Right now, with all that’s happening in our country – including the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests, and racial violence – we could all use more support and therapy.
Sadly, therapy is not accessible to everyone who needs it, even those with health insurance.
And not every therapist will create a safe space for BIPOC and LGBTQIA clients, so therapy isn’t always a positive experience.
I believe that everyone who works in a helping profession would benefit from mental health support, so I’ve been gathering a list of more accessible, culturally-sensitive resources to add to the CiB Program. I thought I’d share that here with everyone.
Before I do, I want to acknowledge that all human beings struggle and are exposed to trauma.
But folks who are part of the BIPOC community have distinctly different experiences of racial trauma and systemic oppression that needs to be acknowledged.
I’ll be adding these resources to The CiB program, so that they’re a permanent resource going forward. If you know of any resources you’d like to see added to this list, please leave a comment.
I do want to I acknowledge that I am a white, straight, cis-gendered female and it’s not my intention to cause harm to anyone with this post, but if I do – please let me know. I am open to your feedback.
If you’re a helping professional the following tips would apply on any typical day of high-stress, emotional work. But now, whether you’re working overtime or sidelined at home, it’s more important than ever to weave these simple practices into your day, so that you can be well during the COVID-19 crisis.
COVID-19 has brought a massive amount of change and
uncertainty into our lives. Lack of control and uncertainty can trigger fear,
which activates our stress response (fight/flight/freeze). This impacts our
wellbeing and our ability to do our work effectively.
Feeling stressed right now is normal! But being stuck in
stress does take a toll on our immune system, emotions, and relationships.
Simple self-regulation practices are one way we can reduce
stress. Self-regulation activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which
triggers the rest and restore response, helping us to feel safer, less
reactive, and more in control.
Here are a few ways to practice self-regulation:
Focused breathing, such as box or square breathing
Grounding in the present moment through your senses (orient yourself to the environment: what can you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste right now?)
Shake the stress out of your body (just like a dog!)
Go for a brisk walk or dance
Watch a funny video and laugh out loud
Sing or hum (activating your vagus nerve)
Cuddle your pets or hug a loved one (for at least 20 seconds)
Place your hands on your chest, over your heart, and say “I am safe”
Another option is to do something small that’s within your
control. Clean a junk drawer, weed your garden, or brush your dog. Give yourself
a quick win with a tangible outcome.
These practices may seem too simple to make an impact, but
the research is clear – our nervous system plays a critical role in our
resilience. Through simple self-regulation practices we can tend to our nervous
system and reduce our stress.
Try these short exercises multiple times throughout the day
and they’ll add up, helping you to feel calmer, think more clearly, and
communicate effectively during this challenging time.
Tip #2 Assume Nothing
When your stress response is triggered you may notice a change in your ability to communicate.
That’s because your “downstairs” brain (the emotional and primitive parts of your brain, such as your amygdala) are in charge of responding to (real or perceived) threats to your safety.
Your “upstairs” brain (the rational and logical part of your brain) goes “offline” during this time.
Your upstairs brain is what you need to problem solve, communicate, control your emotions, and access empathy. If you’ve ever done something you immediately regret, your downstairs brain was in charge.
That’s why communicating while stressed = increased misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and lots of problems to fix later on.
Here’s what you can do to improve communication and make life a little easier for yourself and others during this time:
1. Soothe your nervous system to help your “upstairs brain” come back online. Self-regulation always helps.
2. Do not take anything personally. Everyone is stressed and afraid right now. Whatever people say and do is a reflection of how they’re feeling. Never assume it’s about you, because it’s not.
3. Always check for understanding. When you speak, ask that the person listening repeat back to you what they heard, so you can check that they understood. When you’re listening, repeat back what you think you heard and ask what you got wrong.
Try not to assume anything is personal, that you’ve been understood, or that you understand someone else during this stressful time.
By calming your nervous system and checking for understanding you’ll reduce hurt feelings and increase everyone’s chances of getting critical tasks done correctly.
Tip #3: Prep For Sleep
Feeling tired, but too wired to sleep? Many helping professionals experience this on an average work day. Now lots of us are struggling with falling and staying asleep at night.
The irony is that sleep is an important part of keeping our immune system healthy. And we need that now more than ever.
So what can we do if we’re too stressed to sleep? It probably won’t help just go to bed early. Most of us will need to actively prepare our bodies to rest.
1. Get grounded and self-regulate all day with the practices listed above. Self-regulation is no joke! Pump the breaks on your stress response ALL DAY.
