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. 

Are You an Asker or a Guesser?

Are you stressed out by all the requests you get?

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…

Jessica Dolce Live

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.

I Got Fired For Saying NO.

The very first time I said NO to a client, I got fired.

Picture this: South Philly, 2003. I was running my brand new dog walking business. I was 24 years old.

Boundaries were a hazy concept. When it came to my business, I had almost none.

If someone wanted to hire me, I took the job without hesitation and bent over backwards to accommodate their every request.

I did this because I was afraid of losing business.

But also because I wanted people to like me. 

I was hustling for approval.

I wouldn’t have called it that back then. 24 year old me was simply offering “excellent customer service.”

But my sense of self-worth was tied into being liked by my clients and that, my friend, was not about customer service.

That was about my own worthiness, as a human being, becoming tied up in external validation.

I wanted to please everyone. But especially the people that were hard to please.

So when anyone wanted to pay me to take care of their pets, I said YES.

Even when my gut was ringing the drama-alarm, warning me not to take the job. 

My gut set off a 10-alarm warning the day I met Maxine. 

Maxine (not her real name) had a Chihuahua that couldn’t be touched. The dog walkers that she hired in the past were, according to Maxine, unreliable idiots. She wanted to hire me. 

MY GUT: “Oh come on. You know the other dog walkers aren’t the issue, right? She’s the problem.”

Maxine said she heard that I was the best. That I was amazing with shy dogs. Would I please, please take care of her little guy?

MY GUT:“OMG. You’re not actually falling for this are you? Do not take this job!”

Maxine told me that sometimes it’s hard to find her dog, because he likes to hide in her giant piles of dirty laundry. She showed me the piles.

MY GUT: “GET OUT.”

I did not get out. I took the job.

My gut was NOT shocked when every boundary I tried to set with Maxine – my payment policies, my scheduling policies, my common-freaking-courtesy policies – were steamrolled.

She typically called me at the very last minute to pet sit. This drove me nuts. I complained about her a lot. Sometimes to her dog. 

Then I had my first professional boundary breakthrough:

Maxine was never going to change her behavior. It worked for her. She got what she wanted.

I couldn’t change her, but I could change ME.

I could stop saying YES to her last minute requests. I could stop hustling for her approval. 

It felt risky. But I vowed that the next time she called me to pet sit with zero notice, I would say NO. 

So there I was, walking through the Italian Market on a sunny afternoon, when my cell rang.  

Maxine needed me to pet sit for her.

She was already in her car, driving out of the city to see her brother.

The pet sitting job started right now.

I stared hard at a mural of cheese (this is South Philly) and drew strength from a giant wedge of Parmesan. 

NO, I said, I’m not available.

The screaming began immediately. 

I was terrible person, she said. I didn’t care about her.
I didn’t care about her dog. Or any animal.
I was greedy. I only cared about money.

I was an asshole. Now she couldn’t visit her brother.
Did I know he was a veteran? And sick?
Did I hate America?

Uh, NO. I stuffed a soft pretzel in my mouth to keep from folding.

Maxine, sensing her tactics weren’t working, turned to tears.

She thought we were friends.
She really depended on me.
She needed me.

NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. 

And then she fired me. We never spoke again.

I had never said NO like that before. I had never been fired. I was both nauseous and exhilarated. 

This was the day I began to love boundaries.  

I said NO more often. It was hard and sometimes painful.

But it was worth it. 

I learned a lot of important lessons during that time:

  • No matter how much I give, it will never be enough for some people. I have to decide what “enough” looks like for me.
  • I am responsible for my own behavior. I am not responsible for the choices other adults make.
  • Sometimes my worst fears about setting boundaries do come true, but that doesn’t mean I made the wrong choice.  
  • I can survive being disliked and being fired.
  • Difficult clients sap all of my energy, leaving me with less to give to my lovely, respectful clients (why am I punishing the good ones?!). 
  • I can have a thriving, fully-booked business AND take time off. 
  • Clients who truly value my services have zero problems respecting my limits.
  • People absolutely KNOW what they are doing when they ignore my boundaries. I won’t make excuses for them or play their games.

But boundary work is never done.

When I started working in an animal shelter, my old boundaries weren’t enough. The stakes were higher and I struggled to set healthy limits. This led to burnout and compassion fatigue.

