How to Process Sadness and Grief

How to Process Sadness and Grief

You may be feeling heavy-hearted and overwhelmed by all the conflict in the world, challenges you have faced during the pandemic; and to add insult to injury, the recent invasion of Ukraine. You may be feeling exhausted. Feeling like you want to return to bed a few hours after awakening. You may want to shake off all this sadness and heaviness and return to a lighter and more optimistic way of being.

I feel you. Recently I returned from a road trip to visit a dying friend. It was so sad to see how weak and frail she was having lost 50 pounds in the past 4 months. She texted and asked me to give her 15 to 20 minutes before arriving as it took that long for her to recover from unlocking her front door and returning to her living room couch.

It’s been 10 days since my return, and it took over a week until I started to feel more like myself. What have I found helpful to lift the heaviness from my heart and body, and support the return of my energy?

What did I do to help process the grief and sadness?

  • I listened to my body. When I felt tired, I laid down for a short while.
  • I created more space in my days. Rather than have my agenda “packed full” I removed and didn’t attend events that did not light me up.
  • I went for a walk in nature every day. When we walk in nature it clears our energy, reduces our heart rate and blood pressure, and strengthens our immune system.
  • I faithfully did yoga three times a week.
  • Rather that push the sadness away I tried to feel it and let it flood through my body. I’ve learned that resisting sadness and grief takes a lot of energy and in the long run it still lingers in my body.
  • I went for a massage with a woman who is also an energy worker. I felt much lighter the next morning after the massage.
  • I openly shared my sadness with people close to me instead of acting strong and soldiering on (a typical behavior I have used in the past).
  • I find writing, journaling, and doing something creative therapeutic; it takes my mind off the injustices in the world.
  • I put on my favorite music and dance around the kitchen.

What strategies have you found helpful to process your grief and sadness? I welcome your comments below.

How to Balance Your Masculine and Feminine?

How to Balance Your Masculine and Feminine?

In a recent post I spoke about “Why Balancing Your Masculine and Feminine is Important” – https://pamela-thompson.com/why-is-balancing-your-masculine-and-feminine-important/. This post dives deeper and shares some tips and tools for balancing your masculine and feminine energy.

When you’re spinning out of control, feeling stuck on the hamster wheel and unable to get off, you often intuitively know that you need to create some more balance in your life. You may also be unsure about how to do that.

The cultures of China and India have recognized the importance of a balanced life for more than 2,000 years. Their theories of health and illness are based on the presence (or not) of balance. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also believes that disease is caused by energy blockage in the body. In order to stay healthy, it is important to keep energy moving throughout our bodies; for example, by regularly practicing qigong or tai chi, or having therapeutic massages by an experienced practitioner or energy healer.

I particularly like the metaphor Austin Vickers shares in his book Stepping Up To a Life of Vision, Passion and Authentic Power (2005). He likens balance to a three-legged stool. Vickers refers to the three stool legs as “body, mind, and spirit” and notes “all three of these legs of life are necessary to make us stable and balanced.” He cautions that if you are missing one leg of your stool “all of your energy is spent trying to maintain balance and not fall over. You cannot relax. But upon a balanced stool, one can relax, read, work or use it as a tool to do other things.”

When you are living life like a spinning top or caught on the hamster wheel, you are exhibiting many of the characteristics of masculine energy. It is important to be aware of the characteristics of the two energies, as being out of balance has negative impacts on our bodies, minds, relationships, and success at home and work. For example, if we are constantly in our masculine energy, driving and striving, over time it leads to illness (e.g. burnout), unhappiness, lack of fulfillment, and restlessness. Conversely, if we are dominated by our feminine energy, constantly giving to others, we may become resentful, ill, needy, and insecure.

