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Holiday Survival O-Tip of the Week: Enjoy a Good Laugh!

Our O-Tip of the week series delivers valuable “OT-Approved Life Hacks” to provide you with simple and helpful solutions for living. 

For the month of December, one of the busiest months of the year, our O-Tip series will provide you with OT-approved ways to not just “survive the holidays,” but actually enjoy them!  In this week’s O-Tip we remind you that although December is, legitimately, the most stressful month of the year, you can overcome your stress by stepping back and taking time for yourself.

How?  Never underestimate the value of a good laugh.  Time with friends or a good movie can do wonders for the psyche during this hectic time.  My favorite holiday movies are Christmas Vacation and Elf, and of course the timeless A Christmas Story.  Grab some eggnog or a warm cup of tea, curl up with a blanket and laugh for a while.

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Giving Back this Holiday Season

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

Tis the season for me to carefully balance my dislike for the Holiday season with my desire to not bring those around me down with my “baa-hum-bug” attitude.  My hate-on for Christmas started in my late 20’s probably around the time I had four kids under age 5 and through some lack of communication among my family, my kids had like 15 presents to unwrap EACH.  No, I am not complaining that my kids have access to such “abundance” by some very loving and well-meaning people, but with this display of affection comes a parent’s concern that their child will love Christmas because of the stuff.  And the more stuff they get, the more they want.  The more they want, the more they miss the point on the difference between want and need and the more they expect the “bar” to be raised with each passing year.

So, in my search to not pass on my “hate-on for the holidays” gene to my children, I landed on charity and acts of service to balance the fact that they, like most of their friends, live in abundance but still need to be mindful and grateful that they get a lot of what they want, while “needing” nothing.  After all, most of us can give something and there are so many options for this.  This new approach has been helping me to beat the Holiday Blues for the last few years.  It helps me to slow down, reflect, and be mindful and grateful for the things I have and can provide others, and for the pleasures of my own life. 

But in stepping out and getting my girls involved in local charities over the holidays, I have realized that there is an art to “giving” that can have the most impact.

Here are my Top 5 Things to Consider when Giving Back This Holiday Season:

Donate Money – good and responsible charities are appreciative of every dollar.  From the Salvation Army Bell Ringers to putting in a payment online or in the mail.  Money does help.  Search online with your kids to find a charity close to your heart, and have every member of the family donate.

Donate Items – some charities collect food, clothing, toys, or housewares to provide to those in need.  Time to purge those things you don’t need or use.  But before you donate items, ASK the charity what they need and HOW they want the items provided.  If they want new toys, these need to be packaged and un-used.  If they want them unwrapped then don’t take the time to wrap them – it only adds cost and time for you, and cost and time for the charity to unwrap the item before distributing.  Also, ASK what age groups they have a hard time providing for.  I was volunteering at the Good Shepherd recently and they had an abundance of items for small children, but very few for teens.  If you ask them, they will tell you the age categories they struggle to provide for.  Lastly, be sensitive.  If the charity is serving refugees or people immigrating from war-torn countries, toys that involve violence or war (i.e. guns or tanks) might not be appropriate and will need to be screened out by the charity before providing it to the recipient, again adding time and administration during a busy season.

Purchase Charity Goods – some charities sell “goods” that provide an item with a donation.  World Wildlife Federation sells small stuffed animals to represent an “endangered species” and most of the cost of the animal goes to the charity.  So, for $40.00 my child gets an “endangered stuffie” with a certificate about the animal they have adopted, and the charity gets $32.00 as a donation to their cause.  This is also true of other charities that aim to sell farm animals or agriculture supplies that are provided to third world countries.

Support Events – many charities offer dinners, auctions, or other seasonal events to raise money.  This is a great way to donate while engaging in an “experience” with a friend, partner or as a family.

