self care

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. 

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.

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?

HALT! You Might Need a Snack

Have you ever done a HALT check?

HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.

If you’re in recovery, you may already be familiar with this incredibly helpful acronym because it’s a tool to help prevent relapse.

But every single one of us could use HALT. It’s a simple way to help us stay aware of our needs, so that we can care for ourselves more effectively and create better outcomes during stressful or upsetting moments.

Here’s how it works:

When you’re feeling your stress levels rise or a funk coming on, HALT is a reminder to stop and assess your true needs, before you do something that you’ll regret.

If you’re in recovery, the thing you might regret doing is using again. If you’re not, than the thing you might regret doing is yelling at your dog, saying something unkind to a loved one (including yourself), eating a whole box of cookies, being impatient or judgmental with a client at work, writing an inappropriate email, or firing off a hurtful social media rant.

Before you behave in a way that feels out of control or breaches your integrity, ask yourself if you’re:

Hungry: When was the last time you ate? Was it something healthy? Is your blood sugar low? Are you dehydrated? Hungers come in all forms: Are you hungry to have your emotional needs met?

Angry: Are you feeling resentful or angry right now? Towards another person, a circumstance at work or in the world, at yourself?

Lonely: When was the last time you talked with a friend? A counselor? A supportive coworker? Are you feeling isolated? Disconnected?

Tired: Did you get enough sleep last night? Do you need a quick nap instead of a caffeine blast? Do you need a day off?

All of these things may be influencing your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Rather than just pushing through or ignoring your needs, identify if any of these are true for you at the moment, then take action to address them. Have a snack, talk with a friend, go for a brisk walk, take a nap.

If you can’t do anything to address your needs in that moment, acknowledge that your real needs are not being met right now.

Offer yourself some kindness and compassion. Remain aware that being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired increases the likelihood that you will act in a way that you may regret later, so tread lightly.

Or it may be the reason why you just did something you already wish you hadn’t done. Don’t beat yourself up (that never changes anything). Pause to breathe deeply. Consider how you can stay aware of your needs and better care for yourself in the future, so that you don’t allow yourself to get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.

The next time you snap at a customer, get frustrated with your dogs, feel hopeless about something, or just feel “off”, take a moment to HALT and ask a truly self-compassionate question:

What do I really need in this moment and how can I give it to myself?

How to Build Compassionate Badassery Boundaries for Life

Imagine waking up in the morning…

and you feel rested and ready for whatever comes your way today. You know that there’s a long line of animals and people who need your help. No doubt, it can feel overwhelming sometimes.

But you take a deep breath, pour yourself some coffee, put on some comfortable pants (not necessarily in that order) and feel totally confident that you can handle the challenges today will bring because you’ve got Compassionate Badassery Boundaries.

You know you can trust yourself to:

  • Block off time for yourself and your own needs
  • Turn down last minute requests that don’t work for you
  • Only answer emails at set times
  • Limit the free advice you give to friends and friends of friends of your dentist
  • Empower others to problem solve and help themselves
  • Say yes to your ideal clients and work load
  • Pause and think about what you really want before you give your answer
  • Recalibrate when you start to take on too much
  • Cope with uncomfortable emotions
  • Offer yourself compassion that you can’t help them all.

How does that sound?

Let’s stop imagining and make it happen.

Forget that fantasy you have about being able to do it all, fix everything, and save ALL the animals.

What do you REALLY want for your life?

What do you want your days to look and feel like?

Do you want to help animals AND have dinner with your family every evening? Do you want to help people AND get in bed early to read a good book? Do you want to help your community AND meet your BFF every Wednesday night at the gym?

It may not feel like it right now, but: You actually have a choice. 

And I built a new class to help you create those choices for yourself.

It’s called Building Compassionate Badassery Boundaries and we’re getting started on January 14th.

building compassionate boundaries challenge class

Building your Compassionate Badassery Boundaries is all about figuring out what you want and value in your life and then creating the boundaries you need to make it happen.

Over 6 weeks, (because healthy boundaries take longer than a few days to build!) you’ll access six modules, private discussion boards, and 4 live video group coaching calls to help you do that.

You’ll be learning with people who 100% understand how hard it is to set limits when animals are in need.

We get that the struggle is real.

Here’s what you can create with the tools from this course:

  • Know with confidence what you’ll say (or email) in order to have respectful, kind relationships with other people, even when you’re saying NO.
  • Create an end-of-the-workday routine, so you can stop multitasking and be present for your life at home.
  • Take regular breaks and trust that your staff or clients can handle things without you.
  • Deal calmly with any discomfort, including the guilt or anxiety that comes up when you state your policies and limits.
  • Start doing yoga or cooking dinner or making a scrapbook of your cats (or whatever it is that you’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t gotten around to it in a few, er, years) with your newly created free time.