How can you find and create your own unique balance between your masculine and feminine energies? Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Sit down. Close your eyes. Take several deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Get centered and grounded.
  2. Reflect on your day. Become an outside observer. Which characteristics of the two energies did you display today, and in which situations?
  3. Ask yourself if you are living your life more in the masculine than the feminine side or vice versa, and if this is out of balance.
  4. Ask yourself if you are willing to experiment, to make some changes in your behaviors and notice the impact they have on your body, mind, relationships, and creativity at home and at work.
  5. If the answer is yes, make a conscious decision to change one thing and try it out for a week. It could be the way you relate to your team. Think about this each morning before you get out of bed and make the commitment to yourself. For example, you might say, “I choose today to demonstrate empathy and be receptive to others’ ideas; to really listen instead of being in control, assertive, and competitive.”
  6. During the day, start to notice when you become “adrenalized”; when you become extremely “geared up” and have trouble sitting still. Take several deep breaths, go inside, and ask yourself what is it that is making you feel so anxious. Listen to what comes up for you.
  7. You may find it useful at the end of the day to reflect and journal about what came up for you and the impact(s) on your body, mind, relationships, creativity, and productivity when you initiated even a small change.

The first step in making any change is self-awareness. By becoming aware of what situations or people “adrenalize” you, you may then make a conscious choice to “dig deeper” and try on some new beliefs and behaviors.

I welcome your comments and thoughts below on strategies you have found helpful to balance your masculine and feminine energies.

Why is Balancing Your Masculine and Feminine Important?

Why is Balancing Your Masculine and Feminine Important?

“We all have masculine and feminine within us, and when it’s all balanced it’s like accessing a super power.” (Alicia Keys)

What do we mean by “masculine” and “feminine” and why is balancing them important?

Much has been written about the sacred feminine (yin) and the sacred masculine (yang). Although each person possesses both masculine and feminine energies, usually one type is more developed or dominant. This dominant energy affects how you perceive yourself, others, your environments and how you interact with the world.

The qualities of each type of energy are outlined in the table below. *

Feminine Energy (Yin) BEING & GIVINGMasculine Energy (Yang) DOING & RECEIVING
  Creative  Linear & Logical
IntuitiveAnalytical
CollaborativeCompetitive
ReceptiveAssertive
EmotionalRational
PassionateDetermined
EmpatheticObjective
Allow for “flow”Goal-directed
  
  • Excerpted from “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” (2015) by Pamela Thompson, p. 84

When you live life feeling like you are on a hamster wheel and can’t get off, you are exhibiting many of the characteristics of masculine energy. It’s important to be aware of the qualities of each type of energy because being out of balance negatively impacts our bodies, our minds, our relationships and our work. For example, if we are constantly in our masculine energy, over time it leads to illness, lack of fulfillment, unhappiness, and restlessness. Whereas if we are dominated by our feminine energy, we become ill, resentful, needy and insecure.

It’s important to note that balancing yin and yang energies does not mean 50% yin and 50% yang. It means “learning to optimize your own unique mix so your happiness is maximized and your success enhanced.” (http://themichaelteaching.com/michael/applied-michael/masculine-feminine-duality/)

How can you find and create your own unique balance between your feminine and masculine energies? A good place to start is with an assessment.

Here’s an illuminating exercise:

At the end of the day, take some time to pause and reflect on your day. Create 2 lists. Put at the top of one list “Doing” and the other list “Being”. Without thinking too much, do a brain dump of all the things you’ve done in that day. This could include: planning with your team, chairing a meeting, doing a performance review … . Then write down all the things you would categorize as “being” such as: walking mindfully in nature, meditating, spending time focusing attentively on someone or something.

If it’s been an unusual day, take the time to also reflect on the previous day. 

Then create 2 other lists. Think about all your “Giving” behaviors that day. Examples include: making a meal for a sick friend, volunteering your time to assist others, listening to a friend’s tale of woe. .

Now think about all your “Receiving” behaviors for that day. Receiving behaviors include: treating yourself to a yoga class and being present during it, meditating for at least 10 minutes, reaching out for support when you needed it; such as “Sweetie, do you mind driving the kids to school today? I’ve got a lot on my plate.”, treating yourself to a bubble bath or massage.

