our jobs, but empathetic engagement is also what contributes to compassion fatigue. In a nutshell:

Excessive empathy can lead to a lack of empathy. Too much can turn into not enough.

Kristin Neff, PhD helps explain why: “Empathy can be defined as emotional resonance — feeling what others are feeling. Our brains actually have specialized mirror neurons designed for this purpose. Mirror neurons evolved to help us quickly know if someone is friend or foe by registering their feelings such as anger or friendliness in our own bodies…The problem for caregivers is that when we’re in the presence of suffering, we feel it in our own bodies.”

With our mirror neurons firing all day long – feeling and absorbing the stress, fear, and sadness of the animals and people around us –  we can start to feel flooded and overwhelmed. It may seem as if we’re soaking in suffering.

Here’s the thing: the emotions of others are contagious. If our empathetic “immune system” isn’t robust, then the boundaries between ourselves and those we serve may become very blurry. And at some point, we may not be able to feel the difference between what someone else is experiencing and what is happening in our own bodies. We feel it all.

Where do we end and where does the other being begin?

This boundary can be especially hard to find for those of us that work with populations who are defenseless: children, animals, the environment. Laura van Dernoot Lipsky writes in Trauma Stewardship, “When we speak for animals or creatures or environments that are unable to speak for themselves, we may gradually lose the ability to distinguish their voices from our own. If we don’t pay careful attention, our feelings of identification and responsibility may increase to the point that we experience their anguish in a debilitating way. In the long run, this can diminish our ability to be effective advocates.”

If we are excessively empathetic, it’ll feel like out system is being totally overwhelmed by what’s happening around us. There were many days at the animal shelter where I felt like a walking open wound.

To protect ourselves, many of us start pushing our feelings away, shutting down, and numbing out. It feels like the only way to survive.

Gradually we may discover we’ve lost the ability to empathize with others (both at work and in our personal lives). This lack of empathy is actually a very common symptom of compassion fatigue in experienced caregivers.

run out of empathy

 

As we hit the limits of our empathy, without finding a way to recharge and care for ourselves, we become desensitized. We minimize the pain and suffering of others. We stop listening and change the subject. We tune out. We become indifferent.

Instead of feeling everything, we no longer feel much of anything.

“It’s as if you’re a sponge that is completely saturated and has never been wrung out. You can only take so much.” – from Trauma Stewardship

If you’re new to the work, it may seem like lacking empathy could never happen to you. I get it.

Years ago at the shelter, I was assisting in the euthanasia of a dog that I was very attached to. To say that I had excessive empathy for this particular dog would be an understatement. I was weeping during the euthanasia. This stressed out the dog and we needed to call in a third person, so I could step aside from restraining him. The woman who came into assist had been on the job for many, many years.

Embarrassed, I apologized to her for crying. She took one look at my face, slick with tears, and said, “I wish I could still feel that way. I can’t remember the last time I cried.”

Today I recognize that her numbness was a normal and predictable sign of compassion fatigue. She had once cared very, very much. But back then I was shocked. I honestly had no idea what she meant. I was overwhelmed by emotions.

I wanted to feel less. She wanted to feel more.

We were both struggling to find a healthy middle ground where we could engage empathetically, but without causing harm to others or ourselves.

Neither of us had found the sweet spot of healthy empathetic engagement –  a compassionate detachment –  where we’re not numb or aloof to the suffering of others, but we’re also not flooded with their pain either.

In this way, we can still take caring action to help others, but we suffer a little less. It’s a bit more compassion, a little less empathy: Read more about the difference between empathy and compassion here.

I have a feeling some of you may be wondering if being numb is really such a bad thing. Who wants to feel the painful stuff? The problem is that losing our empathy, to the point that we’re numb, will have a negative impact on our work.

While it can be a very healthy coping strategy to put strong emotions aside in the moment, so we can do a difficult aspect of our job, we can’t stay detached all the time. 

Without empathy we can no longer care for our clients and patients effectively and ethically.

