How do you deal with compassion fatigue?

Recently I presented The Wellness Solution:Help Yourself Help The World to a group of cardiovascular pharmacists at the 20th Annual Contemporary Therapeutic Issues in Cardiovascular Disease Conference.

We tapped into the “wisdom in the room” to have an amazing collaborative discussion on how we can deal with compassion fatigue. compassion fatigue

To recap, compassion fatigue can affect virtually everyone in the caring professions. It’s only natural that when we use our “muscles” of compassion and empathy every day that they can get worn out. The implications of having compassion fatigue on a regular basis aren’t great. It can lead to burnout and even a decline in the effectiveness of our service. So how do we counteract this? How do we help ourselves stay engaged in our work and help the people we serve in a way that is actually sustainable? In short, how can we keep caring?

We threw this open to the group and here are a few of the answers that we came up with.

1: Go for a quick walk. Sometimes when we are a bit overwhelmed by our practice, getting even a few minutes of fresh air and physical activity can act as a reset for us in the middle of our day.

2: Have a “Burnout Buddy”.  Find a colleague in a similar situation to talk to on a regular basis. Set a time with them to support each other in a non-judgmental way. Because you are probably facing similar circumstances, you and your partner will be able to relate and realize that you are not the only ones facing this issue. As well, you get to drink coffee, which is always a bonus.

3: Pretend your client is a member of your family. I thought this one was terrific. Sometimes if we are dealing with someone who is particularly challenging and we lose our patience (pun intended), it can be a great idea to pretend that the person in front of us is actually a family member. If we think of our family member being a bit confused or needing a bit more help it can really help us find more compassion for the interaction. Heck, if your Mom or Uncle needed a bit of extra help, you’d give it to them in a heartbeat wouldn’t you? Of course you would. However, make sure you don’t slip up and refer to them as “Mom” or “Uncle Reggie” as that might get a little weird.

4: Get a Massage! Ok, this wasn’t one of the suggestions for dealing with compassion fatigue but I am all for getting a good dose of RMT on a regular basis. Published evidence shows that getting a massage can make an immediate and positive impact on our health and level of happiness. I’m guessing you have some unused health benefits just sitting there gathering dust. Time to make use of them and schedule a massage!

A few more are:

5: Meditate, centre yourself or do some deep breathing.

6: Recognize that you’re not seeing your patient at their best.

7: Think “I could find myself in the same situation as a patient”.

One of the great things about all of these strategies is that they are accessible to you right now. Virtually any one of us can go for a brisk walk at lunch and clear our head, or have a chat with a colleague about how this job is pretty tough sometimes. Heck, you can even go completely crazy and go for a massage! Once again, it was an absolute pleasure to meet all of you and to hear your great stories during “You Can Own The Room: Lose the Fear and Present like a Pro.”

All the best!

Rob

Are you addicted to Trump? 3 Signs you might be, and what to do about it.

While drinking my  cup of coffee in the morning and scanning the headlines for the latest outrage, I had an uncomfortable thought. Was I addicted to Trump? The answer is “Yes”. You might be as well. Here are the warning signs.

level of stupid obi wan

1: You read about him everyday. Obsessively. You might click on the news to see what crazy thing he has done or tweeted in the last ten minutes.

2: You start a lot of conversations with “Do you believe the crazy sh*t Trump just did?”

3: You wake up in the middle of the night after a nightmare where Trump actually became President of The United States. Then you realize he did and you cry/drink a lot.

We are convinced that the world needs us to do this and that we are helping the situation by being in a constant state of worry. The world doesn’t need us to do this. In fact, its very counterproductive.

“But Rob,” I hear you yelling, “Its my responsibility to be informed! I must be a world citizen who knows what’s going on and then I can participate in a meaningful way.”

That’s what I thought until I noticed something. I was checking google news virtually every hour and ignoring my own life. Trump is a master at creating news and attracting attention. He’s like a snotty, spoiled rich kid who goes to a friends birthday party and doesn’t care if he wrecks the whole thing as long as he is the one everybody is looking at. And I have to admit, it is incredibly entertaining-too entertaining.

He makes us ask questions like “Is he actually serious about the travel ban? Does he really think he was bugged, or is it just some master plan to draw attention away from his relationship with Russia? Is he really a bit unhinged or is he a strange dark genius?

viking 2

Imagine this guy with hurt feelings and a bunch of caffeine.

