Compassion Fatigue and AC/DC?

At a recent event for The Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington Dufferin, I was thrilled to present The Wellness Solution: Help Yourself Help The World. During one of the breaks, I was lucky enough to meet Laura McShane and we got talking about compassion fatigue. She agreed to a brief interview for this blog. But what does any of this have to do with AC/DC?

acdc

Rob: So, we’ve talked about compassion fatigue and I’m wondering could you just tell me at a very basic level what it is?

Laura: Yes, compassion fatigue is the cost of caring. It impacts the caring part of us that brought us into the helping field.

R: Is it just Mental Health Professionals who suffer from compassion fatigue?

L: Gosh, No. Everyone in the caring professions can be affected. Nurses, physicians, first responders and therapists can all be impacted by compassion fatigue. It goes beyond professions too. Parents looking after a sick child or caregivers of family member can be affected as well.

R: I read in some of my research that people who are affected by compassion fatigue sometimes take on the feelings of the people they are helping.

L: Caring professionals can be impacted by listening to the traumatic experiences and details of a client’s life and it can be very distressing for them.

R: Is there stigma in talking about it?

L: Well, I don’t know if I would call it stigma, but I would say that sometimes it might be difficult to address it because of a worry people might think that they aren’t capable of doing their jobs, which isn’t true. Compassion Fatigue affects the most caring, hard working people.

R: How did you learn about this and then become a trainer?

L: Well, I took a terrific workshop called Walking The Walk” by Francoise Mathieu, which was really amazing. (link here) she has done some great work on compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma .  The management team of CMHA WWD believe it is important to acknowledge that it exists and help provide staff with some strategies to cope with the impact.

R: What is one of the ways to deal with compassion fatigue?

L: Having a transition ritual is a great way to help cope. A transition ritual helps you make a separation between your work life and your home life.

R: How does that work?

L: Well, when you’re done for the day and you’re going home, you might want to crank AC/DC on your car stereo and sing sing sing!!!  

R: That’s hilarious! And that’s a transition ritual?

L: Yes, it can help us draw the line between these two worlds so we don’t take the concerns of our work home with us.

R: What are some others?

L: Well, some others might be allowing ourselves to think about work up until a certain point in our drive home, say up until a marker on our drive, like a Tim Hortons. And then after that spot, we only think about our personal life and we leave work behind.

R: Any other ones?

L: Sure! A really great way of transitioning from work to home is to get out of our work clothes immediately after we get home and then getting into a more comfortable outfit. It can really help us change our mindset.compassion-word

R: Do you have any stories from your own experience about dealing with compassion fatigue?

L: Yes I do. It was earlier in my career and I came home from work one day and I had a really rough day. There had been endless appointments and I had helped people all day long. I was exhausted. When I walked in the door, my daughter was so excited to see me and she wanted to go outside and play, bike ride, catch frogs, colour, and do all kinds of things. I said “Oh honey, Mummy is really tired right now, can I just have five minutes of quiet please because I have been helping people all day.” She looked at me and said “But Mummy, you’re my Mummy.”

R: Wow!

L: And at that point I knew I had to make some changes.

R: Sometimes kids can have such clarity.

L: (laughs) Oh yes.

R: Is compassion fatigue something that we ever solve? Or is it something we have to deal with continually?

L: Well, I suppose it’s different for everyone. But, I don’t think we’re ever done. It’s part of the price of being a caring professional. One thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that this builds up over time and has a cumulative effect. So, you can be in one job and then take another position somewhere else and your level of compassion fatigue might become more and more intense. Just because we have changed jobs doesn’t mean that we have solved the issue. It’s really important for us to keep looking after ourselves and making sure that we are making our self care a priority.  That way, we can continue to do the work that we love and finish our day experiencing compassion satisfaction.

R: Thank so much for talking to me about this today! I really appreciate it.

L: You’re welcome! Thanks Rob.

R: To celebrate the awesomeness of this interview, let’s all crank “You Shook Me All Night Long” By Angus and the boys.

Compassion Fatigue: Duking it out with the Elephant in the Room

You’re in a caring profession. You care.

However, sometimes our “muscles” of compassion and empathy can get tired. You might be easily distracted when you’re with the people you serve. You might not care as much or be using your skills to the best of your ability.