We may wind up dismissing their needs, minimizing their pain, becoming rigid in our thinking, silencing their stories, withdrawing from clients and coworkers, cutting corners, and making unethical decisions.

Not to mention, our stuffed down negative emotions will find their way out in other unpleasant ways. The pressure will keep building until we explode or get sick. Ever freak out at someone you love over nothing? Start weeping at a soup commercial? Always have a cold? You get the idea.

So what helps?

We can work (and it is ongoing, proactive work) to find the optimal level of empathic engagement where we are still connected to those we serve, but we’re not losing touch with our own body and emotions.

To figure out the healthiest empathetic response means we have to determine the wisest approach in any given moment (this requires flexibility). One where we still feel warm and caring, but without taking on others’ stories and feelings as if they are our own. We recognize there is a boundary between us.

To do this we use healthy coping skills to help us manage what we’re bearing witness to and absorbing every day.

Start with kindness for yourself. Take a break. Explore mindful breathing and physical exercise to help let go of some of the energetic pain you’ve been soaking up. Reach out to a supportive person or professional who can help you begin to process and release your feelings.

One powerful way to help ourselves is to explore practices that teach us how to feel more stable in the face of great pain. Yoga and meditation, along with other contemplative and creative practices, help us learn how to be present in the moment and feel grounded in our own bodies, which enables us to more skillfully tackle overwhelming circumstances at work.

Humanitarian aid worker Marianne Elliot writes about how this helps her find equanimity:

“One of the most dreadful things about this work is that you’re confronted by a need that is much greater than your capacity…often there was so little that you could do….But yoga helped me in learning to just sit. Sit with all this suffering and bring presence to it…And I feel that it was really with my meditation practice through yoga that I was able to do that without being overwhelmed by the pain, or feeling like I’d have an impulse to withdraw.”

We still feel pain of course. This work is so hard. Rather than judge ourselves or stuff our pain down, we can offer ourselves self-compassion in response to this recognition that we too are suffering.

Dr. Neff goes on to say, “The implication for caregivers is that we need to generate lots of compassion — for both ourselves and the person we’re caring for — in order to remain in the presence of suffering without being overwhelmed. In fact, sometimes we may need to spend the bulk of our attention on giving ourselves compassion so that we have enough emotional stability to be there for others.”

This practice of self-compassion and care can help us become well enough to access that sweet spot of healthy empathetic engagement.

We can’t do it alone though. Organizations must also take steps to help their workers. This might include making sure that particularly draining and difficult tasks, such as euthanasia, are rotated, so that no one person has to shoulder this alone, providing regular breaks to recharge, and giving employees a constructive outlet to discuss and let go of work through weekly debriefing and/or support groups.

No matter where we are on the empathy continuum – too much or too little – we can take steps to help ourselves move towards that center line. By forming healthy boundaries and committing to proactive, authentic self-care, we can regularly boost our empathetic immune system.

It’s a long road, but every step taken in the direction of that healthy expression of empathy will help change how it impacts you and build your resilience, allowing you to find some balance in this difficult, but deeply meaningful work that we’re privileged to do.

 

You don’t have to figure this out alone. Take a look at my online classes. They exist so you can be well, while you do good work in the world. A new session of Compassion in Balance starts June 6th!

with love and gratitude,

12 Books To Read When Your Brain Hurts

If you love to read, but have trouble doing it because you’re so stressed out, I feel your pain.

Reading is my most favorite way to unwind, let go of the day, and “fill my cup“, so to speak.

Tons of my students have shared that reading is one of their favorite activities as well, but that it’s also one of the first things to go when their compassion fatigue levels start to skyrocket.

In fact, not being able to read winds up being one of their early indicators that their stress levels are climbing and they need to implement some self-care asap.

So what do you do when reading is one of your favorite ways to take care of yourself, but your brain is too bonked to do it? Here are some ideas I’ve gathered from past class discussions and my own life:

1. Skip any reading that is related to animals (or whatever population it is that you serve). Even if it’s fiction, but especially if it’s non-fiction.