Now look at your lists. What do you notice? Are you giving more than receiving and doing more than being?

Then take a few moments to go into your body and notice how you are feeling. Are you low in energy? Are you feeling resentful? Are you finding you have a “short fuse” and that you are reacting rather than taking some thoughtful time to respond to people at home and/or at work?

I invite you to do this exercise for a few days and notice what you notice. I welcome your reflections and insights below.

Stay tuned for the next installment to discover some tips and tools for balancing your masculine and feminine energy.

How to Prevent and Heal from Burnout

How to Prevent and Heal from Burnout

Are there women in your life who are constantly giving to others and putting themselves at the bottom of the list? Women who are so busy serving others in their families, communities, workplaces … seemingly with boundless energy?

Women who seem to be strong and have it all together, and rarely if ever reach out for support from others; until they can’t.

Perhaps you are one of these women.

COVID has placed increased stress on women worldwide. They are burning out faster than before the pandemic. With the increased demands of working at home, home-schooling children, supporting others in their families, communities and workplaces, they are losing their passion, feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, and experiencing feelings of cynicism and detachment.[1]

International cross-cultural studies[2]show that those in the helping professions (e.g. social workers, nurses, physicians, development professionals), and high achievers, are at higher risk for burnout than the general population. The curious thing about high or over-achievers is that we tend to work harder when we get closer and closer to burnout. It’s almost like we believe we are invincible!

I recall when I burnt out in late 2012; how I kept pushing through fatigue and NOT listening to my body. I had pushed through fatigue to finish that one last thing for many years, and was healthy (or so I thought), with no noticeable side effects. Until all that changed.

I’d been working on contract for an NGO that promotes women’s and children’s rights around the world for almost a year. Initially I was passionate about the opportunity and felt so aligned with their mission, vision and values. It was exciting to head off to a number of African countries for project start up and to meet the teams in the 7 countries I was working with! In the coming months, the project scope increased, and I was being asked to do more and more. Then, about 6 months in, I started to lose my passion. I felt like there was so much to do and so little time. Yet I kept pushing through.

Near the end of the year, I was invited to renew my contract in a reduced role. I was this close to signing and asked to sleep on the decision. When I awoke, I felt like a lemon that had been squeezed dry; and realized in that moment, that I had to finally listen to my body, I had to take a break. I got in touch with the Director and VP I’d been working with, thanked them, and turned down the opportunity. They said “Why?” and I said I wanted to create more balance in my life. At that time, I had no idea what that meant or how much time I would take off, but I started the new year with no work on my plate. A scary place for someone who has their own business! I took the time to reconnect with family and friends as I’d been travelling so much the past couple of years. I studied mindfulness with Jack Kornfield; and spent a lot of time in nature.

After sleeping 10, 12, 13 hours a night for about 4 months and still awakening feeling fatigued, I went to see a naturopath who put me on some homeopathic meds; and within about a month I started to feel more like myself; my energy started to come back.

What I learned from that experience, and from doing in-depth interviews with high-achieving women from three continents is captured in the book “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women”. In this book, I introduce the concept of “Creative Living, “the conscious cultivation of increased health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace in your life.” There are 7 keys to what I call Creative Living, and powerful strategies and practices to prevent and heal from burnout. I’ve distilled some of these in the strategies below.