I have a question for you though: What has happened to your own story during this time? Are you pursuing  your own hopes and dreams? Have they been advanced or helped by your attention to this political confusion? Unless you have a stake in Breitbart News (and I truly hope you don’t) then probably the answer is a resounding “No!” .

You may have found ( I certainly have) that “Trumping” has moved past being a fascinating distraction to being a drain on your creativity and productivity. Its hard to stay focused on our own story and contributions to the world when a man with control over the most mechanized military in history is  flailing around like an angry viking hopped up on  vodka and Redbull.

This level of crazy is captivating and terrifying to watch. It is nothing short of addictive.

However there  is very little we can do to change it. Heck, I’m sitting here safely in Canada and wondering what I can do to make it better and the answer is “Nothing”. I can make my voice heard and that’s it. I’m not saying we should give up on the world, say screw it and go have a nice dinner with wine (actually that sounds perfect) but maybe our precious attention is better spent elsewhere.

Want to make the world a better place? Here’s a few ideas off the top of my head.

You could…

1: Hang out with friends and make them laugh.  kiva

2: Make a meal for someone you care about.

3: Lend money to brave 3rd world entrepreneurs on Kiva.

4: Take a moment and do ANYTHING positive except feed the crazy train that is the Trump presidency.

Someone much wiser than me said “Be the Change you wish to see in the world” (It was Gandhi) . Well, I think right now the world needs many of us to step up and really demonstrate who we are by not just saying “Oh this is terrible” but by creating more of what we want by showing generosity, kindness, integrity and dare I say it? A bit of LOVE.

Rock on Everybody.

Hawke out.

peace 2

“You’re a better person than I am!”

When I said this to a participant at The Canadian MPN Network Conference, it got a huge laugh. One of the great aphorisms of comedy is “Its funny ’cause its true!”

mpn-network

In this case, the lady I was speaking to was telling me that as a result of her being sick, she said she felt more empathy for people. She could understand others’ feelings more and she could cut other people more slack. Isn’t that fascinating?  You would think that after a tough time, a lot of people would become bitter or resentful.

Often we have a chunk of adversity in our lives and somehow we manage to keep on keeping on, but after getting through the stress and navigating our way through a very difficult time often we are different. You could even say we are transformed. Some of us develop more empathy, others of us (like myself) get unreasonably pissed off for a while and pray that someone will steal candy from a baby on our street so we can start a round of fisticuffs. (After a while this anger calmed down into a state of assertiveness. I am really glad because fisticuffs are inconvenient.)

fisticuffs

But what I have found after working with healthcare professionals and people going through life altering diseases is that our most arduous experiences change us.

One of my favourite questions to ask during a keynote is “In the experience of your journey with cancer (or another issue) what learnings or insights have you made?” People always have an answer. Nobody ever says “I feel exactly the same!” I have heard people say they are more sympathetic, more adventurous, more thoughtful, less resentful, more independent, more open to new ideas, more resilient and that they eat more dessert– to name a few.

All of this is good stuff don’t you think? I do. I love all of those things (especially the one about dessert).

dessert

So, where does this come from? Well, you may heave heard of a friend of mine called Joseph Campbell. (OK, He’s not my friend, but I like to pretend he is.) He came up with the idea of The Hero’s Journey which in a very tiny nutshell, is the idea that when we go on an adventure and face challenges and adversities that we are transformed and even improved by the experience.

I really think that is what happens to us when we deal with a transformative experience with our health.  Our experience changes us, it molds and shapes us until we can look at who we used to be in the past and say “Hey, I’m a better person than I used to be.”

 

star-wars-7

 

 

This just in…Sex Makes you Happier!

Yes, what  you have always suspected is true. That wonderful feeling you get after making love, having sex or getting lucky (depending on who you’re talking to) is good for you. Contrary to what they told us when we were 16, 17 or even 35, sex is healthy. In fact, it can increase your level of happiness quite significantly.

sexy pharmacist

BTW, this is what happens when you google “Sexy pharmacists”.

You know the feeling you get right after a particularly good sexual experience? Well, there is a chemical reason for that. There is a virtual pharmacy in our body creating the chemicals and hormones that we need to get through the day.

