The #1 thing your boss doesn’t want me to talk to you about

When I’m facilitating workshops and webinars, organizations typically ask me to focus on teaching their staff self-care. 

No surprises there. Learning about self-care is really important.

But, as you’ve heard me say before, it’s only one part of the wellbeing puzzle.

The other half is organizational policies and practices, like workload, training and supervision, and equitable pay (because landlords don’t accept “I do yoga everyday!” as rent payment…yet).

Still, I’m happy to talk about self-care, because it’s what individuals have the most control over and it really does help. 

But here’s where it gets interesting:  

I’ve repeatedly been asked to leave out one specific element of self-care from my workshops. 

What do you think it is?

I’ll wait while you guess.

No, it’s not financial self-care.

Nope, it’s not sexual self-care.

It’s…

Spiritual self-care.

Lots of organizations do not want me to talk about spirituality with their staff. 

Which is a problem, because spirituality is a big part of what keeps us well while doing challenging work. 

I get why this topic feels taboo in our workplaces. 

I think it’s mostly because we confuse spirituality with organized religion. 

Religion and spirituality are not the same thing.

Religion: is an institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; the service and worship of God or the supernatural.

Spirituality: connotes an experience of connection to something larger than you; living everyday life in a reverent and sacred manner.

Or as Christina Puchalski, MD (leader in trying to incorporate spirituality into healthcare), puts it,

“Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.”

You probably knew that already, but I didn’t understand the difference between the two until I was old enough to have a periodontist.

And it blew my non-religious mind. 

That’s when I understood that the aspect of my wellness wheel that was 99% missing were spiritual beliefs and intentional practices that would ground, connect, and sustain me. 

Since no one talks about the role of spirituality in our professional lives, I just figured it was like a bonus round of self-care you do if and when you had some extra time (like using a Waterpik when you’re already flossing and brushing).

Today I understand that regular spiritual care is fundamental to our wellbeing.

Spirituality can help us navigate through difficult choices about euthanasia and painful end-of-life experiences.

It can help us accept our fundamental limits as human beings, while also allowing us to feel connected to something much bigger than ourselves.

Spirituality can anchor our daily actions in our values and ethics, helping us to stay present with the suffering we witness and motivated to do difficult work. 

And it helps us tap into joy, purpose, and satisfaction. Career-sustaining stuff.  

So we’re doing ourselves and our staff a disservice if we don’t allow any acknowledgement of this important part of our individual and collective wellbeing. 

Still not sure spirituality has a place in our professional self-care?

In her research, Brené Brown found that across the board, the most resilient people have a spiritual life.

She shares, “Without exception the concept of spirituality emerged from the data as a critical component of resilience and overcoming struggle.”

If we want resilience for ourselves and our staff, then it’s time to welcome spirituality into our conversations about self-care. 

Because if there’s anything less effective than self-care, it’s censored self-care.

So if organizations want to keep the focus solely on self-care, instead of organizational care, they need to embrace ALL aspects of human wellbeing.

So what does spirituality look like at work? At home?

How does it help us care for ourselves, so we can keep giving to animals?

It starts by getting curious about what nurtures your spirit. Not mine. Yours.

What brings you joy? Creates a sense of awe? Connects you to meaning and purpose?

It may be organized religion for you or it could be something totally different, like sunsets or quantum physics. 

Whatever it is, how can you get more of that into your life on a regular basis?

And if you want to see spirituality in action at work, check out the Netflix show Lenox Hill.

Watch the staff engage in their pre-surgery ritual: a pause to connect with themselves, each other, the human-ness of each patient, and to quietly center themselves in whatever way works for them (it might be religious prayer, secular mantras, or just a deep breath). 

What would that look like in your workplace?

One powerful skill you need when you’re feeling ALL the feels

How are you feeling? 

No really, I mean it.

How are you feeling? What emotion are you experiencing right now? 

I don’t know if this is true for you, but the last year+ has been an intense rollercoaster of emotions and I’ve been leaning into what Susan David calls “emotional agility” skills to help me make it through. 

When it comes to working with our emotions, one of the more helpful emotional agility skills we can learn is how to increase our “emotional granularity.” 

Emotional granularity is the ability to distinguish and put our feelings into words, with a high degree of specificity and precision.

But most of us are anything but precise when it comes to labeling our emotions!

We typically describe how we feel in broad, non-specific words, like “stressed” or “blah.”

So, what’s wrong with that? 

Emotions are information. They help us to figure out what we need.

Get the label wrong and we might miss out on an important message or the best next steps to take for ourselves.

