(416) 532-5514 robhawke@gmail.com

Transition Rituals: 6 Ways To Help You Chase Away That Creepy Clown

Have you ever had a hard time leaving work at work? Have you ever given all the emotional juice you have to your job and you finally get home only to have work thoughts creep back into your consciousness? It can be a lot like dealing with that creepy clown with the red balloon from IT. You’re having a nice supper with your family and you go to the fridge and the creepy clown is sitting next to the broccoli ready to hand you a red balloon full of troubling thoughts about work. You load things in the dish washer and there he is again with another balloon you don’t need.

Later when you go for a walk, you leave the house and right next to the mailbox you see the creepy clown again. All of a sudden your thoughts go back to your day and all its unfinished business. You try like crazy to ignore the clown but he keeps coming back again and again. How do we fix this? How do we separate our challenging work from our precious time at home? Is there some magic technique to help us shut off the endless stream of work related thoughts that can pollute our time off?

I was running my workshop The Wellness Solution: Help Yourself Help The World for a group of caring professions and we were collaborating on ways of helping ourselves deal with stress and burnout. I asked “What specific challenges do you face?” The stakes were high for these highly skilled pros. They work in a beautiful but isolated community, their caseloads are heavy and burnout was starting to take its toll.

Somebody said “I have a hard time leaving work at work! I take all of these worries about my clients home with me!” I asked the group if this was a common problem and there were nods all around.

The room came alive and we immediately collaborated on solutions. One person said “After

a tough day I gather up all the files I’ve worked on, stick them in my filing cabinet and lock them up.” Somebody else offered, “I drive home by the lake and let myself think about work until I get to the end of the road and then I’m done!”

Somebody else said “I go for a really fast walk and when I get to a certain point, I act like I’m dropping all of my work troubles out on the road.” Another one was “I put all my papers away and then say goodbye to my plants, turn off the lights and I’m done!” What useful tool had we stumbled upon? Transition rituals! Transition rituals provide a definite end to our day and let us know that it’s OK to leave our concerns behind.  We are creatures of habit after all and our brains like nothing better than following a pattern. So by using our transition ritual on a regular basis we get better at it. Our psyches embrace the idea that we have ended one part of our day and begun another. By using this technique and doing something after work as simple as going for a walk or driving down a certain road; we are literally training our brains to relax and to switch gears from one way of being to another. This can help us leave work at work so we can reduce our stress and chase away that evil creepy clown.

Here are some transition rituals that we came up with that day.

1: Go for a brisk walk after work.

2: Go to the gym and do a brief workout.

3: Have a specific way of leaving the office “Turnout the lights and say goodbye to the plants”

4: Say out loud, “I’m done playing in this sandbox. This can all wait until tomorrow”.

5: Say out loud “This is yours, not mine.”

6: Take a specific route home, allow yourself to think about work until you get to a certain point, then stop.

We all know that being in the caring professions takes a lot of skill, empathy and emotional juice. All of that giving can wear out our bodies and psyches. Transition rituals can be a useful tool to help keep the creepy clown away so we can recharge our batteries and give ourselves a chance to serve not just our clients but ourselves as well.

“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

 

 

Are you a Patient? Go to MARS!

THE SELF-CARE MOVEMENT SUMMIT

If you’re a patient, you know about getting through tough times. If we reach out to other people, things get easier.

When I had cancer, I lived alone in a one bedroom apartment and quite frankly I had no idea how hard it was going to be. I thought I was tough enough to handle the challenges on my own. I wasn’t. Not only were the physical symptoms of my disease difficult, but I also suffered from depression and isolation. My story isn’t unique, or even close to the toughest one you’ll hear. Many patients like us stare down dark nights at 3 am and wonder how we’re going to make it to the morning. Being alone makes the journey much tougher. Helping each other makes it easier.

You are invited to the Self Care Movement Summit in Toronto on June 27th at Mars.

mars

If you or someone you love is sick, connecting with other patients can be the difference between languishing alone and feeling completely overwhelmed or tapping into a sense of community and accessing resources to make your journey easier.

The first time I connected with other patients was 3 years after my treatment.  I sat in a circle with other folks in recovery  and thought “Oh My Gosh! I should have been doing this from day one!” There was such power in meeting people who had similar challenges. People shared ideas and strategies on how to get through a tough day. We all breathed out as we realized that we were not alone in what we were facing.

It has been my honour as a speaker and author to work with groups of patients and their families for years now. Something almost magical happens when patients get together in the same room and support each other. It would be great if you could come to the…

Self Care Movement Summit on June 27th at MARS in Toronto

trudeau

The always entertaining and insightful Margaret Trudeau. We get to hear her speak! How cool is that?

Do you know who’s going to do the keynote? Margaret Trudeau! Really. Impressed? I am. There is also going to be incredible content on wellness, self care and managing chronic illness in the workplace.  As well, I will be doing my presentation “Taking The Laughter Pill: Humour and The Patient Journey.

Oh, Did I mention its FREE? And there are APPETIZERS? (At least there will be until I get there)

salmon

The appetizers may or may not be salmon. I’m not in charge of the food. But frankly, how can you go wrong with salmon? Just sayin’.

The link for the event is here.

Self Care Movement Summit on June 27th at MARS in Toronto

All of this content is valuable. Just as important is the opportunity to connect with people who are going through similar challenges and help each other realize that we are all going through this together.

See you there.

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.

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTu8yx5zstM