When we have sex, the tiny pharmacists inside us look at each other in their white coats and say “Gerald! our human had sex! We need to make some dopamine!” “That’s not all Marjorie, we should give them a huge dose of serotonin as well!” “By the way Marjorie you are looking very shapely in your white lab coat.” “Why thank you….perhaps I should unbutton it a bit, because its so hot in here…” At that point its all lava lamps and sexiness inside the body…That’s right even your body gets turned on by itself after you make love!

Alright I may have stretched my metaphor (and a couple of other things) in the last bit, but the point, is when we have sexual activity, our body produces both dopamine and serotonin that floods our system. When that happens, we feel good!

Alright this is the best statistic you will hear all day…

sex and money

….and this is what happens when you google “sex and money” at least the ones I can show.

Having sex once a week gives you the same boost of happiness and increased level of satisfaction as getting a raise of $50,000 a year.

Isn’t that the coolest? I can hear you now saying “Gosh that sounds great Rob, but what’s your source? Well a feature article in WebMD states

…”sex enters so strongly (and) positively in happiness equations that they estimate increasing intercourse from once a month to once a week is equivalent to the amount of happiness generated by getting an additional $50,000 in income for the average American.”

 http://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/sex-and-happiness

Ok! So that is pretty awesome! So, you want to feel as good as you would making another 50K? Have sex once a week and you are good to go.

I know I am being a bit flip about this but this has some really terrific implications for us. Making love or having sex  can really positively impact our lives.

Alright, let’s talk about the scary thing…MASTURBATION. There, I said it so we can all get on with it.

Well, what about masturbation? What if if we do it ourselves (as it were)?

Again, the good news is we can the same increase in both serotonin and dopamine, So you’re good to go!

Want to learn more about how to be happier? Sure you do! My new book Doing Happiness: Uncovering The Benefits of Feeling Good is out on Amazon! Check it out here!

doing happiness cover amazon

5 stars and everything! Have a great day. – Rob

What do you get when you have 400 people with chronic conditions in one room?

It sounds like the set up for a joke doesn’t it? But that’s what we had on June 30th. The very first Self Care Movement Summit in Toronto went off like crazy.

what do you get

People came from far and wide to participate. We had folks drive in from 5 hours away just to be there for the evening.

When you see a large conference room packed tight on a Monday night, you know that there is a real need for this. Folks needed to not only learn about what they are going through and how to deal with their situation, but they also wanted to connect with each other.

Some of the things we addressed were mindfulness, dealing with chronic illness at work, sex, intimacy, and using humour as a tool to help us every day. We had a patient panel that shared stories about what it was like to deal with our different conditions and we even managed to squeeze some laughs out of it.

OK, so we may have tried to cram too much really good content into one evening, but can you blame us? That’s like complaining that a meal has too much food or that somebody gave you too much chocolate or that your birthday present is too big to fit into your car. You get my point.cake

After working with cancer patients and their families for years, one of the most common things that I have heard is that once we are finished our primary care, we often feel lost. That was certainly how I felt after I got over my initial cancer treatment. My physician even looked at me and said “You’re cured” I was expecting triumphant movie music to come in as we hugged in a manly way, but the hug didn’t happen. Instead I thought “Really? I don’t feel cured. Besides, the cancer might be gone but I have this chronic situation to deal with for the REST OF MY LIFE. So, how is that cured?”

That’s what the summit was for. We were all there to talk about what happens now. How do we adjust to our lives in this “new normal”. How do we not just exist but help ourselves to thrive with the capabilities that we have?summit

When several hundred committed, smart and passionate people stand up and start sharing ideas, you feel it. You feel the energy shift from complacency and acceptance of the status quo to hopefulness and possibility. On Monday night a group of patients who were strangers just hours before, shared their wisdom and strategies to help people just like them.

So, back to our original question: What do you get when you have 400 people dealing with chronic conditions in one room?

Answer: A huge amount of courage and hope.

trudeau

Celebrity Fan Moment

Don’t you love when you meet someone famous and they’re more impressive than you thought? I was very excited to meet Margaret Trudeau and I actually got to say hello to her backstage. I am rarely at a loss for words. However, in meeting Margaret, I was virtually tongue tied. When she did her keynote, she spoke with such wit, honesty and vulnerability that I became a fan immediately. The standing ovation she got was proof that she connected with our group.

Many Thanks Margaret!

 

WTF! Am I the only one with these problems?

Have you ever felt like  your concerns are utterly different from anyone else’s?