But when we accurately and specifically identify our emotions, then we can more accurately determine what we truly need.

So, as Susan says, go beyond the obvious and identify exactly what you’re feeling.



Not to mention, the very act of labeling your emotions can help you self-regulate. You know: name it, to tame it. 

Have you been feeling a whole lot of blah lately? This article about “languishing” is worth reading. 

And if you’re interested here’s a short article with solid tips on how to build the important (and rarely taught!) skill of emotional granularity.

Want to learn more? Join us in The Compassionate Badassery Lab for our webinar next week on emotions!

Born out of the early days of COVID, The Lab is a place where we experiment with new ideas, practices, and self-care to help us navigate the ongoing challenges of our work with animals and life in general.

If you’d like to join us in The Lab, we have an amazing library of webinars and workbooks on topics like boundaries, self-care, holding space, conflict, and so much more.

You can join The Lab anytime as a monthly member or annual member. On Thursday 5/20 you can join us for a live webinar called Compassionate Badassery Skills: Courage in the Heart.

We’ll be learning how to work with our emotions, because let’s face it: the work we do is all the feels, all the time!

The Lesson I Hope We Learned From COVID

March 2020 to March 2021 has felt like a month and a decade rolled into one, hasn’t it?

So much heartbreak. So much joy. So many hours of Netflix. So many lessons learned. 

Which reminds me, have you heard the sweet poem The Great Realisation yet?

It reminds us to ask:

What, if anything, have we gained from this year of COVID? 

What, if anything, do we want to bring with us into this next chapter of our lives?

I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I value most this year (family, birdfeeders, libraries, memes, my lungs). 

But in terms of our work, one thing I really hope we’ve learned this past year is that resilience is dynamic and contextual. 

We typically view resilience as an evaluation of one’s individual efforts and character (if you’re not resilient, then you’re to blame. You should have self-cared harder!). 

Of course, our efforts to care for ourselves absolutely matter. But this year made it very, very clear what researchers have known for a long time: our resilience is context dependent.

An individual’s home and work environment, social support, and access to resources impacts their overall resilience. 

My hope is that COVID has sped up our understanding of the many organizational, social, cultural, and structural factors that impact individual resilience, so that going forward we’ll place equal importance on self-care efforts AND we-care initiatives. 

COVID reminded us there is no clean line between resilience at work and home.

What happens in our personal life impacts our work performance and what happens on the job impacts the quality of our life at home.

COVID also made it abundantly clear that while we may all be in the same storm, we’re in vastly different boats.

When this many people are struggling to keep their heads above water, we can’t keep pushing them (or ourselves) to work harder as if it’s business as usual. 

“Suck it up and deal” and “think positive” are cliches, not real strategies. Resilience is more complex than that. 

If you haven’t heard it yet, listen to Susan David and Brene Brown’s solid 2-part conversation on toxic positivity, emotions at work, and compassion fatigue.

They remind us that when we force ourselves (or others) to repeatedly repress our emotions and deny our biological needs it never ends well. 

When we consistently ignore our body’s needs and we keep our feelings bottled up it creates toxic internal pressure.

Eventually, we implode (mental and physical illness) or explode (outbursts and violence). 

So we’re going to need to intentionally make time to attend to our feelings and chronic stress now – and make space for our staff to do the same – or we’ll be forced to deal with the consequences later. 


One way that we can begin to help our own bodies rest and repair from this past year (and to cope with the continuing challenges ahead), is by building the skills of awareness and self-regulation.

Yes, those are individual self-care strategies. Because we need those too. 

Even if we can’t control what’s happening around us in the world or in our workplaces, we can change how we interact with and perceive these challenges, which can reduce some of the harmful effects of stress.

Self-regulation practices that soothe our nervous system can help us feel safer and steadier in our bodies. This allows us to access our thinking brain so that we can make better choices for ourselves and those around us.

It also gives us the capacity to hold space for the complexity of what it is to be fully human at work and at home.

If COVID has taught us anything it’s that it’s possible to radically change the way we work overnight.

This year, I hope we can apply that kind of radical thinking to worker welfare, whether we’re self-employed or have a staff of 500. 

If you’d like to explore these ideas for yourself or your staff, here are some resources:

  • If you’d like to try out some self-regulation practices, you can join us  in The Compassionate Badassery Lab for a webinar where we’ll look at the window of tolerance, trigger stacking, and how to shift out of chronic stress activation. You can join The Lab as a monthly member or annual member.

The Medicine We All Need in 2021: When Dogs Heal

Did you know that a really common symptom of compassion fatigue is cynicism?