Strategies You can Use to Prevent and Heal from Burnout

  • Integrate mindfulness practices into your life daily (e.g. body scanning[3] & mindfulness walking meditation[4]); these help you focus on the present moment, and get you out of the chatter in your head
  • Start listening to your body. When you feel tired take a short nap (e.g. 15 to 30 minutes if you can) or go for a short walk (15 to 30 minutes)
  • When you’re feeling stressed take 3 deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth exhaling on each out breath. Notice how that makes you feel. This releases the hormone oxytocin which makes you feel more relaxed, grounded and at peace
  • Focus on one thing at a time
  • Sleep at least 8 hours a night and go to sleep before 11 pm
  • Set firm boundaries; learn to say “no”; being clear on your top 5 core values helps with this
  •  Spend regular time in nature – The Japanese have done longitudinal studies to show that when we walk in nature, particularly among trees, it reduces our heartrate, reduces our blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our body produces (i.e. strengthens our immune system)
  • Nurture yourself daily (e.g. have a bubble bath, listen to relaxing music, do something you love)
  • Try yoga. Experiment with different styles. Find one that works for you and do it 3 times a week or more for 30 to 60 minutes each time
  • Celebrate your achievements – both big and small
  • Unplug from technology 60 to 90 minutes before going to bed; and Unplug one day a week (if possible) e.g. on the weekend.
  • Schedule blocks of time in your calendar for you (e.g. work out at the gym, yoga, lunch with a friend, date night with your partner) and commit to doing them
  • If symptoms persist and if you are continually fatigued even though you sleep 8 or more hours a night, and have lost your zest for life, go to a recommended naturopath or a physician who is open to complementary therapies.

What strategies have you found helpful to reduce stress in your life and to prevent and/or heal from burnout? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.

Gift yourself and those high-achieving women in your life; those who “do” more than “be” and “give” more than “receive” “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” .


[1] Sherrie Berg Carter, High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2010.

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2016/jan/21/spot-the-signs-of-burnout-before-it-hits-you?CMP=ema-1694&CMP=

[3] Scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes noticing where there is any tension or discomfort. Breathe into those places and set the intention to release the pain and discomfort. This is helpful to do first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. It helps you become more aware of your body and the messages it sends you.

[4] When doing mindfulness walking meditation, it is most beneficial to do it outside. When you begin to walk, instead of thinking about the argument you had with your partner that morning or worrying about the performance review you’re going to give to a team member who is underperforming;  instead focus on all of your senses. Feel the breeze on your cheeks, smell the salt sea air, hear the birds chirping, see the beautiful vistas that surround you … . When thoughts come to mind as they will, imagine putting them in a cloud and watching them float away and then return to focusing on your senses. Do this 3 times a week to start for 20 to 30 minutes a time and notice how you feel during, immediately after and after a week or so of doing this.

Co-creative Collaboration: What it is & Why It’s Important Now

Co-creative Collaboration: What it is & Why It’s Important Now

In a recent blog post a colleague, Runa Bouius, shared the term “co-creative collaboration”. For me it clicked and made so much sense. You may be wondering what the heck does it mean?

To co-create means “to create something jointly”.[1] To collaborate is “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.”[2]

What’s the difference between the two? I believe that by adding “co-creative” to collaboration it underscores the creative aspects of the process and focuses on the positive energy and joy that results from co-creating a new program, project, initiative, organization; and the ownership one feels to the “end product”. It is a great way to bond with a team or group of individuals.

To co-create with a group, there are a number of beliefs that are important to have in place and processes that support co-creative collaboration.

Beliefs that support co-creative collaboration

What I’ve found from my work with people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds is that it is important to believe that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In other words, you believe that the chances of creating something new and innovative are much greater when you have variety of different perspectives and “heads” around the table, than what results from your own mind or from a small group who represent similar backgrounds (e.g. disciplines) and/or cultures.

I admire how Barbara Gray[3], a seasoned negotiator and organizational theorist, wrote about collaboration. She likened the collaborative process to a kaleidoscope and the pieces of colored glass within to the various diverse stakeholders involved in such a process. When you turn a kaleidoscope, the image changes, and a new one is created each time. Similarly in a well-designed collaborative process, each stakeholder is enabled to share their ideas and the final “product” the group comes up with is a combination of each person’s unique contribution; yet it is even better as each person builds on the next and the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

Many of us begin our careers believing that we have all the answers, and it is easier to create something on our own rather than to involve others. We don’t really value collaboration until we experience a well-designed co-creative collaborative process.