2. Create a 5-20 minute pre-bedtime routine to help shift your body into a more parasympathetic (rest and restore) state:
Do “legs up the wall” pose for 5-10 minutes
Use a weighted blanket or an 8 pound bag of rice on your belly
Take a lukewarm shower 60-90 minutes before bed
Stretch tight muscles with a foam roller
Listen to guided meditations, yoga nidra, or an audiobook
Soak your feet in Epsom salt with lavender oil
Write in a journal – release worries or notice the good
By taking some time to release tight muscles, lower your blood pressure and heart rate, and sooth your frazzled nervous system, you’ll be more likely to fall and stay asleep.
If you do find yourself waking up at 3am, don’t stress about it. If you can’t fall back to sleep, get up and try one of the options above.
Tip #4: Stop Looping
Rumination or overthinking can feel like a productive thing to do when you’re nervous or upset, as we all are right now. But numerous studies have shown that overthinking leads to a variety of negative consequences.
It sustains or worsens our sadness, fosters negatively biased thinking, and impairs our ability to actually solve problems. We need to get out of the loop.
If you notice you’re going round and round in your head try to:
Engage in a distracting activity. It needs to be engrossing enough that you won’t lapse back into thinking and ideally something that generates a positive emotion. But it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it absorbs you and doesn’t harm you.
Read or watch something suspenseful or funny
Meet a friend for a virtual coffee date
Go for a run or do yoga
Pray or meditate
Run lists or count objects. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try naming all 50 states, the cast of GOT, count the books in your office, or name 50 objects you can see right now. This helps bring your upstairs brain back online and then you can more easily shift to another activity.
Talk back to yourself. If you notice you’re saying the same negative things to yourself on repeat, choose a new comeback or mantra to repeat instead:
“I can handle this.”
“I will deal with what happens when it happens.”
“I’m doing the best I can with the limited resources available.”
“I’m a compassionate badass who tackles challenges for a living.”
“This is temporary.”
When we’re stressed our mind, just like our body, can go into overdrive. But we can use positive distractions and compassionate self-talk to help us break out of the worry cycle, so we can feel more calm and capable.
Tip #5: Sanitize with Compassion
Metta meditation, otherwise known as Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM), is a powerful practice (backed up by science) that generates positive emotions, a sense of goodwill, compassion for yourself and others, and fosters connection.
Right now, we could use ALL of the above! This is a simple practice you can do anywhere. Right now, it’s a great way to feel connected every time you wash your hands.
If you want to give it a try, say the following phrases to yourself:
May all beings be safe. May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings live with ease.
Repeat this set of phrases three times. That’s enough time to generate warmth in your heart AND bust the germs on your hands.
Remember: Stress is cumulative, but so is self-care. If you take a few minutes here and there throughout the day to self-regulate, check for understanding, prep for sleep, distract your worried mind, and feel connected to the world while you scrub, it will all add up, helping you to feel more calm and resilient during this difficult time.
You know who doesn’t need to work on their boundaries?
And probably parrots.
Okay, let’s just say animals.
Animals know what they like and do not like.
They know what they want to do and don’t want to do.
Then they do it. For as long as they want and then they stop.
If they want you to pet them, they shove their face in your hand.
If they want you to stop petting them, they walk away.
But only IF we allow them to.
We humans are not great with boundaries – ours or theirs.
We frequently fail to state our own boundaries clearly, so that others can respect them. See: biting your tongue instead of saying “do not touch my dog!”
We constantly ignore boundaries that are being clearly communicated to us. See: growling. And “It’s okay for me to pet him. I’m really good with shy dogs.”
Animals have a lot to teach us about boundaries. Here’s what they do without breaking sweat:
They don’t second guess themselves.
They don’t worry about what anyone thinks of them.
They don’t apologize or mumble when they say what they need.
They don’t feel guilty for hissing, growling, or walking away.
They don’t feel weird about changing their minds.
Animals clearly state their needs and limits. Then, depending on the circumstances and context, they will adjust their limits.
Healthy boundaries are firm and flexible. Animals let their boundaries change, based on their needs in that moment.
Old Boundary: I will hide under the bed for a thousand years before I allow you to touch me. New Boundary: I’ve decided to sleep on your head.
Old Boundary: I will bark and lunge at any dog that dares to walk on the other side of the street from me. New Boundary: I’ve decided I would like to sniff that particular dog’s butt.
Animals know what they want and ask for it.