2. Listen to audio books. Download them from the library if you want to save some bucks. It feels so good to have someone tell us a story again!


3. Let yourself off the literary hook. It’s ok to read lighter stuff when you’re stressed (or anytime you want). You’re not trying to impress anyone…by the way, I’m saying this to myself. My whole life I’ve had elaborate fantasies about people, who will never be in my home, judging my bookcases. Lower the literary bar.

 

YA and Children’s Lit Picks
The Divergent series – Veronica Roth
His Dark Materials trilogy – Philip Pullman
The Wildwood Chronicles – Colin Meloy
The Hunger Games series – Suzanne Collins
The Harry Potter series – J. K. Rowling

Humor Picks
Yes, Please – Amy Poehler
Bossypants – Tina Fey
How to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?  – Mindy Kaling
Me Talk Pretty One Day (or any other book) by David Sedaris
I Feel Bad About My Neck – Nora Ephron
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened – Jenny Lawson

 

Bonus Picks! SciFi/Horror/Fantasy genre:

Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

Anything by Stephen King (try 11/22/63)

All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness

 

I know there are tons more! Which books keep your attention, even when your brain feels like it’s broken? What kind of reading helps you decompress after a tough day or week at work?

Tell me your top picks in the comments here or over on Facebook. Let’s keep a running list to help each other out!

 

See you at the library,

Compassion Fatigue Strategies Course Starts 2/1!

Last summer I teamed up with the University of Florida’s Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program to launch Compassion Fatigue Strategies a four module, online, self-paced class for people who work with animals. And guess what?

A new session of the course starts on February 1st, 2016!

 

More than 60 animal care and welfare professionals showed up last session to learn about how they could manage the impact of compassion fatigue in their lives. Through weeks of thoughtful, honest, and courageous discussions, we were able to create a truly special learning experience together.

 compassion fatigue strategies class testimonial

 

Class kicks off again soon and while there’s no magic pill or quick fix for compassion fatigue, there are strategies, tools, resources, and new ways of thinking about the work that will help you transform how compassion fatigue is impacting your life.

You can learn how to take care of yourself, while you care for the world.

Students from last summer’s session have shared that the course helped them to better prioritize their tasks, let go of work at the end of a shift, make more time for themselves and their personal lives, become more aware of their own emotions, mental states, and stress triggers, create healthier boundaries for themselves at work and at home, and much more.

If that sounds good to you, then I hope you’ll give yourself this class as a gift. Think of it as an investment in yourself.

I know you’re beyond busy and this may not be a great time to add something else to your schedule, but let’s be honest:

Nothing will change if you don’t carve out some time and energy to address how compassion fatigue is taking a toll on you and your work.

There will never be a perfect time to take this class. The to-do list will never be done. But if you want to stay in this work for the long haul, doing ethical, effective work and feel better while you do it, then you’ll have to make time to create something new for yourself.

 

Can you give yourself about 2 hours a week (that’s 15-20 minutes a day) to learn and explore practices that can support you for the rest of your career? Can you put yourself on your to-do list this winter?

You can read more about the class and what the students had to say about it here. And if you’re wondering how this course is different than my other online class, Compassion in Balance, check this comparison chart out.

Or tune in for a few minutes to the video below and I’ll tell you why I think you should take the class this winter.

Hint: it has a lot to do with 2017.

 

 

Ready to make a change? Register Here!

 

See you in class,

7 Ways We Can Support Mental Health in the Animal Welfare Community

“Look how involved we all are just under the surface, and let’s try to help each other.” 

– Jennifer Michael Hecht

 

Doing animal welfare work is intense emotional labor. It takes a toll on every single one of us working to meet the needs of animals and people who are suffering, traumatized, and in need of our ongoing compassionate care.

We can and must take daily actions to care for ourselves as we engage in this challenging work. Only we can take care of ourselves. No one else can do that for us.