Cynicism looks like a lot of eye rolling and feels like weariness and suspicion. 

Honestly, it’s a pretty understandable response to all the pain and suffering we witness at work and in the world.

Over time, stress and trauma-exposure will change the way we see things and makes it harder to trust people. 

Back when I worked at the shelter, there came a point when I thought everyone was lying and everything was destined to end badly.

I was a real hit at parties.

And by parties I mean the couch, where I cried-yelled-eye-rolled my way through vats of ice cream. 

But this is what traumatic stress does to us: it changes our perceptions and we struggle to connect with and see the good in people. 

Enter Jesse Freidin’s new book, When Dogs Heal: The Healing Power of Dogs Within the HIV Community.

Jesse is an amazing photographer. You may know him from his book about the animal rescue community called Finding Shelter whichI interviewed him about here.

When Dogs Heal was created by Jesse in collaboration with adolescent HIV+ specialist Dr. Robert Garofalo and it documents the experiences of people living with HIV and the dogs who help them though it all. 

Just about every story had me in happy tears.

Over and over people who had been cruelly rejected, isolated, marginalized, afraid, and in profound despair were found, seen, and healed by their dogs. 

Their stories confirm everything you and I know about the bond between animals and people: it’s magical and medicinal.

But their stories might also teach you something new, as they did for me, about what it’s like to live with HIV in 2021.

The continuing stigma is stunning and I’m grateful to the people who bravely shared their stories in this book.

But let’s get back to cynicism.

From my perspective as a former shelter adoption counselor, I couldn’t help but notice how many people in the book got their dogs from places that typically make us nervous (I’m looking at you Craig’s List) and checked the boxes that would typically get them rejected from adopting (in-between jobs, young, renting, un-housed, etc.).

Despite that, all the stories (with one exception) had a happy ending for the dogs.

The conditions were imperfect and challenging, yet the dogs are still deeply loved, protected, and cherished by their humans. 

The families in this book are everything we could hope for in an adopter.

And so this gorgeous book has an unintended consequence for those of us in animal welfare: it’s the antidote to cynicism. 

Reading the stories will make you feel the way you did, before the work hurt your heart. 

Sometimes, when all the bad stuff we witness has hardened and exhausted us, we need to have our hearts broken open again.

We need something to help us shake off the cynicism, so we can feel hope and know joy.

We need stories that will shift and widen our perspective, so we don’t cause harm.

We need to know these stories exist, so that we can heal a little too. 

When Dogs Heal is the kind of heart-medicine that we all need right now. You can get your copy here.

2021 Word of the Year: Reverence

Do you have a word of the year (WOTY)? WOTY is a word or a short phrase that serves as an intention for the year to come. 

For me, WOTY is 1000% more helpful than New Year’s resolutions. It’s serve as my compass for how I want to live my life for the next 12 months. 

Here are some of the words I’ve chosen in the past:

2020: Deliberate
2019: n/a
2018: Ease and Receive
2017: Joyful Responsibility
2016: Full
2015: Integrate

Looking back on 2020, DELIBERATE turned out to be a tough, but helpful WOTY. I started off the year making very intentional, non-reactive choices about how I spent my time.

Enter COVID.

The pandemic slammed me into reactive mode, busy in the extreme, struggling to be deliberate and consistent in caring for myself.

But it turned out that just knowing my WOTY was DELIBERATE helped, because it kept me honest about how unintentional I was being each day.

That awareness helped me to re-assess and, eventually, to pump the brakes on the runaway car that was my work life. I was able to end the year with a return to a more deliberate approach.

Some of you may remember that I took 30 days off of social media in January 2020.

This January, I left completely (more on that coming soon!).

The choice to leave social media personally and professionally was the result of my WOTY – my intention to live a more deliberate life.

Which brings us to 2021.

I was looking for a word that would capture my desire to be fully present with and grateful for the animals and people I love, to feel satisfied with what I have and what I can do, to care deeply for my body and the land I live on, and to not miss out on the beauty of being alive because of my tendency towards perpetual busy-ness.

That’s a lot to ask of one word!

It took me a week and then, on New Year’s Day REVERENCE popped into my head.

Reverence means to have profound respect, mingled with love, devotion, or awe.

Yep, that’s the one. 

So I asked myself: What does reverence look like in daily life?

I think it may come down to this: to be reverent is to have radical respect and gratitude for all aspects of life. 

Approaching daily life with reverence requires a certain degree of slowness, simplicity, and openness.

It takes the word DELIBERATE and adds heaps of gratitude and mystery and love.