They don’t worry about it being ridiculous or out of character or inconvenient or rude.
Obviously, it’s more complicated (kinda) for humans.
We’ve been ignoring our boundaries for so long, most of us aren’t even sure what they are anymore.
Even if we do know what our limits are, we’re too afraid, embarrassed, or busy trying to accommodate everyone else’s needs to assert ourselves.
Or maybe we feel conflicted and guilty because taking care of our needs means we might not be able to do ALL the things for the animals and people we love.
Let’s take a page out of the cat self-care playbook: They do not think it’s selfish to drink out of the kitchen sink or to warm their buns on our keyboards. They don’t feel lazy for taking their 17th nap of the day.
We love that about them.
We believe that animals are entitled to be well cared for and have their needs met, even if they don’t do a damn thing to “earn it.”
Well, we’re animals too.
With that in mind, here are some questions for you to explore:
What if you could approach your life the way animals do?
What would be different if you allowed yourself to pay close attention to what feels good and what feels unpleasant?
What would happen if you gave yourself permission to move away from what’s causing you harm or doesn’t serve you anymore?
Animals are always our very best teachers.
So the next time you’re not sure what a healthy boundary looks like, try to channel your inner cat.
Look that person right in the eye. Slowly knock everything off their desk. Then walk away.
No matter what you do for a living, if you’re like most of us, the demand for your help and services far outweighs your resources.
And that means you need to say “no” a lot.
It takes courage to say “no” – it makes most of us sweat.
And we may find that we feel some anger, resentment, or annoyance towards the people who made the requests…because they put us through the misery of needing to set limits.
For example, if you got a call from a client asking if you can squeeze their dog in for a last minute appointment that day, you might feel annoyed that they’re even asking.
Don’t they know that I don’t have the time for that? That I’m already stretched to my limits?
Maybe you wind up saying “yes” and then you’re overwhelmed.
Or maybe you do muster up the courage to say “no”, but then you’re upset that their request put you through the torture of turning them down.
No matter what your answer, you feel stressed!
Here’s where it helps to understand that there are two different styles of making requests.
I talked about it in a Facebook Live last night. You can watch that HERE to hear more or keep reading…
Andrea Donderi has a theory that we’re all raised in one of two cultures: Asking and Guessing.
In Ask culture, people grow up believing they can ask for anything – a favor, a raise, a last minute appointment, – fully realizing the answer may be no.
In Guess culture, people grow up believing that they should only ask for something if they’re pretty sure the answer will be yes.
Which one do you think you are?
Askers put stuff out there and wait to hear your decision. Can you watch my dog this weekend, so I can go on a last minute trip? Can you squeeze my cat in for a quick exam? Can you fit any more carriers on that transport?
Askers don’t mind if you say “no” – they’re just gathering info about what’s possible.
But when an Asker meets a Guesser, things get stressful.
Askers expect you can and will say “no”, if it doesn’t work for you.
But Guessers have a hard time believing that the Asker really feels this way.
If you’re a Guesser, you hear the request as an expectation.
They wouldn’t have asked, unless they expected I would say yes.
That’s why Askers can come off as rude or presumptuous to people who are Guessers.
Remember that pet owner who called for a last minute appointment?
They might be rude and inconsiderate OR they’re just an Asker, who expects you might decline.
They’re just giving it a shot by asking.
The problem is that Guessers are assuming everyone has the same mindset about asking – that no one would ask unless they expect the other person to say “yes”.
This mindset is based on a false assumption.
And this assumption creates a lot of unnecessary resentment and additional anxiety when we’re saying “no” to any request.
So what do we do about it?
If you’re an Asker, be clear about your expectations when you’re making the request: let the other person know it’s okay to say NO. Give them an out.
Explain that you understand your request may not be something they can accommodate and you’re open to other options or ideas.
If you’re a Guesser,stop assuming everyone expects you to say yes. A LOT of the requests you get are from Askers who expect that you might decline.
Experiment with assuming that at least half of the requests you’re getting are from people who know it’s a long shot. Drop the baggage of imagined expectations. It makes saying “no” a lot easier.
If your Guesser, try asking for more. When we only ask for what we want and need if we’re sure the answer will be yes, we’re shortchanging ourselves.
We can’t possible know what someone’s answer will actually be, unless we ask. Don’t assume! You’re cheating yourself out of a lot of help (and potentially wonderful experiences) because you guessed incorrectly.