But we also need each other. We need the support and understanding that only people who do this unique work can offer one another. We can’t thrive in isolation. Connection is critical to our health.

The quality of that connection matters. For example, research reveals that having coworkers who are supportive and collaborative can increase our compassion satisfaction levels, which helps to lower compassion fatigue.

The flip side of that coin is to acknowledge that we are also capable of, and often do, cause each other as much pain as the work itself does.

Rather than feed into an environment of horizontal violence, we can instead choose to create a culture that supports well-being and where our values of compassion towards animals extends to the human animals around us as well. Even when we disagree with each other, we can choose to reduce the amount of harm we inflict on ourselves and those around us.

Here are just a few ideas for supporting mental health in our community:

1. Stop bullying. The hateful comments attacking individuals and organizations that are being posted on Facebook and beyond aren’t benign or helpful. They are causing extreme suffering in our community.

Our actions can create painful conditions for others which may have a serious impact on their mental health. Let me put it this way: Suicide is often the result of multiple risk factors and while there is no particular set risk factors that accurately predicts imminent danger of suicide, there are a number of stressful situations or events that may increase the likelihood of a suicide attempt or death, such as: a previous suicide attempt, extreme loss, harassment, an active suicide cluster in a community, mental illness, bullying, isolation, and severe stress.

While we can’t control if someone has a mental illness, we can control our own actions and make the choice not to bully or harass others, no matter how much we disagree with them.

Before you post a nasty comment do this: Pause. Take a deep breath. Direct your awareness inward. What are you feeling right now? Pain? Sadness? Anger? Hopelessness? When we lash out it’s often an attempt to numb and avoid our own difficult emotions. What kind of pain is the bullying and trolling temporarily soothing for you?

Feel your emotions instead. Be sad. Be angry. Have compassion for your own suffering. You will do less harm to yourself and others if you process your emotions. Then use your energy to make concrete positive changes for animals in your corner of the world.

 

2. Organize peer support groups. We need to talk about what we experience at work on a regular basis, so that we can process and let go of what we see and do in a healthy and constructive way. We understand each other’s trauma and sorrow. Friends, family, and others may be traumatized or have a hard time understanding our work. We can’t expect them to be the only source of support for us or be able to listen to our stories each day.

Form a support group that meets weekly or monthly. You can do it online with peers in your field or at work (managers, make sure there is time for this). Bring in a counselor to facilitate one or more sessions to help you get started. Connect with professionals, mentors, managers, and peers who can bear witness and help you process both the details, but even more importantly, your feelings about your work.

Learn four different ways to debrief, including what managers need to know about having a critical incident debriefing plan.

Here’s some advice on creating a peer support group.

Also of note: In Defense of Animals has a free support hotline for animal rights activists.

 

animal welfare mental health

 

3. Help create healthy boundaries. Can’t stop thinking about work even when you’re off the clock? We can help ourselves and others by creating a ritual to download and decompress before we leave work.

Here’s one way to do that: Jackie Burke, clinical director of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia recommends meeting with your boss, a supportive work peer who is still on the clock, or a notebook to talk or write about the upsetting things that happened that day and what you will do to try to feel ok about it, before you go home.

Do this every day. Record your feelings related to the work day before you punch out (literally or figuratively, if you work at a home-based rescue). The goal is immediate reflection to avoid repression of the traumatic content you’ve accumulated all day and to avoid getting stuck in rumination later.

 

4. Be #StigmaFree. Help break down the misinformation and stigma around mental illness and seeking mental health help. Mental illnesses, such as depression and PTSD, are not the result of personal weakness.

1 in 5 adults in America lives with a mental health condition and suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. So many of us are suffering. No one should feel alone, shamed, or stigmatized.

Mental health, just like physical health, exists on a continuum. At one time or another, due to many factors, all of us will need a doctor’s help to maintain or treat our physical body. It’s the same with our mental health! Many of us would benefit from having some outside help from a professional to support our emotional well-being. There’s no shame in that, just like there’s no shame in having strep throat and seeing your physician for treatment.