Sure you have! We all have different circumstances in our lives. For instance, I am wondering… Will the tires last on our car? Will the vacant lot down the street become a giant condo complex and ruin our view? Will Stephen King come to my poker game?

STEPHENKING

Stephen King considers coming to my poker game. I hope he brings chips.

(Ok, maybe I made up the one about the car).

We all think our concerns and problems are completely unique, but are they?

I am currently working on a program for people who are having a really hard time. Now, this group is facing incredible challenges that are very specific. However, I’ve noticed in my years working with different groups that a lot of the things we face can be really similar.

Some few years ago, I thought the challenges facing me as a cancer patient were unique not just to cancer patients but to me. Yup. I thought my story and my bit of hardship was incredibly important and oh so precious. And to a degree it was, as an experience with cancer should not be diminished at all. What I am saying is that if we hang around on the planet long enough, chances are, we’re going to experience some kind of hardship. It’s part of this thing called being human.

Think about the people you are closest to. Do they have their gooey, unresolved human bits? Do they have a challenge in their lives that they find really tough, be it addiction, an emotional issue or just getting through the day in this ridiculously complex world? I’m going to guess that’s a big “YES!“.

heresthething

Its not like he needs my help, but Alec’s Podcast is terrific. Go ahead, click on it.

You see, it’s really easy to look at the shiny happy people (to quote REM- and why not? They rock.) and think that we are the only ones struggling to get out of bed in the morning, or working really hard to connect with our family, or dealing with a health issue. I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts by Alec Baldwin and he had Paul Simon on as a guest. Alec said he wanted to know what it was like to grow up being Paul Simon. Paul paused for a second and said “Hey, Everything happens to everybody.” I think that sums it up really well. Everything does happen to everybody. Especially over time.

You could say that this statement is trite and patently untrue. In a literal sense you would be correct. You could say to me “Hey Rob, This thing happened to me. It did not happen to you. Do not lessen the importance of my experience.” Point taken. After all, I once barfed in the train station in Hanoi at 5:30 am.

hanoi-train

I barfed in this building once. I’m sorry Hanoi.

Has that happened to everybody? I sure hope not. Especially for the train station. However, I’m pretty sure we all go through some very basic human experiences that really seem to be the cost of the ticket to this ride called life. I think we all experience joy, love, loss, fear, connection, frustration, envy and of course a desire for a Led Zeppelin Reunion (ok maybe that’s just a few million of us).

Neil

Neil is awesome. That is all.

But in my work with cancer patients, their families, corporations, healthcare professionals, executives, and young people, I am starting to notice that the specifics of our challenges may be very different, but we are all out there, trying to find our way, trying to make a better life for ourselves and our families and trying to make sense of a world that may not make sense*. Wherever you are, to quote another great musician, keep on rockin’ in the free world.

*When Stephen King does come to my poker game, I’m sure he’ll call me on that run on sentence. Hey Stephen, read it out loud and it sounds fine! By the way, I just finished Finders Keepers and I loved it.

Hawke out.

What the heck is wellness and why should we care?

If you’re in one of the caring professions, you probably care a lot. I bet you wake up in the morning and care more before 9 am than most people do all day. (My apologies to the marines- for a bunch of reasons.)

Having that much concern all day long can sure take its toll on your health and you guessed it, your wellness!  Well what is wellness about? Its about actually taking your own needs into account, slowing down on occasion and being kind to yourself.  Let’s use the concept of a well, because heck its right in the word “wellness”. If you are caring for people all the time and not looking after yourself, then chances are you are drawing on your own resources to help them, while depleting yourself. This can leave your poor well empty and even a bit dry, as it were.

“The Wellness Well” You see what I did there? Sure you do.

When we ignore our own wellness, we tend to stress out, feel really overwhelmed and our health can suffer. The problem is, we rarely give ourselves permission to help ourselves. We feel like we should just “tough it out” and “carry on”.

However, if a friend came up to you and said “Hey I’m burned out at work, and my joints are achy do you think I should go for a massage?” Of course you’d say Yes! You’d send them off to get their body kneaded faster than you can say “CranioSacral”-which I can’t say at all.

But will we get a massage ourselves? Of course not! Why? I blame my protestant upbringing. (Feel free to blame whatever culture you’re from- I’ve found it so much easier than actually taking responsibility for myself). But seriously, we do that all the time. We can be having a really tough time and desperately need to cut ourselves some slack but we sometimes find that difficult.