I know that this doesn’t address the guilt, sadness, and stress of knowing that an animal is suffering or might die because you’re setting limits, but it is one layer of your stress that you can potentially let go of.
So I wanted to create something short(ish) to help us stay connected to this life-sustaining approach to helping others. It was time for a manifesto!
Practice Compassionate Badassery:
A Manifesto for Helpers
We believe that self-care and service inherently belong together. Our well-being fuels our impact. We pledge to honor our own welfare; And will not cause harm to ourselves, as we care for others. Compassion is our superpower. Healthy boundaries protect our big hearts. We hold these contradictions and uncertainties: – Work hard and let go of the outcomes. – Can’t fix it and show up anyway. – See the big picture and savor small rewards. – Seek out joy and allow pain. We know that laughter is medicine. Curiosity is connection. Pausing is powerful. Good enough is perfect. Rest is revolutionary. We are grounded in gratitude. We have the strength to ask for and accept help. We challenge systems and seek solutions. We live with integrity. We do the hard things. We make mindful, vulnerable, courageous choices every day. This is our path towards effective, ethical, sustainable giving. We are practicing compassionate badassery.
Two months ago, when I felt like I couldn’t do much of anything (because grief), I did what every sad, but kinda crafty 40 year old woman does: I bought stuff on Etsy.
Specifically, I bought a Lisa Congdon print that says OK Let’s Do This. I hung it right above my desk.
It wasn’t my first choice (I love all of her work), but I sorely needed a pep talk. I was feeling stuck, slow as molasses, and had no idea how I was ever going to get all my work done. Between you and me, my couch game this year has been STRONG.
I knew I needed to see and say those words every day: OK Let’s Do This.
OK Let’s Just Try To Do This One Thing even though your brain had been replaced with moldy Silly Putty.
OK Let’s Get To Work and try to get three things done, then you can listen to another chapter of Educated.
OK Let’s Make a Move Right NOW because if you hesitate for one more second, the couch is going to swallow you whole and burp out your uncharged Fitbit.
OK Let’s Do This.
It was a one sentence pep talk. Nothing fancy. I was just straight up inner coaching myself. But it worked (things that also worked: being outside in the sun, seeing a therapist, painting the walls a new color).
Here’s what I want for you: find the words that help you move in the direction you want to go. Then say them a lot. A lot, a lot.
I couldn’t conjure up the right words, so I borrowed Lisa Congdon’s to
help me pick myself up over and over again this spring, until I could do
it on my own.
eventually got rolling again and it wasn’t long before I got my first
whiff of overwhelm. I had a lot of catching up to do and I felt
anxious. So I had to change my pep talk.
OK Let’s Do This became It’s OK You Got This.
One motivated me to get going. The other helped me to feel calmer, more capable.
Whenever I notice that I’m starting to spin out about the classes I’m teaching, the programs I’m building, the newsletters I’m (not) writing, and the conference talks I’m giving, I stop and remind myself:
Yes it’s a lot, but I know I can do this. I’ve done it before. I’ve got the skills. I’ve got the knowledge. All will be well.
And I feel better.
That’s what I want you to know: What you say to yourself matters. Choose the words that will be most helpful and put them on repeat. Especially when you’re stressed out. Here’s why:
The way we perceive stress and the way we perceive ourselves in relation to stress matters.
Kelly McGonigal PhD wrote about 3 protective beliefs we can chose to have that will change how stress impacts our physical health.
The 3 Most Protective Beliefs About Stress:
View your body’s stress response as helpful, not debilitating (I’m gonna use this burst of energy to tackle that challenge!)
View yourself as able to handle, and even learn and grow from, the stress in your life (I can do this!)
View stress as something that everyone deals with, and not something that proves how uniquely screwed up you or your life is (I’m not alone in this, I’m just human, also maybe I need a snack?)
The research shows that having these positive beliefs can protect us from some of the harmful effects of stress, even if we can’t REDUCE our stress.
And here’s another way we can change how stress impacts us, without reducing our stress: find the meaning. If you can finding some meaning in whatever it is that’s stressing you out, you can reduce the harmful effects of stress (says McGonigal).
This is important to consider because lots of you work very intense jobs and there will be times when you can’t reduce your exposure to stress. So you have to change how you relate to it. That shift can help protect your heart (and other at-risk body bits) from the harmful effects of stress.
For me, it was the second belief (I know I can do this!) that has been really powerful for me these past couple of months. I can’t prove that it helped keep me physically healthy. But I can say, without a doubt, that telling myself over and over again – It’s OK, You’ve Got This – led me out of anxiety time and again.