Some of you may be familiar with Albert Schweitzer’s work with animals and his philosophy of Reverence for Life.

He wrote, “Reverence for Life says that the only thing we are really sure of is that we live and want to go on living. This is something that we share with everything else that lives, from elephants to blades of grass – and of course, every human being. So we are brothers and sisters to all living things, and owe to all of them the same care and respect that we wish for ourselves.”

Rabbi Abraham Heschel gets right to it: “Reverence is a salute of the soul, an awareness of the inherent value of all beings.”

Many of you work with animals and already have a deep reverence for their lives.

But what about your own life?

Do you believe in your own inherent value, apart from what you can produce?

And do you offer yourself the same care and respect you generously give to animals?

I struggle with this and I know that many of you do as well.

That’s why I chose REVERENCE for 2021.

Reverence is my intention to stay connected to what is most meaningful for me, approaching all areas of my life with radical respect, so that I am present with what is sacred.

“Living in a sacred manner means looking upon the ordinary with a mystical eyesight. When seen differently, the common things are soon handled in a different way – with reverence.” – Edward Hays

What would be different if I looked at the everyday parts of my life with reverence? How would I relate differently to:

  • My body, mind, and spirit?
  • My family and friends, human and animal, past and present?
  • The people I have the privilege to work with and care for?
  • The animals, plants, minerals, and water in my yard and around the world?
  • What I consume – from food to information?

How would life be different if I moved at the speed of radical respect and awe?

I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to finding out in 2021!

Because reverence is such a BIG word, I chose a 2nd, more earth-bound, support word for 2021: CONSISTENCY.

For me to live with reverence I need structure, routine, and ritual.

Like many of us, when things are very stressful I tend to drop my most supportive structures – just when I need them most. This immediately takes me out of living with a deep respect for myself (not to mention others), so this year consistency is married to reverence.

What about you? What’s your WOTY?

Whatever word you chose (or don’t!), I’m wishing you a year filled with laughter, health, happiness, and safety.

My Fake TED Talk: Practicing Compassionate Badassery [Shifting from Self-Care to We-Care]

Earlier this year I gave a short presentation at a national animal welfare conference, but since it cost $$ to attend (unless you lucked out with a scholarship) my talk wasn’t accessible to most folks in animal shelters. 

This presentation – I’m calling it my fake TED Talk – is my deepest wish for the animal welfare field. So I really wanted to make it available for everyone!

Want to know my challenge to the field and 5 things we can do right now to increase worker wellbeing? Click the image below to find out:

Want more resources? Check this page out.

Can You Take a Vacation in a Pandemic?

Two weeks ago I was on vacation. It was my first week off since Christmas.

The longer I go without a vacation, the longer the vacation needs to be for me to benefit from it.

So this year I took two-ish weeks off.

The first week I was at home, working at about 15% of my normal load, taking care of things like doctor’s appointments and car repairs, with lots of time for Zoom calls with long distance friends.

I pumped the breaks on work, gradually stepping back over 5 days to help my nervous system and brain slow down and disconnect from screens.

The goal: to be fully present and enjoy the second week of vacation at a house in the woods with my family.

And not to get sick. 

In the past, I’ve jammed on the breaks to take a week off.

And for years, I crashed. Hard.

Not only would I spend the first few days of my vacation tired AND wired, but by mid-week I almost always got sick. My body knew it was a “good” time to fall apart.

Years later, I know I need to pump the brakes ahead of time, so that I can enter my “real” vacation healthy enough to benefit from it.

Which I did earlier this month.

And I STILL slept 8 hours a night and took an hour long nap every afternoon. I had no idea I was so tired.

But I’m not surprised. 2020 has been one problem, heartache, emergency, and horror after another.

We are all tired.

And most of us aren’t taking enough time to rest (for lots of reasons).

We have a troubled relationship with vacation time in America. In 2018, 768 million US vacation days went unused.

That’s in a “normal” year. Who knows what it will look like in 2020?

Recently, I gave a webinar for a shelter and the staff shared privately that they felt like they were being judged (by leadership and peers) for wanting to take their designated breaks and vacation time.

They were trying to take care of themselves, but didn’t feel psychologically safe enough to do it.

That’s a good example of how individual self-care can only take root when it’s supported by workplace culture and policies.

I’ve also spoken to a number of shelter workers lately who feel that because they or their staff had a month off in March or April (due to COVID), they “shouldn’t” need a vacation now.

I disagree. Here’s why:

1. Being furloughed or laid off isn’t a vacation. It’s time off, but it’s unplanned, maybe even unpaid, and it was at the start of a traumatic global pandemic.