Since then I’ve worked hard at understanding and upholding my boundaries – learning new lessons about myself and what setting limits means for me in different situations.

I believe that boundary work is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.

You can’t take care of yourself without them.

And you can’t create healthy boundaries until you learn to listen to your gut and face your fears about setting limits.

Also, it helps to have a script. 

Are you struggling to set limits at work?

Maybe you have a client, customer, or staff member that never takes NO for an answer or chooses to ignore the rules, no matter how accommodating you are with them?

Or do you overextend yourself, trying to do everything for everyone, and you know it’s not sustainable?

Then I hope you’ll join me and a group of animal care and welfare folks this winter for the Building Compassionate Badassery Boundaries course.

We start on February 17th. 

We’ll work together for 8 weeks to build the boundaries you need to create a life that truly works for you.

You can set limits AND be successful, kind, and make a big impact in the world. 

But you might need new skills, more support, and a few scripts to make that happen.

If you’d like some help, then I hope you’ll join our squad this winter.

Sign up now so you can take advantage of the Early Bird price and save 50%. The discount is good through February 6th!

Enroll HERE and use the code: EARLYBIRDSAVE150

Want more info? Check out this page for course details and FAQs.

My 30 Day Social Media Sabbatical

On January 1st, 2020 I logged off of social media for 30 days. I wrote about that here.

You all had some thoughts about this! I got so many emails and comments after sending out that newsletter.

Turns out taking a social media break is something a LOT of you want to do. 

I know you’re curious about how it went, so….

What happened?

My business did not collapse. 

My mother still recognizes me. 

I did not die of FOMO.

I did get 2 hours a day back.

I’ll say that again:

I gained an “extra” 2 hours a day.

Sometimes more.

It was shocking.

To be honest, I consider myself to be a relatively light social media user.

Even though I manage multiple business pages and groups for my work, I don’t post daily. I’ve taken week-long breaks before.

I didn’t expect that much to change, logistically speaking, during this 30 day break.

Here’s what I discovered:

READ a lot of posts. I click on a lot of articles.

I read in 5 and 10 minute increments. Just a little dab of social sprinkled into every single hour. 

That adds up to 2-3 hours a day. 

And I did it without thinking. 

I cannot tell you how many times an hour I would catch myself mindlessly going to check Facebook.

Checking social media has become a (costly) filler for what I really need: a little break.

So in January I did this instead:

  • I took a real break if I needed it.
  • I switched to a new task.
  • I recommitted to finishing what I was working on.

Because of this, I finished my to-do list every single day.

Which meant I could do what I always want to do, but never have “enough” time or energy for.

Things like researching my family tree, doing more yoga, finishing old projects, or talking on the phone with long distance friends. 

What could you do with an hour or two more a day??

I also got back a lot of energy because I wasn’t thinking about posting.

I may not post daily, but I DO find myself thinking about it.

As I go about my day I’m semi-aware that I’m shaping my experience into a narrative that I might potentially post.

It was massively liberating to let that running exposition in my mind turn off completely.

Here’s my point: you may not realize how social media is sucking up your time and energy until you stop using it. 

I never would have guessed I read or thought about it as much as I did.

What will you discover if you take a break?

Were there any downsides?

Nope.

  • My private Facebook group monitored themselves and continued supporting one another in my absence.
  • I booked new coaching clients.
  • I reconnected with past clients and students through writing more newsletters.
  • I stayed in touch with my loved ones.
  • I felt re-energized at work and came up with ideas for my shelter program that I’m excited about (more on that next time).

Many of you shared my concerns about running a business without social media.

My fear was largely based on the assumption that I make sales through social media.

This experience helped me to see that I do NOT make sales through social media.

I get the majority of my work through word of mouth, repeat customers, speaking gigs, and this newsletter. 

Social media is useful as a way to stay in touch, to allow new folks to get to know me better, and to support one another.

But it’s not how I keep a roof over my head. 

Maybe that’s the case for you too. It’s worth figuring out. 

What now?

I’m back on FB and IG. I do need to be on social media to some extent for my work.

Currently, my plan is to post/check social media 2 days a week:

  • I made a calendar as a guide
  • I took all social apps off my phone 
  • I do 99% of my social media on my laptop at my desk

It’s my attempt at being intentional about using this tool.

It’s enough for me to stay connected, but without giving up all that wonderful brain space and time I enjoyed in January. 