When we believe (and reaffirm) that we have the skills that we need to address a challenge, we become less stressed by that challenge.
And if we don’t know how to address the challenge, but we believe that we have the capacity to learn the skills we need to tackle it, we’re less stressed.
If we believe that we have the skills and resources to cope with the difficult emotions that might come with the challenge, we’re more resilient to the stress.
How you perceive yourself in relation to stress matters. And you can shape your perceptions with deliberate self-talk.
So say it with me now: OK, Let’s Do This. It’s OK, I’ve Got This.
You can learn more about this stress perception stuff in the super popular TED Talk from Kelly McGonigal. But what about you? What words do you need to have on repeat, so you can do the thing?
Thanks to time, tears, therapy, journaling, and two million anti-histamines, I feel really good now. I’m myself again.
But more than anything, the single biggest factor in my mental health upswing was being able to sleep again.
Fun fact: Did you know that insomnia and depression are pretty much interchangeable in terms of how they present?
“Mood and sleep use the same neurotransmitters. It’s very hard to tell if someone has sleep loss or depression.” says Dr. Joyce Walseben, psychiatrist and former director of Bellevue Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center.
Sleep regulates a bunch of feel good chemicals, like serotonin, that are closely associated with our mood and behavior. When we’re not sleeping enough our brain’s emotional center is 60 percent more reactive than normal.
You might be thinking, I don’t have insomnia so this is dumb and I want a snack.
Hold on! The CDC defines adequate sleep as at least 7 hours a night.
Sleeping less than 7 hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress.
Are you getting 7+ hours of sleep on a regular basis?
Many of us don’t even come close (if you do, high five!)..
For some people, that’s a point of pride. We brag that we don’t get or need a lot of sleep.
It’s “proof” that we’re busy doing important stuff (and therefore we’re important).
That being said, you probably do have a lot on your plate and not enough support to help you handle the load.
No wonder sleep isn’t a priority.
You might be thinking, the CDC is bananas. I really am fine on 5 hours a night.
Fun fact: We can’t accurately perceive our sleepiness.
Professor Sigrid Veasey of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology, has said that lack of sleep skews our self-awareness. In the podcast Hurry Slowly she talked about a research study that looked at how people perceive themselves when they’re only sleeping 4 hours a night.
After the first night, when asked how they felt, they reported they felt terrible and sleepy.
But once the third night rolled around, they started reporting that they were feeling back to normal.
They said they had “adjusted” and no longer reported feeling sleepy.
But the objective tests they were taking showed a different story: with every passing day their performance was getting worse and worse.
You make think you’re doing great on just a few hours a night, but you can’t accurately perceive yourself homie.
Kind of like when you’re drinking. You think you sound normal, but you’re slurring your words while slowing sliding off the bar stool. You’re not fooling anyone.
Go home, you’re drunk.
There’s a strong parallel here with our experience of compassion fatigue.
It’s hard to perceive ourselves accurately when we’re experiencing CF.
We may acknowledge that the work we do is sad and hard, but overall our self-awareness is pretty low. We think we’re doing fine.
But if we’re experiencing CF there’s a good chance we’re not seeing ourselves accurately, that our outlook on the world is skewed, and that our behavior at work is impacted.
Here’s what I mean:
Compassion fatigue is a normal, predictable consequence of working in a helping profession. But the symptoms of CF (which can include anger, exhaustion, hyper-vigilance, apathy, lack of empathy, excessive complaining, and rigid thinking) do impair our ability to do our work well.
We’re so busy taking care of everyone around us that it can be hard to recognize how we’ve changed and how the quality of our work might be slipping.
Just like sleep deprived folks, we think we’ve adjusted well.
But we’re drunk and we need to go home, before we unintentionally cause harm to ourselves or those we serve.
That’s why compassion fatigue education is so important. It helps us to see ourselves clearly. What we notice we can change.
So let’s get practical: what’s one thing you can do today to help manage the impact of compassion fatigue?
Get some frigging rest.
Every other thing you need to do to be well, like spending time with friends, upholding your boundaries, resolving a conflict, processing your emotions, or getting some exercise, is so much harder to do when you’re sleep deprived.
Not to mention we need sleep to heal from our work – when we’re asleep our body has the chance to repairs itself and our brain is busy processing memories and trauma.
So how do you know how much sleep you really need?