Sound good? Then join us this winter and let’s get started!

Here’s a $50 Early Bird discount – it’s good until 12/7/18.

Why You Need to (Literally) Schedule Some Fun

Does scheduling fun make me look nerdy?

So be it. Because scheduling fun works.

And not just for me. This is one of my students’ favorite self-care practices.

Here’s why you should consider it too: when you’re experiencing chronic stress (hello all of us!) you might be experiencing a real dip in your happy hormones.

That’s the good stuff: oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. These are the hormones that help us feel pleasure, motivation, connection, and satisfaction. All the stuff that helps boost our resiliency.

There are lots of ways to increase these hormones, but scheduling fun happens to be my favorite way to purposely bump up dopamine levels.

Dopamine is released when we achieve our goals AND when we are anticipating something good.

When dopamine is low, depression and low motivation are much more likely.

But the deliberate anticipation of something fun can help us feel better and become more stress resilient. That’s because 6-8 weeks before a pleasurable event, our brains are already releasing dopamine.

So if we plan small fun events regularly, then we’re putting ourselves into a state of happy anticipation. The future always looks bright.

Here’s how to do it: 

Grab a piece of paper and brainstorm 10 fun things that you like or want to do.

It doesn’t have to be big stuff that take planning, like a trip or hosting a dinner party, but you can include that stuff too.

Think small: a trip to the library, watching one episode of a favorite show, a pedicure, a hike with friends, baking a pie, or a free concert.

The only stipulation is that it has to truly make you happy and you’ll look forward to doing it!

Don’t get hung up on whether it’s possible to do this stuff right now. Just write.

Got your list?

Now grab your schedule. Pick one or two things from your list and put them in your calendar.

Repeat weekly.

If you’re struggling to do this stuff, add accountability to the mix by putting down some money for tickets or asking someone else to join you.

And if you feel like putting fun on your calendar is lame, then ask yourself: How’s doing fun stuff spontaneously working out?

Are you doing it regularly or does your free time get sucked up by work, errands, vet visits, and mindlessly scrolling Facebook? If it’s the latter, get our your calendar and schedule your fun!

Recap:

  1. Make a list of fun stuff.
  2. Each week look at your calendar and schedule something fun.
  3. Look ahead and make fun plans in advance with tickets, deposits, or friends (for added accountability).
  4. Savor the anticipation and get your dopamine pumping.

Hit reply and tell me what you’re going to do for fun next week!

Is Self-Care Letting Organizations Off The Hook?

I’m always full of questions, but lately these are at the top of my mind:

Who benefits when we don’t ask the right questions? And how does this potentially uphold the status quo?

Here’s what I mean: have you ever questioned why everyone is so focused on self-care as the solution for compassion fatigue?

Who does it benefit when self-care is the ONLY way we’re taught to manage this predictable byproduct of our work?

The answer is simple:

The message staff gets is: If you don’t take care of yourself, it’s your fault that you have compassion fatigue.

That’s just not accurate.

To be clear, self-care IS critically important and it’s the foundation of everything I teach (because no one can take care of you for you. Sorry, no one is coming to save your ass).

I love the pants off of self-care.

But, all the self-care in the world won’t matter if:

– You have a job description that has no boundaries (how many people would it really take to accomplish everything that’s been assigned to you?) and you never have time off to DO self-care.

– Or you work in an unsafe environment (physically and/or psychologically) with low pay, no benefits, and you’re treated like an unskilled, expendable resource. “Churn and burn” baby!

– Or you have toxic coworkers and you don’t feel safe asking for help. Or a cruel boss that tells you that if you “really loved animals”, you wouldn’t need to take a break.

When organizations focus ONLY on self-care as the solution for compassion fatigue, then they get to blame staff for having compassion fatigue and wash their hands of this complex issue.

Organizations have a responsibility to create a healthy, ethical work environment where individual self-care efforts are supported and strengthened by the organization’s efforts to treat their staff like the valuable resource they are through: education, mentoring and supervision, fair policies, healthy boundaries and time off, safe equipment, appreciation, conflict resolution, mental health benefits, adequate pay, and trauma-informed support.

I’m not saying it’s easy or that organizations can make these changes overnight, but they’ve got to step up to the plate.

Addressing CF isn’t just an altruistic move. It benefits the organizations when they tackle one of the root causes of expensive issues like turnover and presenteeism.

If we want to address compassion fatigue effectively – which benefits everyone –  then we always need to be looking at this issue from the individual AND the organizational level.