Donate Time – sometimes donating your time reaps the best reward for you and the charity.  Not only does it provide you with an opportunity to see how the organization operates and allow you to be “hands on” in making a difference, it saves the charity from needing to fund staffing to manage the busy holiday season.  I have been at the Good Shepherd three times this month doing anything from sorting clothing donations, food donations, stocking housewares on the shelves in their store, and sorting toys for their Christmas hampers.  There are many organizations that just need some extra hands during the holiday season and sometimes our time is our most impactful gift.

Next week on our blog we begin our annual tradition of giving back to our readers with the 12 Days of Inspiration.  We hope you find these uplifting stories a source of inspiration and hope this Holiday Season.  

Previously Posted December 2016

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Holiday Survival O-Tip of the Week: Make a list and check it twice!

Our O-Tip of the week series delivers valuable “OT-Approved Life Hacks” to provide you with simple and helpful solutions for living. 

For the month of December, one of the busiest months of the year, our O-Tip series will provide you with OT-approved ways to not just “survive the holidays,” but actually enjoy them!  In this week’s O-Tip of the week we take a page from Santa Claus himself.

December is a stressful time of year so organization is key.  Make a list.  Make multiple lists!  Plan it, buy it, store it, and then cross it off your list.  Make separate lists for separate tasks:  cards to send, presents to buy, food to coordinate, functions to attend, decorating to do – then set it and forget it.  Pull out one list a week, tackle it, and then discard.  Repeat.

Try using our printable Holiday Gift Planner to help you stay on track and stress less this Holiday Season.

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“The Cost of Caring” — Coping with Compassion Fatigue

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

Co-written with Kayla Colling, Student Occupational Therapist

There are many reasons we become health care providers.  Sometimes it is a passion for helping a certain population, a desire to help people achieve specific goals, or the recognition that people are needed to fill gaps in health care delivery.  Whatever the reason, there are physical and emotional risks that come with “helping” work.

If you are a helping or social professional who uses compassion and empathy with your clients who have experienced trauma and suffering, you may already be familiar with compassion fatigue.  Nurses, physicians, trauma therapists, social workers, workers in child protective services, and military healthcare teams are recognized to be at risk of exposure to second hand trauma through their work and may benefit from understanding and recognizing compassion fatigue.  Other health care providers, such as occupational therapists, advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), respiratory therapists and physical therapists may also suffer the consequences of compassion fatigue in their work with people and their families that are experiencing a health crisis.

What is compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is often described as the “cost of caring”.  It can also be called “secondary traumatic stress”, which is a more clinical term, but it is generally agreed that these terms are interchangeable.

Compassion fatigue occurs when providers are exposed to another person’s trauma and suffering.  This could be through routine interactions at our workplaces, when we provide compassion and empathy to clients or patients who have experienced trauma.

Symptoms

Compassion fatigue impacts individuals physically, emotionally and spiritually, and tends to have a rapid onset of symptoms.  The symptoms listed below are not exhaustive and not exclusive to compassion fatigue, so they should not be used to diagnose.  If you are concerned, consider making an appointment with your physician or other mental health worker to discuss your concerns.

Physical:  chronic fatigue, frequent headaches, gastrointestinal complaints, sleep disturbances, muscle tension, aches and pains, and anxiety.

Emotional and Spiritual:  heavy heart, emptiness, decreased sense of purpose, low self-esteem, high self-expectations, helplessness and hopelessness, numbness, apathy, depression, anger, irritability.

Behaviour Changes: avoiding or dreading work, calling in sick frequently, inability to maintain empathy, chronic lateness, overworking, and difficulty focusing and concentrating.

So it’s like burnout?

Burnout has a more gradual onset and results from an accumulation of ongoing, daily stressors at work that wear us down if we do not take proper care of ourselves and try to address the contributing workplace issues.  Symptoms of burnout tend to be more subtle and are sometimes misinterpreted.  It is still very important that we try to both address and prevent burnout, but this is clinically different from compassion fatigue.

Building Resiliency/Prevention

Although we cannot entirely prevent compassion fatigue from happening, we can take steps to reduce the risk, recognize warning signs and seek support early in order to reduce the impact on ourselves, our coworkers, our clients and our friends and families. 