We can break down stigmas by sharing our own experiences and resources. If you have a great therapist that understands your work with animals, let your coworkers and friends know that you are receiving help in this way and share your counselor’s number. Make sure your staff knows about their mental health benefits and if they don’t have any, see what you can do to fix that. Let those around you know that you understand what they’re going through, that they’re not alone, and that help is available.

Learn how to be a light in the darkness.

 

5. Get proactive about your own mental health. This work is so tough. Although compassion fatigue is a normal consequence of the work we do – it is not a mental illness – many of us would benefit from some extra support at one time or another.

Do some research and get help now, before you are in crisis. It’s smart and courageous to get yourself into therapy or reach out to a pastor or counselor while you are still pretty much OK. You can start by investigating what your insurance does or doesn’t cover and researching therapists in your area that have experience with secondary traumatic stress or the human-animal bond.

Set yourself up with support today, which will not only help you stay well, but if the poop does hit the fan in the future, you’ll already have someone competent in your corner. Be aware that you may not find the right therapist the first go around. It’s a relationship and you may need to meet a few people before you find the right match for yourself.

Get your mental health plan in place now.

Here are some resources for getting help:

Look up therapists on PsychologyToday.com or GoodTherapy.org

A Beginner’s Guide to Therapy

 

6. Create a martyr-free zone. Suffering is not a competitive sport. Animal welfare doesn’t need any more self-sacrificing heroes. The people I admire most are the ones who recognize their limits and commit to taking care of themselves, so that they can perform ethical, effective work for the long haul.

Instead of bragging about not sleeping or being too busy to care for ourselves, let’s encourage each other and our staff to take bathroom and lunch breaks, vacations, and make regular visits to the doctor or the gym. No guilt trips or unnecessary interruptions when others are off the clock or need to say “no.” We can can celebrate limits, rest, and renewal, knowing that this investment in ourselves is what allows us to show up and do great work for many years to come.

 

Let’s put an end to praising and promoting poor quality of life. We can be well and do good. In fact, we must do both. We’ll save more lives (including our own) that way…

 

7. Increase understanding of suicide prevention. Many people are uncomfortable with the topic of suicide. But too many of us are taking our own lives, so we must talk about it openly. If it’s left hidden in secrecy, then we can’t implement effective prevention. Let’s commit to dispelling the myths around suicide, understanding the risk factors, and increasing our competency in helping to prevent suicides.

Get familiar with the warning signs, know how to take action, and always remember that connection – knowing that someone out there sees and cares about us – makes a major difference.

Going back to #1: your actions matter. Suicide prevention is up to all of us.

Resources for prevention training:

QPR Institute

A state by state guide to suicide prevention trainings and resources

A comprehensive list of gaterkeeper programs

Important numbers to know if you or someone you know is having suicidal ideations:

911: call if an attempt has been made, a weapon is present, and/or the person is out of control.

800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 24-7 help that’s anonymous, connecting you to local resources that can help if you or someone you know is in crisis.

State crisis hotlines: Research your local hotline numbers. For example, there is Maine Crisis Hotline answered 24-7 with crisis workers who are mobile and can go to any site that is safe.

 

These are all steps that we can take to increase positive conditions and support mental health in our community.

We all need to make an effort to shift to a more healthy and positive workplace culture, which includes characteristics such as: providing support for one another, offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling, avoiding blame and forgiving mistakes, and treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust, and integrity.

Let’s make a commitment to one another to help create a culture, within the larger animal welfare community and in our daily work, that promotes health, wellness, and respect for each other. Because we’re all in this together.

What else can we do? Tell me in the comments.

in gratitude for your service,

Do Not Lose Heart, We Were Made for These Times by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés

written by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Mis estimados:

Do not lose heart. We were made for these times.