Listen to Veasey: “What is the amount of sleep you need not to exist but to thrive? What’s the amount of sleep that you need to feel energized, excited, enthused about your life, your family, your friends? What’s that amount of sleep?”
For me, thriving is 8-9 hours a night. Sleep is the foundation of my well-being.
Everything, including writing this newsletter (the first one I’ve written in nearly two months) is 10 billion times easier, more enjoyable, and of much better quality when I’m well rested.
So please, I’m begging you, get some rest. It can help lift your mood and perspective, improve your physical health and relationships, and address compassion fatigue too.
Have you been considering taking my self-study class? Then you’ll want to read this:
The Compassion in Balance SELF-STUDY class is going away on April 26th.
That’s right, I’m pulling my first born out of rotation.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the class.
In fact, I hear stuff like this all the time from students:
“Compassion in Balance has helped me tremendously. I was on the verge of quitting last year and I feel like I’m finally in a better place now. We’ve had compassion fatigue training before, but none of it really focused on working with animals and it didn’t really make sense. You’ve bridged the gap for me and I truly appreciate it!” – Megan, Animal Shelter Volunteer Coordinator
But my work has come a long way since I launched that course in 2014.
This is the most affordable, most comprehensive compassion fatigue class for animal care and welfare workers out there, so if you want it, don’t hesitate. It WILL help. And you have access to the materials for a full year, so scoop it up now and jump in whenever you can.
One more time for the kids in the back carving their initials into their desks:
Enrollment in The Compassion in Balance self-study course ends on Friday 4/26.
p.s. If you are already a student in the self-study (thank you!), don’t worry – you will still have access to the course materials for a full year, as promised. The only thing that ends on the 26th is new enrollments.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how multiple losses can complicate grief. And if they happen in a short period of time it can overwhelm our ability to cope.
If we work with animals in shelters and vet clinics, the sheer number of losses we experience can be a major challenge (see: cumulative grief). In some workplaces we’re experiencing daily losses and in large numbers.
This puts us in a constant cycle of fresh grief with coping skills that might be really overloaded. And I’m not even including the losses we experience in our personal lives. Which I should, since most of us are grieving on any given day.
It’s wonderful. And it made me think about some of you and how, if the losses are constant, the ball never has a chance to get smaller naturally. The losses stack up and the pain can be overwhelming.
Yet we hardly talk about grief at work.
So I have questions.
What do we do with all this cumulative grief? How do we tend to it and allow ourselves to experience the pain (so that it’s not trapped inside and causing damage), but still remain functional at work?
We do a pretty terrible job of allowing for grief in our modern society. It’s all the more challenging when our workplaces are filled with unacknowledged loss and pain. Or when we avoid acknowledging that some of the losses we experience have been traumatizing.
Sometimes we’re afraid to feel or do anything because we worry that acknowledging the loss might “break the dam” and we’ll fall apart.
We’re holding so much in.
But what if we acknowledged the grief more regularly, so that there was no dam to break? What if our workplaces were psychologically safe enough for us to be vulnerable with one another?
What would it look like to acknowledge grief and to create shared rituals that allow us to grieve together in workplaces that are constantly impacted by loss?
What would a “grief-positive” or at least a “grief competent” workplace look like?
Like I said, I have a lot of questions.
But I’d never leave you hanging without some ideas for what we can do to address this.
A friend who works in harm reduction (for people impacted by drug use) mentioned how many losses her community was dealing with and shared this resource for grieving on the job, born out of AIDS bereavement work, called When Grief Comes to Work.
I highly recommend it if you’re in a leadership role. The guide includes a number of prevention and intervention strategies such as: trauma-informed organizational culture, varying workload, education so staff understands what they’re experiencing, social/group support, workplace rituals, mental health coverage, supervision to process events, and resources for self-care.
In particular, I’m turning over his thoughts on the powerful relationship between grief and gratitude, sorrow and joy:
“The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible…
A heart that does not somehow deal with grief turns hard and becomes unresponsive to the joys and sorrows of the world. Then our communities become cold; our children go unprotected; our environment can be pillaged for the good of the few. Only if we learn to grieve can we keep our hearts responsive and do the difficult work of restoring and repairing the world.”
Don’t skip the interview. It’s rich.
If you have anything to share about how organizations can address grief and loss, I’d love to hear from you.
Are any of you offering groups facilitated by a veterinary social worker or grief counselor for your staff? Do you have any rituals to acknowledge your losses? I’m curious to know what’s already being done. Leave a comment or send me a message anytime. I always want to hear from you!
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