My husband was laid off for 7 months this past year (starting before COVID). And while I was definitely envious of his (partially) paid time off, I also knew that being involuntarily out of work was not a vacation for him, it was stressful.

Furloughs and layoffs = uncertainty = stress. 

2. One break a year isn’t enough. March was 6 months ago. We’re due for another rest. Why do we (I’m looking at us Americans) think we only need one vacation a year? How has that been working for us so far?  

Most EU countries are required to offer a minimum of 20 paid days off annually. That allows for multiple weeks off a year. America? We’re not required, federally, to offer even ONE paid day off a year. No wonder so many people can’t take time to rest. It’s a choice between vacation and paying rent. 

Fortunately, many employers do offer some paid time off. But we’re not using it.

Why? Because we feel like it’s not safe – either because of our workplace culture or because our nervous systems are so jacked up on stress from working 51 weeks straight that trying to slow down is physically painful for us.

3. This year has not been business as usual. Wildfires, COVID, racial violence, a contentious election, and who knows what’s next (fingers crossed for an asteroid-free fall!)? When stress is this high, for this long, we need to double down on our rest.

People need to “come off the front lines” for regular, extended R&R, so they don’t burn out. 

Even Mother Teresa understood this. Rumor has it she recommended that her nuns take an entire year off every 4-5 years to allow themselves to heal from the effects of their caregiving work.

Surely we can figure out a way to let our people take regular time to heal too? We cannot expect them to keep going like this without consequences. At a minimum we’re looking at high turnover and a reduction in the quality of services being offered. 

When I got back from vacation my energy was restored. Yes, it felt a little weird to take a vacation when the world is in crisis. But stepping back helps me to keep stepping up. 

After vacation I’m excited about supporting others this fall because I’m operating from a surplus, instead of a deficit. 

You know, we’re spreading more than just COVID right now. We’re spreading our emotions, our stress, our perspective on the world.

When you’re well-rested, it ripples out to positively impact every life you touch. So do it for yourself or do it for those you care for, but please: take a break. 

Look, I know it’s complicated with small staffs and small budgets, not to mention layoffs looming, but I hope you’ll at least consider it.

Or talk with your people (or yourself!) about how it’s OK to take a vacation in a pandemic, even if they had time off in the spring.

And if you’re pushing your staff (or yourself!) to work even harder right now and they haven’t had a break in months, just beware.

ZOMBIES are coming.

Your work – your organization’s services – will benefit from having well-rested humans who can show up with energy and enthusiasm again.

It’s a win-win for everyone, including the animals. 

BIPOC Mental Health Resources (plus, affordable therapy options for all)

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. 

See: What is racial trauma?

Below is a list of affordable mental health options for everyone, as well as some specific resources for BIPOC.

Everyone deserves support. I hope this list makes it a little easier for you to find the support that truly meets your individual needs. 

General resources for affordable support:

7 Cups, free emotional support

Emotional support hotlines (warm lines) directory

General resources for affordable, inclusive therapy:

How to find affordable therapy.

The Open Path Collective, a non-profit that offers reduced cost, inclusive therapy

Ayana an app that connects marginalized and intersectional communities to online mental health help (offers limited free online help for frontline workers during COVID)

Inclusive Therapists directory offers a number of resources for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, the LGBTQ+ community, neurodivergent people, and people with disabilities

Therapist directories and resources for Black men and women:

The Loveland Foundation offers resources for Black women and girls, including financial assistance for therapy

BEAM: Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective offers a Black virtual therapist directory (for tele-sessions)

Therapy for Black Girls directory

Therapy for Black Men directory

Melanin and Mental Health dope therapist directory

Boris L Henson Foundation therapist directory and free telehealth session

National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network

Looking for more? Check out 44 Mental Health Resources for Black People Trying to Survive in This Country for a comprehensive list of resources. 

Tips on how to find an anti-racist therapist from @melaninandmentalhealth:

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.

5 Practical Self-Care Tips For Coping with COVID-19

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.

Tip #1 Get Grounded

You can listen to Jessica read tip # 1 here.

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.

Here’s how:

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

For more on each of these ideas, please see my free Coping with COVID-19 webinar here.

Looking for more support? Schedule a free call with me, so we can get to know each other and find out if 1-on-1 coaching or my Compassion in Balance Program is the right fit for you or your team!

Does Your Cat Have Better Boundaries Than You?

You know who doesn’t need to work on their boundaries?

CATS.

Also, dogs. 

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. 

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