I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world right now. It is true, one has to have strong cojones and ovarios to withstand much of what passes for “good” in our culture today. Abject disregard of what the soul finds most precious and irreplaceable and the corruption of principled ideals have become, in some large societal arenas, “the new normal,” the grotesquerie of the week.

It is hard to say which one of the current egregious matters has rocked people’s worlds and beliefs more. Ours is a time of almost daily jaw-dropping astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

You are right in your assessments. The luster and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is — we were made for these times.

Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement. I cannot tell you often enough that we are definitely the leaders we have been waiting for, and that we have been raised, since childhood, for this time precisely.

I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able crafts in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.

I would like to take your hands for a moment and assure you that you are built well for these times.

 

Despite your stints of doubt, your frustrations in righting all that needs change right now, or even feeling you have lost the map entirely, you are not without resource, you are not alone. Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. In your deepest bones, you have always known this is so.

Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.

We have been in training for a dark time such as this, since the day we assented to come to Earth. For many decades, worldwide, souls just like us have been felled and left for dead in so many ways over and over — brought down by naiveté, by lack of love, by suddenly realizing one deadly thing or another, by not realizing something else soon enough, by being ambushed and assaulted by various cultural and personal shocks in the extreme.

We all have a heritage and history of being gutted, and yet remember this especially: we have also, of necessity, perfected the knack of resurrection.

bird in hand

Over and over again we have been the living proof that that which has been exiled, lost, or foundered — can be restored to life again. This is as true and sturdy a prognosis for the destroyed worlds around us as it was for our own once mortally wounded selves.

Though we are not invulnerable, our risibility supports us to laugh in the face of cynics who say “fat chance,” and “management before mercy,” and other evidences of complete absence of soul sense. This, and our having been “to hell and back” on at least one momentous occasion, makes us seasoned vessels for certain. Even if you do not feel that you are, you are.

Even if your puny little ego wants to contest the enormity of your soul, that smaller self can never for long subordinate the larger Self. In matters of death and rebirth, you have surpassed the benchmarks many times. Believe the evidence of any one of your past testings and trials. Here it is: Are you still standing? The answer is, Yes! (And no adverbs like “barely” are allowed here). If you are still standing, ragged flags or no, you are able. Thus, you have passed the bar. And even raised it. You are seaworthy.

In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. Do not make yourself ill with overwhelm.

 

There is a tendency too to fall into being weakened by perseverating on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.

We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the Voice greater? You have all the resources you need to ride any wave, to surface from any trough.

In the language of aviators and sailors, ours is to sail forward now, all balls out. Understand the paradox: If you study the physics of a waterspout, you will see that the outer vortex whirls far more quickly than the inner one. To calm the storm means to quiet the outer layer, to cause it, by whatever countervailing means, to swirl much less, to more evenly match the velocity of the inner, far less volatile core — till whatever has been lifted into such a vicious funnel falls back to Earth, lays down, is peaceable again.

One of the most important steps you can take to help calm the storm is to not allow yourself to be taken in a flurry of overwrought emotion or despair — thereby accidentally contributing to the swale and the swirl.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.

 

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts — adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take “everyone on Earth” to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. A soul on deck shines like gold in dark times.

The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of the soul in shadowy times like these — to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both — are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

There will always be times in the midst of “success right around the corner, but as yet still unseen” when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.

The reason is this: In my bones I know, as do you, that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours: They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here.

In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But … that is not what great ships are built for.

This comes with much love and prayer that you remember who you came from, and why you came to this beautiful, needful Earth.

 


Do Not Lose Heart, We Were Made for These Times,” (a/k/a “Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times”) Copyright ©2001, 2003, 2004, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, All rights reserved. This particular work is released under a Creative Commons License by which author grants permission to copy, distribute and transmit this particular work under the conditions that the use be non-commercial, that the work be used in its entirety and not altered, added to, or subtracted from, and that it carry author’s name and this full copyright notice. For other permissions, please contact: projectscreener@aol.com

 

with love + hope,

Compassion in Balance Workshop in Massachusetts

Join me October 3, 2015 for a full day workshop in Wakefield, MA hosted by the New England Dog Training Club. This seminar, designed for people who work or volunteer with animals, is open to the public and you can earn CEs!

map compassion fatigue

 

Every day you work to meet the needs of pets and people in your community with great skill and compassion. But when was the last time you took the time to assess your own needs or explore the impact that your complex work may be having on your physical and emotional health?