The researchers backs that up. Self-care alone isn’t enough.

Self-care is necessary, but it’s insufficient on its own.

So if anyone tells you that self-care is the be all, end all of compassion fatigue management, just ask them: who does that benefit?

Psst, just one more time for the folks in the back…you still have to do self-care, just be sure to examine the systems you’re in too!

What Climbing Mt. Katahdin Taught Me

“You must do the things you think you cannot do.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

My father has been hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) for 46 years.

The AT is more than 2000 miles long. It begins in Georgia and ends in Maine on Mount Katahdin.

Some people (thru-hikers) do the whole trail, start to finish, in 4-6 months.

My dad started walking on the trail in 1972.

Since then he’s gone back to hike different sections of the AT doing 50-100 miles of it at a time.

Last week, at 70 years old, my dad hiked the last 11 miles of the AT and reached the summit of Mount Katahdin.

I was there with him on what turned out to be the hardest hike I’ve every done.

Like holy crap, my legs are spaghetti, hard.

For 11 hours I had to do physical stuff I thought I couldn’t do, like pull myself up over giant boulders and hang off of little pieces of rebar as I lowered myself down.

It was exhausting. This week, I’m covered in bruises and scrapes.

So why did I do it?

I said YES to this hike because I wanted to be there when my dad accomplished a goal he’d been working at for a lifetime.

I said YES because I knew I would regret not being there to celebrate with him.

I said YES to discomfort over regret.

And boy, was there a lot of discomfort.

But I was there when my dad completed a lifetime of work.

Here’s what happened when I made the choice to push myself to do something I wasn’t sure that I could do:

I learned that I’m physically stronger than I think I am.

I learned that I am able to tolerate more discomfort than I thought I could.

I was reminded that being clear on WHY I am doing something very hard (to honor my dad) matters.

I was reminded that having support along the way to keep my spirits high and (literally) pull me up matters.

I was reminded to not believe the stories I’m telling myself about what I cannot do.

Because I did it.

And now I know I can do it again.

Climbing Katahdin reminded me about what it takes to grow and make positive changes:

1. It’s not about speed. Reaching your goals or building new practices will sometimes take years, maybe decades. Just because you’re going slowly doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. And it doesn’t make it any less worthwhile to pursue them.

2. It’s not just about the goal. It’s critical that we learn to enjoy or feel intrinsically rewarded by the process of trying. If it was only about the goal, my dad would have been miserable hiking all of those decades. It wasn’t just about something being attained in the future. It was about the journey (cliche? yes. still true though).

3. It’s not going to be comfortable. If you want to accomplish something big or hard, there will be discomfort along the way. Period. When we’re walking along the edge of something new, it’s not about staying comfortable. It’s about growing (and they don’t call them “growing cuddles”…it’s growing pains, my friends).

My dad would have been way more comfortable spending his annual vacation in the Bahamas. But he choose to hike the AT every summer instead, so that he could achieve something deeply meaningful to him.

I would have been way more comfortable cheering my dad on from the couch. But I choose to hike a mountain to be there with him, so that he would know how much he means to me.

And it often means doing things differently than other people (my dad comes very close to holding the record for the longest section hike ever. Very few people tackle the AT the way he did). Following your own path can be uncomfortable too.

What are you willing to get uncomfortable for?

What do you want to accomplish or change?

What is the thing you think you can’t do?

You can do it.

But if you’re struggling to create change, like developing healthy boundaries, you’re normal.

Not a failure. Not broken. Not a lost cause.

You’re just human.

Creating changes, like developing and upholding boundaries is a lifetime practice.

It’s a 2000 mile long trail that most people never even step foot on because it feels too hard to begin.

So just take the first step.

You might be tempted to stay in your comfort zone. It’s the “devil you know.”

You may be thinking it’s better to stick with the pain of staying the same, then to risk the pain of growing.

“The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin

If you want to take the next steps then you will need clarity (a map!), support, and accountability.

You can find that kind of help through great books, mentors, friends, and classes.

It’s also where 1-1 coaching comes in.

If you’re not sure how to take those first steps or you need help to keep moving forward, coaching can help you move along that growing edge.

As a coach, I’m your trail guide.

I’ll be there to help you figure out the next best step, pushing you up the boulders, offering snacks to boost your energy (hello mindfulness + self-care!), and turning on my flashlight so you can see the trail again.

If that sounds good, I invite you to schedule a free 30 minute call with me and we can figure out if coaching together is the right fit for you.

There’s no obligation to sign up for coaching. This is just a chance to explore the idea.

Remember: you can do the things you think you cannot do. You just do them one step at a time, with lots of breaks (and snacks) along the way.

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