It can be hard for us to admit that this is  happening to us. We’d rather just push through it and pretend it isn’t there.

elephant-in-the-room

Then kablam! You realize “I’m suffering from compassion fatigue!”

It can feel like everyone is dealing with this better than we are. I’ll tell you a secret about humanity though, we all have our issues. Even the well adjusted “superstar” of your team can have a hard time with compassion fatigue.

So, how do we help ourselves through this? One of the great ways is to collaborate with our peers.

Wait. What?

Really. Collaborating with our peers can help us like crazy.

It struck me that that there are literally thousands in the caring professions who are working really hard, giving generously of themselves and sometimes feeling really worn out in body and psyche because of the nature of this demanding work. I am guessing that no one in the world has this whole thing solved. Yep. No one. However, if we have one small piece of the puzzle worked out, shouldn’t we share what we have?

I had the honour recently of presenting my keynote “The Wellness Solution: Help Yourself Help The World” for The Canadian Mental Health Association: Waterloo Wellington Dufferin. I asked people to share how they dealt with this when they were having a tough day.

What happened my friends, was significant.

People stood up, talked and joked.  They shared solutions and strategies to help each other with this tough issue and the energy of the room took off. As a speaker, it was so much fun to see more than a hundred people dive in and collaborate. In fact, folks were so pumped about helping each there that I had trouble ending the exercise and getting on with the show. It was a real testament to how generous people in the caring professions are and how, when we share what we have, everybody wins.

When the day ended, people were happier knowing that they helped their colleagues and that they had learned some valuable tools they could use the next time the elephant tried to sneak back in the room.

 

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.

Has anxiety ever made a sneak attack on you?

So, have you ever been smacked upside the head with an unexplained dose of anxiety? It sucks doesn’t it? Well recently, I was going along and minding my own business when I was hit with a wack of anxiety. It was very strange! Ordinarily I can cruise through pretty much anything and feel calm and cool. Going onstage? No sweat! Big meeting? I got that. Final Episode of Game of Thrones? Ok, that can freak me out a bit. But really, most of the time, the word anxiety has little meaning other than something that “other people” experience.anxiety charlie brown

Not so the other day. I woke up and for some reason and I couldn’t get started working. Everytime I was about to start my timer to do the “gazillion” things I had to do, I was totally freaked out by them. So, I relaxed for a bit and then tried again. No go. I just felt more and more tension in my chest and started to feel down right “freaky”. It was like an ocean tide of bad feeling had just rolled in and there was nothing I could do about it.

Before I knew it, most of the day was gone. The next day? Pretty much the same deal. I started to feel pretty terrible and had no idea how to change my mental state. So what gives?

A few months ago I found out that anxiety runs in my family. This should have not come as a total surprise as I had heard some family members described as “worriers”, but then I realized that these stories actually went back generations. (Here’s a hint: If you hear stories about your family being worried before the Model T was invented, it might be a family issue)model t

Ah! It seems this whole anxiety thing may have deeper roots than I thought. It doesn’t seem fair that genetics, that mysterious part of our make-up that brought us our eye colour, height and our love/hate of Star Wars, would have something to do with how we feel on a regular basis, but it does. Apparently our genetic history can really affect how we feel.

Here’s the other side of the coin. Many years ago a relative who I won’t mention (We’ll just call him “Dad”) was feeling really worried. In fact, he was walking around the house anxious a lot of the time. Finally it got to the point where he needed to go to his doctor. After examining him, taking his blood pressure and asking him some questions, the doctor came up with a pretty terrific prescription. 1: Stop watching the News. 2: Wear looser underwear.

So, he went home and did both of those things-and he felt better. For me it wasn’t so simple. However, I woke up one morning and the crazy tension in my chest had lessened. I was able to work again, and as I got a bunch of stuff done, I started to feel capable and OK.

Many of us deal with this. My own small foray into the world of unnamed anxiety was tiny in comparison to what others deal with. For some, waiting a few days and making different underwear choice doesn’t cut it. Folks sometimes need medical care for their condition. If you are dealing with this or something like it, I really hope you get some assistance.

My few days of discomfort was enough for me, thank you very much. Hope it doesn’t happen again, but if it does, at least I know there are others fighting the same fight and just waiting for the tide to go out.beautiful-beaches-0

Here are a couple of resources for dealing with anxiety here.

Help Guide.org

Anxiety and Depression Association Of America