Join us for a full day seminar on compassion fatigue, the natural consequence of stress that results from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people and animals. This original seminar will cover six strategies and numerous tools we can use to transform and manage our experience of compassion fatigue, so that we can continue to do ethical, effective, and sustainable work.

The full day seminar identifies what compassion fatigue is, its symptoms, and contributing factors. We then examine stress management and self-care practices. Participants will have the opportunity to participate in discussions, experiential activities, take self-assessments, reflect and connect with the positive aspects of their work, practice a stress-reduction technique, and create a self-care plan.

Join us to learn how to be well, while you do good!

Please note: This seminar is not a substitution for professional mental health care. If you’re suffering from clinical depression or are having suicidal thoughts, please seek professional help.

When: 9:30am – 4:30pm on October 3rd, 2015

Where: Knights of Columbus Hall, 570 North Ave, Wakefield, MA

Cost: $80, $65 for shelter workers and groups of 8 or more. $10 lunch (optional)

CEUs: 9 – IAABC
CEUs: 6 CCPDT Vet/Tech CE

 

Register Here!

 

I hope to see you there,

Free Compassion Fatigue Webinar

Join me on Tuesday, September 15th at 7pm EST for a free webinar about compassion fatigue!

Here are the details:

compassion fatigue

 

Compassion Fatigue: What You Need To Know! is a FREE webinar created especially for people who work or volunteer with animals.

Join me live on Tuesday 9/15/15 at 7pm EST for a 40 minute whirlwind tour of compassion fatigue, followed by a 20 minute Q+A session.

You’ll get to see my smiling mug via a video feed and you’ll be able to hear me through your computer’s speakers. During the Q+A portion of the webinar you can communicate with me by typing into the chat box. All you need to join is your computer and an internet connection.

You can register here.

Can’t make the live webinar? Register anyway and watch the recording when you have time!

As you may already know, compassion fatigue is the natural consequence of stress resulting from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people or animals. Almost all of us who work or volunteer with animals experience compassion fatigue at some point.But hardly anyone talks about it. So even though it’s a normal reaction to the stress of our work, we think we’re the only ones who are struggling.

I’ve created this introductory webinar – a very brief tour of a very big subject – to help people who work with animals get access to the basics of compassion fatigue: what it is, what the symptoms look like, and a quick tour of what we can do about it!

power is in balance quote

 

And for those of you who already know about compassion fatigue and are ready to meet this occupational hazard head-on with the help of a supportive online community, my 8 week online class, Compassion in Balance starts 9/28.

You can learn more about this totally unique class, designed specifically for people who work or volunteer with animals, here.

Disclaimer: This webinar is NOT a substitution for professional mental health care. If you’re suffering from clinical depression, anxiety, or are having suicidal thoughts, please seek professional help.

See you soon!

Learning To Surf: Resiliency and Compassion Fatigue

This week the Diane Rehm Show aired a terrific program called The Science of Resilience and How It Can Be Learned and it got me thinking about why resiliency, being able to bounce back,  matters so much for those of who are caregivers or work in helping professions.

What is Resilience?

According to the American Psychological Association, “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.”

So how resilient are you? Here’s a quiz to help you get an idea of where you’re at these days.

For people who work in helping profession, resiliency is essential. It’s what allows us to engage with people and animals who are suffering each day and cope with the challenges of doing this complex work that is so often filled with adversity.

 

Resilient People Cope Better

People who are resilient cope with negative experiences differently than those of us who are less resilient. According to Barbara Fredrickson PhD, resilient people are more hopeful, engaged, and connected to others, which helps them to avoid a major depression (or recover from it) after experiencing something negative.

