It’s Time Animal Welfare Adopted a Trauma-Informed Care Approach

“To be truly visionary, we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality.” – bell hooks

It’s National Mental Health Week which seems like a good time to explore what many experts have declared is the public health crisis of our time: trauma.

Specifically, I’d like to look at the organization’s role in actively reducing the traumatization of staff in the workplace.

I’m talking about trauma-informed care (TIC).

Trauma-informed care is a model of care that acknowledges the widespread impact of trauma amongst all populations and creates an environment of awareness and understanding for those that have been affected by trauma.

Those that have been affected by trauma include: the people in our communities who we support through our services AND the people in our communities who work within our organizations. 

Why bother with TIC you ask?

Trauma impacts more people than not.

  • For example, the majority of Americans report having at least one adverse childhood experience before the age of 18 (such as abuse, neglect, divorce, etc.).
  • People who work in helping professions typically experience vicarious trauma or secondary traumatic stress – which refers to the impact of indirect exposure to difficult, disturbing and/or traumatic images and stories of the suffering of others – at some point in their careers. They may also experience direct trauma on the job as well. 
  • We have all been exposed to toxic stress and trauma due to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with increased racial violence and political unrest (that isn’t to say we’ve all been impacted to the same degree – we have not – just that we’ve all been impacted).

To spare you 2000 words, I’m not going to go into a detailed explanation of trauma, but if you’d like to understand trauma better, here’s a good free webinar.

What’s important for us to consider is that trauma can lead to such mental health and co-occurring disorders as chronic diseases, substance use disorder, clinical depression, anxiety disorders, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.

People who have experienced trauma may feel isolated, powerless, or helpless in their relationships and environments. Trauma may also cause feelings of shame, blame, fear, and guilt. Trauma can also be exacerbated by environmental factors, such as triggers in our workplace.

And trauma can weaken a person’s ability to regulate stress, creating a heightened physiological reaction to triggers, and sensitizing them to future trauma, thereby increasing their chances of developing a mental health disorder.

Consider the professional ramifications of that last sentence.

How might a person’s ability to regulate stress effectively have an impact on their performance and interactions with other people within high-stress, trauma-exposed work environments like animal shelters?

Remember that trauma exposure is happening AT work and is ongoing. So no matter what happened to them before staff walked through the doors, their experience of secondary and vicarious trauma ON the job is likely going to impact their ability to DO their jobs well. 

Let me speak plainly: our people are hurting. Their unhealed trauma ripples out and hurts the people and animals they serve (and one another). 

Like the old saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” 

Trauma (at work and home) is a root cause of so many of the issues that the field of animal welfare struggles to address decade after decade:

  • Why are our adoption counselors having such a hard time with open, barrier-free adoptions?
  • Why do they take behavior euthanasia decisions so hard?
  • Why do they cross lines with people they’re supporting in community outreach programs?
  • Why are they struggling to implement DEI training?
  • Why are they so resistant to change and polarized in their thinking?
  • Why do we have so much conflict between staff? Between staff and volunteers? Between staff and the public? Between rescue groups and shelters?
  • Why does our staff struggle to regulate their emotions?
  • Why do they over identify with the animals and their pain?

Look, I’m not saying it’s the ONLY cause for these issues. And I’m not making any excuses for harmful behavior. 

But it is a root cause that we have NEVER addressed through thoughtful, non-reactive, organization-level approaches.

We’ve definitely tried individual approaches (Use the Employee Assistance Program! Do some yoga!) and those are important, but as we’ve seen (and the research backs up) they’re ineffective on their own.

Environment matters.

Given the intensity of the past 1.5 years and that we’ve had to reinvent how we work and live, this is the ideal time to start learning about Trauma Informed Care practices.

Other fields, such as human social services, have already paved the TIC-way in terms of how to create healthier workplaces, in which staff are better supported, thereby reducing the risk that they will cause harm to the animals and people they serve in their communities.

We do not need to reinvent the wheel. We can learn from experts in other fields.

Here are some basics:

SAMHSA uses a four Rs rubric to describe a “trauma-informed” organization, program, or system:

Realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand potential paths for recovery;

Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;

Respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and

Actively resist re-traumatization.

The 6 core principles of any trauma-informed approach are:

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness + transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration + mutuality
  5. Empowerment, voice, + choice
  6. Cultural, historical + gender issues

Organizations that integrate trauma-informed principles and strategies into their policies and procedures are better able to ensure that their workplace is culturally competent and trauma-informed for both staff and community members.

Organizations don’t shift to a TIC approach overnight. This is a long, slow, thoughtful process that typically takes place over the course of years.

There is no quick fix for this issue. We’re getting at the foundations of organizational health.
It’s not something we tackle in a lunch and learn. It’s not something we understand by reading a blog post shot off by someone who took a mental health first aid training (ahem, that’s me).

We’re not turning around a speedboat. We’re trying to turn around a freight ship in the Suez Canal. Not impossible, but it’s not happening quickly either.

The Missouri Model recommends the following four steps to becoming a trauma-informed organization:

Awareness: Organization becomes aware of how prevalent trauma is and its impact on workers, clients, and business outcomes.

Sensitivity: Organization begins to understand trauma-informed principles, causes, expressions and possible ways to overcome problems that affect workers and business.

Response: Organization begins to implement changes that affect culture, routines, and human resource processes to eliminate triggers.

Informed: Organization begins to implement trauma-informed practices and monitoring the impacts of changes made to policies and practices.

Here are some examples of trauma-informed strategies that can be implemented at the organizational level:

  • Involve community members in the planning and development of programs that impact them.
  • Educate all staff on the effects of trauma and a basic understanding of how trauma affects an individual’s mind and body
  • Promote opportunities for staff development, connection, and self-care.
  • Collaborate with staff on the development of organizational policies.
  • Prioritize the creation of a safe, supportive environment that minimizes environmental triggers.