Essentially wellness is, taking care of ourselves before things become horrible. We often mislabel healthy concern and care for ourselves as “Selfishness” or “self-centered-ness” or even “being like crazy Uncle Bob” but really carving out a place for wellness in our lives can be the best thing we can do for our level of contribution. Think about it, when we feel good, do we want to contribute more or less? More of course!  Are we worse at our jobs or better? Better!

massage

Damn! Don’t you want some of this? A massage I mean.

So there you go. Wellness is valuable not just to you but to the people around you and the work you do. So how do you get more of this thing called Wellness into your life? Well, that’s not actually that hard. Here are a few suggestions:

1: You could, go for a walk in nature. Simply stepping outside and walking for thirty minute has been proven to make us healthier and reduce stress

2: Get a massage! Get rid of those aches and pains and get the blood flowing by getting a massage that is either Deep Swedish or Shallow Ukrainian, (this doesn’t exist but it should.)

3: Hug three people. Because heck, hugs feel great!

So, wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope you give yourself two shots of wellness today.

BTW, I am currently creating a wellness program for CMHA Waterloo Wellington Dufferin called…drum roll please…

The Wellness Solution: Help Yourself Help The World

More on this soon!

Are you tough enough to give this “frightening” gift of happiness.

This simple exercise is scientifically proven to make you happier but it’s scary.

In fact, it makes me so nervous, that I’m trying to get the courage to do it.

Here’s the deal. You think of someone in your life who has really helped you out. Someone who you are really grateful to for everything they have done. This could be a really good friend, teacher, parent or sibling. Once you have them in mind, you write a page or so thanking them for everything they have done for you.

So far so good right? Here’s the catch. Instead of sending it off by email or snail mail, you call them up and then read them the letter.

I’m not gonna lie, I’m nervous about this. The prospect of calling up my Mom and Dad and thanking them and then having a conversation with a good friend of mine and actually being honest instead of making dirty jokes is something I could easily put off until, well, forever (or at least until the next Game Of Thrones book comes out, whichever comes first.). However, I committed to doing this. I’ve written the letters and read them a couple of times out loud and its go time! Right after lunch.Game-of-Thrones-metal

Because who wants to do something like this on an empty stomach? Not me! And besides, I am prone to displays of emotion so the conversations are probably going to end with me blubbering like someone watching the end of “Love Actually”. Perfect! (He said, wishing there was a sarcasm font). BTW, this is all research for my upcoming book Doing Happiness: Uncovering the Hidden Benefits of Feeling Good.

Alright, so I’ve eaten left over chicken and prepared myself to not tear up by watching Youtube clips of Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, so I think I’m ready.Clint Gif

Here goes.

OK, So, I got through the first one! I called up my best friend and read him my note of thanks. It was very weird and remarkably honest. I thought it would be awkward but it was actually alright. He was quite taken aback it seems, cause really, a friend rarely calls you up, swears at you and then says you’re awesome.

Now, on to my parents… After finding every excuse in the book NOT to do this, I finally went for it.cliff

Alright! That went pretty well! The world did not end and nobody cried. (This is actually a great way to measure if a day has been a success) I managed to read my note to Mom and Dad and everything was alright. I do feel really good right now. In fact, I feel downright happy. It also feels like I’ve given a gift to people who I really care about. That actually might be the most important part about this. I know it’s an exercise to increase your level of happiness, but it feels different than that. It feels like this altruistic gift of acknowledgement and appreciation.

If you want to use this technique to scientifically improve your level of happiness (and those you care about) here are the steps…

1: Decide who you want to thank.

2: Set a timer for about 20 mins and write them a letter about how thankful you are for everything they have done for you.

3: Promise yourself that you’ll get to it tomorrow.

4: When tomorrow arrives, decide it’s not the right time and then do your laundry or wash your dishes, or do your taxes from 3 years ago.

5: Finally get the courage to pick up the phone.

6: Say something like “Could you do me a favour? All you have to do is listen, I’ve written you a letter and I want to read it to you. Don’t worry, it’s all good stuff, is that ok?”

7: Read the letter.

8: Feel Awesome!

You’ll probably feel terrific afterwards, and as a bonus, the folks you care about will feel great as well. This is definitely a scary and generous gift to give and as a bonus, I bet you also get your laundry done.

Happy Post Holidays Everyone!

(Photo by Jenn Pierce/The Press)

Hawke out.