By reading this blog, you have already taken a step toward learning more about it.  If we can normalize these emotions after exposure to these types of situations, it might help us to seek and accept support when we need it.

If your workplace permits, it can be helpful to have regular debriefings, even if a specific incident or crisis has not occurred.

Self-care strategies have been shown to help prevent compassion fatigue.  These strategies will likely include enhancing your boundaries to separate your work life from your home life as much as possible.  It also often involves balancing your activities outside of work as well, including engaging in a variety of relaxing, pleasurable and productive activities throughout the week.  Importantly, getting enough sleep at night and eating healthy and regular meals are also parts of self-care.  Avoiding maladaptive coping mechanisms (such as turning to alcohol, increasing smoking, eating or spending) is also important, including recognizing when things are deteriorating to get help quickly.

Practicing self-compassion can also help us to build resilience against compassion fatigue.  You can find meditations to help cultivate self-compassion, or it might be something you explore through reading, watching TedTalks, attending a course or workshop, or talking to your therapist about.  Having a regular mindfulness or meditation practice may also help you build resilience, along with other positive and adaptive outlets like exercise and social time.

Resources

If you are interested in learning more about compassion fatigue, check out the references below.

If you want to “check in” with yourself, you may be interested in looking at the Professional Quality of Life Scale (ProQOL) available here.  This scale will allow you to calculate scores on scales that consider compassion satisfaction, burnout and secondary traumatic stress (compassion fatigue).  I am not suggesting using this scale for self-diagnosis but it can sometimes be helpful to indicate if there is a concern you might want to speak to a professional about.

The symptoms of compassion fatigue can be severe – if you are concerned for your safety, please call your local crisis/distress line for support.  Find a crisis line near you.

References

Sorenson, C., Bolick, B., Wright, K. & Hamilton, R.  (2016).  Understanding compassion fatigue in healthcare providers: A review of current literature.  Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 48(5), 456-465.  doi: 10.1111/jnu.12229

Sorenson, C., Bolick, B., Wright, K. & Hamilton, R.  (2017).  An evolutionary concept analysis of compassion fatigue.  Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 49(5), 557-563.  doi: 10.1111/jnu.12312

Vu, P. &Bodenmann, P.  (2017).  Preventing, managing and treating compassion fatigue.  Swiss Archives of Neurology, Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, 168(8), 224-231.  doi: 10.4414/sanp.2017.00525

 

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Give Gifts That Help Children ‘Grow’

If you’re a keen and organized shopper, I’m sure you have the majority of your holiday gifts already purchased, and if you’re anything like my Mother had everything done and wrapped in August! However, if you’re anything like my husband, you are waiting until the 24th to think about Christmas.

Although Santa and his Elves are hard at work building the toys your children put on their Christmas wish list, there may be a few items you still need to purchase.

We consulted our talented team of Pediatric Occupational Therapists and are happy to provide you with some fun but functional gift inspiration. These are gifts that are educational and stimulate child development:

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“MO”-Tip of the Week: Prevent the ‘Man Cold’ (It’s a Real Thing!)

Our O-Tip of the week series delivers valuable “OT-Approved Life Hacks” to provide you with simple and helpful solutions for living.

For the month of Movember, a month dedicated to Men’s Health, our “MO”-Tip series will provide you with OT-approved ways to take care of the men in your life.  

Studies show that men have harsher cold and flu symptoms than women, therefore, men may not be simply exaggerating symptoms as many women claim.  That’s right… the ‘man cold’ is real!  So men, to avoid getting the dreaded ‘man cold’ or flu this season, follow these great tips care of the Center for Disease Control.

CDC:  Preventing the Flu: Good Health Habits Can Help Stop Germs

Learn more about the scientific evidence of the ‘man cold’ care of CBC News.

CBC News:  Canadian doctor says there’s evidence the ‘man flu’ is actually real