Any other takeaways?

If I keep spending 2 hours a day on social media that means I’m giving up more than 29,000 hours of my life (assuming I live to be 80).

That’s 12,000 days.

And I’m not including TV here. Just social media.

I absolutely do not want to spend 12,000 days of my life on Facebook. 

What I do want is meaningful relationships and deep work. 

Both of which take time to nurture. 

And that means I need to be more deliberate about how I spend my time.

I can’t be in relationship with EVERYONE online.

I can’t say yes to ALL the projects I’m interested in. 

Being off of social media helped me see and accept this (human) limitation. 

“We can only deeply, truly offer our best love and care to a finite number of people, relationships, or goals in one human life.” – Wayne Mulller

Ironically, by embracing my limits, I feel freer.

Want to give it a shot?

1. Plan for a 30 day break. If you can’t do that, try 7 days. I didn’t really feel the full benefit of being off social until two weeks in.

2. Take yourself 100% off of social media. I didn’t struggle with the choice because there was no choice. Choices take energy and lead to decision fatigue. 

Being 100% off social = one less choice to make.

3. Not ready to go all out? Try some of the ideas I shared in January

The way you use social media may already be working well for you, so I’m not suggesting taking a break is what everyone needs to do. But doing it consciously – that’s the ticket.

Whatever you choose to do, remember:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” – Annie Dillard

How do you want to spend your hours? Hit reply and let me know. 

I’m Taking a Social Media Break

Happy New Year! I love how the start of a new calendar year creates a natural pause for reflection and intention.

With a whole new decade about to start, I asked myself what I want in 2020:

The answer was simple and clear: space to rest.

I want to rest my brain, body, and heart.

In the first draft of this letter I told you ALL the reasons why I needed to rest.

But then I deleted it. 

I was trying to justify to you (to myself) why it’s okay for me to do less.

In other words, I was trying to prove to you that I earned a break.

Then I called bullshit on myself and hit delete. 

Because if I know anything, it’s that we do not need to earn our right to rest.

We do not need to earn our right to care for ourselves.  

So I’m going to rest.

Full stop.

Still, it feels dangerous to say that without offering up justification. That’s how loaded rest is in our culture.

It brings up feelings of guilt and shame.
And judgments of weakness and laziness.
And fears of what other people will think.

But all the same crap comes up when I’m super busy too. That’s how I know it’s not the truth.

Because no matter what I do, the same feelings, thoughts, and fears pop up. It’s a rigged game. 

So why not rest?



When it comes to rest and work, the book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight In Our Busy Lives, by Wayne Muller has been my guide lately:

“All life requires a rhythm of rest…we have lost that essential rhythm. Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something – anything – is better than doing nothing…

Even when our intentions are noble and our efforts sincere – even when we dedicate our lives to the service of others – the corrosive pressure of frantic over activity can nonetheless cause suffering in ourselves and others…

Even a good heart can cause harm if it has no rest in it…We are a nation of hectic healers, refusing to stop. Our drive to do better faster, to develop social programs more rapidly, to create helpful agencies more quickly can create a sea of frantic busyness with negligible, even questionable results. In our passionate rush to be helpful, we miss things that are sacred, subtle and important.”
 
I’ve been rushing to be helpful for as long as I can remember. It’s not working for me anymore and frankly, it’s getting in the way of me showing up for my work in a way that feels right for me. 

I need to rest, so that I can approach my work with, as Muller says, “greater ease and joy, and bring healing and delight to our endeavors.”

To be clear, when I say I’m going to rest more, I’m still working full time. 

But I’m being very deliberate with my time at work and very deliberate about expanding my life beyond work in 2020. 

I’m getting really picky about how I spend my time and energy.

My first deliberate act of rest in 2020 is to take 30 days off of all social media.

This includes stepping away from my private Facebook group. Which feels very scary to me. Will I be judged? Will I upset the group? Will I lose business? Lose relevance? Lose control of my work?

Maybe. 

Here’s the truth: I love connecting with all of you, but I’m having trouble accessing that place within me that has something meaningful and original to offer. 

So I need to rest. For me and for you.

I want to return to my work with something to say that comes from a deeper place, my own inner wellspring. Something that’s actually worth saying.
 

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
-Tao Te Ching
 

On 1/1/20 I’m starting a 30 day sabbatical from social media. Just enough to let the choppy waters in my mind start to calm, so I can make stronger offers (as Patti Digh would say).