And they also approach uncertainty, something we face a lot of in life and especially at work, differently as well. Less resilient people tend to brace themselves for a negative outcome and they are slow to recognize when things turn out not to be bad. In other words, they were expecting the outcome to be negative and they have a hard time noticing that things turned out ok.

On the other hand, more resilient people tend to wait to see what happens. They don’t automatically assume a negative outcome and therefore are better at discerning the positive and negative in a given situation. And, they don’t project negativity onto a neutral situation.

That’s a mighty handy skill when our work life is filled with situations where we don’t have all the facts and so often, will never know the end of the stories that we glimpse during our day, right?

 

What Are The Characteristics of Resilient People?

So what do resilient people tend to have in common with one another that allows them to relate to the world in this way?

They tend to have strong social support, are more adaptable, have an internal locus of control, and nurture a spiritual life (sometimes this includes religion, but not always). They actively look for and acknowledge the positive (this shouldn’t be confused with blind optimism, pretending negative things don’t exist like a Pollyanna, or a denial of emotion), and often find meaning in helping others.

While some people are born naturally resilient, many of us are not. But thankfully that’s not the end of the story.

You Can Build Resiliency.

While a small portion of our resiliency may lie in our genes, as Dr. Dennis Charney says in the Diane Rehm program, “…your genes are not destiny here…you can become a more resilient person by challenging yourself and working on things that are out of your comfort zone. So that eventually you develop a psychological toolbox that help you overcome tough times.”

This toolbox is an important concept because it would be misleading to think we simply acquire resilience over time. While the passing of time does allow for us to potentially develop a deeper perspective which can lead to increased resiliency, just as might lead to wisdom, the accumulation of more years on the job or on the planet, isn’t a guarantee that we’ll develop either. Resiliency is a more active and complex process than simply clocking in to life each day.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, captures this idea in one brilliant sentence, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

surf

 

Life is filled with challenges that we work to bounce back from – losses of loved ones and jobs, illness and injuries, violence and heartbreak. And if you work in a helping profession, then the waves of adversity never stop coming. Each day we show up to meet the needs of those who are suffering and in need, we are confronted with loss and grief regularly, and we struggle to do our work with resources that often are far too small to meet the needs in front of us.

But rather than trying to run from or fight the waves in a futile attempt to get them to stop hitting us, we can learn to meet those waves more skillfully. And in doing so, we can ride the waves in such a way that we not only survive, but have the opportunity to thrive among life’s many challenges.

How Do We Increase Resilience?

According the the experts on the Diane Rehm show we can work to reduce our stress levels, face our fears (in small steps), practice mindfulness, build our social bonds, consciously look for the positive, avoid ruminating on the negative, and find purpose in giving to others.

In doing this for ourselves it’s not that we’ll prevent difficult things from ever happening, but it will increase our ability to bend and bounce, instead of crashing and breaking when the waves of adversity blow through our personal and professional life.

Despite our history, past experiences, and present difficulties, in each moment we have the opportunity to make a choice about how we will perceive and respond to our circumstances. When we build resiliency skills, we strengthen our ability to relate to the circumstances and challenges in our life in a more optimal way.

Like actual surfing, increasing our resilience isn’t easy and it takes time. But choosing to become more resilient is possible for all of us, no matter how old we are or what we do for living. So why not learn to ride those waves with skill?

 

Want to build your resiliency? Here are some resources you might like:

10 Ways to Build Resilience from the American Psychological Association

The Science of Bouncing Back from Time Magazine

Becoming More Resilient from PBS This Emotional Life

5 Things Resilient People Do from Kripaulu

If you’d like to explore resilience further (along with many other topics) with a community of animal care and welfare workers, you may be interested in my 8 week online classes Compassion Fatigue Strategies and Compassion in Balance. Together, we’ll explore strategies to help you be well, while you do good work, including building resilience. The next session begins soon! 

 

Hang 10!