One simple (but not easy) way to begin our shift towards a trauma-informed approach would be to reframe the question “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”

We already do this for the animals. Now it’s time to do it for the humans in our workplaces.

So, if we’re talking about mental health this week, we would do well to acknowledge one thing that’s “happened” to our staff is ongoing exposure to trauma on and off the job, coupled with some pretty unhealthy workplaces. 

Because when it comes to mental health, environment matters. 

This is a very brief look at a complex topic. If you’d like to learn more, please see the free resources linked below:

SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach

A Trauma-Informed Approach to Workforces

Blueprint for a Vicarious Trauma-Informed Organization

In addition, we’ve just added more spots to my upcoming Compassion Fatigue Strategies Plus course, in which we’ll discuss this topic further. Class starts on 10/18 and you can register here.

To be clear, I’m not an expert in Trauma-Informed Care. But I know people who are! I’m part of a group that’s currently working to create an online learning event around trauma-informed care this winter, so can learn directly from the experts on this topic. More info about that in a couple of months.

I Stopped Working 5 Days a Week. Here’s What Happened.

This summer I’ve been running an experiment: since June 1st, I’ve been working a four day week.

For me, this looks like working Monday – Thursday, from about 9am-6pm(ish), and taking taking Friday – Sunday off.

I’m averaging of 35-40 hours of work per week, so I’m getting all my major tasks and client work done, despite the shorter workweek.

I have needed to adjust some of the deadlines on my deep work projects, to give myself more time to complete them.

I’m okay with that because not being burned out feels pretty amazing and it’s good for my work long-term. 

5 things to know about my 4 Day Workweek experiment:

1. After the summer ends, I won’t be going back to a 5 day workweek. 

2. That’s because the 40 hour, 5 day workweek is a construct. It’s just a made up amount of time we’ve been socialized to think is a “normal” workweek.

Countries outside of the US have different social and organizational norms about workweeks. 

100 years ago there was no such thing as a weekend.

It’s all made up. It’s always been an experiment!

We can make up something different that works better for us and our employees.

I recognize that not everyone can do this (there have been many years where I’ve worked 2-3 jobs to pay the bills and had no days off).

But if you do have the power and privilege to create something new for yourself and others, go for it. 

3. Flexibility is key. Some weeks I work a few hours on a Friday morning. Most weeks I don’t.

It’s important (to me) that I not get caught up in all-or-nothing thinking with this approach.

It’s likely that I will need to work 6 days a week here and there this winter in order to finish some big projects.

Work and play ebb and flow with the seasons, so I’m embracing those cycles. 

4. The research is clear that shorter workweeks boost productivity.

It’s good for organizations and it’s good for workers.

This year we’re facing an epidemic of burnout in North America – across all fields, not just animal welfare – so it’s time for a big change.

If you’re thinking about doing this at your org, there’s lots of evidence and advice out there. See here and here and here and here

5. And finally, people love my out-of-office message. Folks are excited to see someone publicly owning their time off.

What that tells me is that we need to explicitly talk about our rest and play.

We talk endlessly about how much we work, which may make it feel “risky” to publically share when we are choosing* not to work.

It’s one thing to share a “valid” excuse for taking time off, like a car accident or having COVID.

But just saying I’m off because I want to be off?! That’s inviting all kind of judgment.

*Side note: I’m not touching on the ableist ways we judge and penalize people with disabilities (“hidden” or otherwise) who absolutely need to work differently or they risk their health. That’s coming in another newsletter because we have to talk about all the problematic going back to “normal” post-pandemic stuff that’s happening. 

Here’s the bottom line: Practicing compassionate badassery means being able to tolerate the discomfort of doing things differently.

It’s worth it.

With 3 days off each week I feel better mentally and physically. I have more time for my family, friends, and pets.

I have some wiggle room in my week that allows me to adapt to what pops up without feeling totally overwhelmed.

In other words, I have a real life outside of work for the first time in years. 

Curious about my autoresponder? On Fridays it says:

“My summer hours are Monday – Thursday 9am-6pm ET. You can expect a response from me when I return to work on Monday. I’m experimenting with taking Fridays off this June-August because research shows that shorter workweeks are great for productivity and our wellbeing. It’s a win-win for everyone.Thinking about doing the same at your workplace? Consider this a sign!”

What about you? Are you experimenting with different work schedules?

Some links you might like:  

Against “Feel Free To Take Some Time If You Need It”: “When it comes to taking time off, the more explicitly mandated the break, the better. Instead of “feel free to take some time if you need it,” try “I’d really support you taking the day off.” Instead of a sentence at the end of a meeting about “make sure you’re taking that PTO,” an app that alerts you when an employee hasn’t taken any in a month.

For managers, that means modeling the behavior yourself: taking sick days, and personal days, and extended PTO, and being transparent about it — and not sneakily working in the margins. It means having enough people on staff so that a person can actually be sick, or take parental or bereavement leave, without the guilt of pouring work onto their already overburdened colleagues.”

Play with NPR’s Joy Generator. 

Time Is A Colonial Construct — Here’s How I Learned To Reclaim Mine: “Decolonization requires us to unpack the consequences of colonialism. What are its living legacies?

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, British society had largely correlated the notions of ‘civilization’ and ‘true religion’ with the profitable use of time. Their specific experience of time was a cultural construct, deeply embedded within their industrial-capitalist and Christian society. They used their clocks as a tool to dehumanize Indigenous people…’”

Link appreciation to Hilary, Aimee, and Patti Digh.

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.


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.

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