I know that many of you would also like to take a break from social, so here’s what’s helped me: 

1. Digital Minimalism offers a 3 step criteria for evaluating how and when we use social, but it also has practical tips that led me to change my Facebook feed dramatically.

  • I unliked 1500 pages (and kept 5-ish)
  • I unfollowed all of my friends 
  • I bookmarked my Facebook group, so that I go directly there, instead of my newsfeed

This has been game changing. My newsfeed is now a short list of local events and a few thoughtful posts. I literally cannot endlessly scroll anymore. My newsfeed ENDS.When I want to see what a friend or group is up to, I choose to go to their page.

2. Alexandra Franzen’s free webinar on how to get off social media.

If you’re self-employed and afraid of what will happen to your business if you reduce or eliminate social, this is for you. Not only will it give you great ideas for marketing and connecting, but Alex is proof that you can be successful without using social media AT ALL.

What’s next? At the end of my 30 day digital sabbatical, I’ll evaluate how it feels to return to Facebook and Instagram.

Ethically speaking, I would rather not use Facebook at all.

I’m allowing myself to truly consider, for the first time in 10 years, the possibility that I can be off of Facebook and still have a business that supports others and is profitable.

But I’ll allow myself to make that call later in 2020. For now, I rest. 

Thank you for being in conversation with me, for witnessing my attempts at figuring out how to live this one wild and precious life. 

May you find the rest and renewal that you so deeply deserve in this new decade. 

The Compassionate Badassery Manifesto

Practicing compassionate badassery is my shorthand for helping professionals who are making courageous, vulnerable, mindful choices that go against the norms.

It’s my small way of pushing back on a culture that validates extreme sacrifice (which causes burnout and compassion fatigue) and shames helpers for setting healthy boundaries.

If you’re new to the idea of compassionate badassery you can read about it here, but as you can see, it’s a lengthy declaration.

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.

I could rewrite this manifesto a hundred times. Who am I kidding? I already have! It’s never really done.

But at some point, I need to declare it “good enough.” That’s what I’m doing today (take that inner perfectionist!).

want to write your own manifesto?

Here are some questions to get you started:

What do you want to declare?

What do you believe in?

What are you committed to?

What kind of emotion do you want to stir up in others?

Write your own or borrow mine. Either way, a little revolution is a good thing!

OK, Let’s Do This (How I Beat Stress with an Etsy Poster)

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.

by Lisa Congdon


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.

Things 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:

  1. View your body’s stress response as helpful, not debilitating (I’m gonna use this burst of energy to tackle that challenge!)
  2. View yourself as able to handle, and even learn and grow from, the stress in your life (I can do this!)
  3. 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?

Go Home You’re Drunk: What Insomnia + Compassion Fatigue Have in Common

The past couple of months have been, er, challenging.

Short story: My two beloved cats died. In between their deaths I managed to break out in a full body rash that lasted 4 weeks.

Between grief and non-stop scratching I got almost no sleep.

Let me tell you something: heartbreak + hives + insomnia = one hot mess.

Have you met Depression Kitty? Accurate.

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.

Exhaustion is a status symbol in our culture.

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. 

Sleep can be complicated, so if you need some help, listen to the podcast!

Why I’m Pulling My Compassion Fatigue Self Study Class

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.

It’s time for CiB to evolve. 

My baby is going BIG TIME (you hear Peter Gabriel’s voice saying “big time” too, right?)

The self-study is being transformed into a brand new online program for animal shelters.

It’s a pretty amazing year-long program designed to make a bigger impact for organizations. You’ll learn all about it later this month.

And not to to get too far ahead, but I’ve got something new cooking for individuals too. So if you’re not part of an organization, no worries. I’ve got you!

Here’s today’s takeaway: 

If you’ve been wanting to enroll in CiB, but haven’t gotten around to signing up yet…now’s the time my friend! 

Enrollment in Compassion in Balance (the self-study) closes on Friday April 26th.

After that, it’s going on sabbatical.

You can learn more and sign up for the class here. 

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.

Grief at Work: What Does a Grief-Competent Workplace Look Like?

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

Have you read the “ball in the box” description of grief?

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.

No matter where you work please don’t miss this amazing interview with psychotherapist Francis Weller.

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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