Processes that support co-creative collaboration

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I had the opportunity to co-chair a national strategy for the federal government. The consultant we hired to support us through that process was a gifted facilitator, Dorothy Strachan, who taught me so much. The strategy was “Enhancing Prevention in the Practice of Health Professionals” and it involved representatives from 8 national health professional associations in Canada; for example the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nursing Association, Canadian Dental Association … . Through a multi-phased process, we created a strategy document that supported integrating prevention through four key issue areas: policy and planning, program and service delivery, education of health professionals, and research and evaluation.  The final “product” was endorsed by the Boards of each of the health professional associations who were around the table. It was a landmark document that included a number of concrete actions the various professions could take that included Goals and Options for Action in each of the issue areas, and a dissemination strategy characterized by “Prevention through Partnership: Collaborating for Change”.

Being part of this process made me value collaboration and understand how a well-designed and facilitated process can be both creative and productive.

We didn’t call it “co-creative collaboration” but indeed it was.

To be part of a co-creative collaborative process you need to trust in the process, believe that the whole IS greater than the sum of the parts, ideally include a diverse group of stakeholders in the process, create a safe environment with clear expectations, respect and value the contributions of everyone, and not come to the process invested in a particular outcome, rather be open to possibility. It is helpful to engage a skilled outside neutral facilitator with experience in collaborative processes.

As part of Female Wave of Change Canada, a member-based non-profit whose vision is:

“A more conscious, equitable, just, sustainable and peaceful world where authentic feminine leadership qualities[4] are valued and underpin the creation of new and healthy organizations, structures and systems”,

I invited members to work together to co-create a project related to the Environment. In an email they were told that they didn’t need to be subject matter experts, and it was great if they were; however, having a passion for and interest in co-creating a project in the Environment area was important. Over 3 months of meeting via zoom about every 2 weeks, we co-created what is now called “The Mother Earth Ambassador Program”, an educational program for girls ages 9 to 12 that integrates indigenous wisdom and storytelling. As a group, we identified the: Problems we are solving, the broad Goal, the Outcomes/Objectives, a draft Outline, and Additional Design Aspects. We are now in conversation with a Master’s level university program and their students who we anticipate will assist us in fleshing out the program and “making it real”. If you’re interested in learning more and being part of a co-creative collaborative process, join us at: https://fwoccanada.com.

With the complex issues we are facing today, such as systemic racism, climate change, and gender inequality, we need a variety of “heads around the table” from different backgrounds and cultures to generate creative solutions and move us toward a world that works for everyone. Are you up to the challenge?


[1] https://www.thefreedictionary.com

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com

[3] Barbara Gray, Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1989.

[4] Feminine Leadership Qualities include: compassionate, creative, collaborative, emotionally intelligent, authentic, inclusive … usually associated with the feminine. That said, men as well as women can have and learn these qualities.

Are You Bringing Your Whole Self to Work?

Are You Bringing Your Whole Self to Work?

It’s interesting when I reflect on how I used to act and feel in the workplace. I learned from a young age that it was important to separate my work life from my personal life. In doing so I could protect myself, and in the workplace I would only share the parts of myself that I felt were valued. For example, my ability to write, to facilitate, to work collaboratively with others.

I recall when launching my coaching business in 2009, after 10.5 years of doing management consulting, how I felt like I could only share my new business with certain clients. Others I thought would think I was going “woo woo”.  After researching and writing program and policy documents in the health field, designing and facilitating multistakeholder and consultative processes, and doing qualitative studies, I launched the Creative Healing Center, a virtual center, where we coached people through various life transitions and integrated this with creativity, eastern psychology, the health-promoting and healing benefits of the arts, and alternative modalities. At that time, I felt like I was trying to balance on two Swiss balls and was being challenged to do so. I felt that my logical left brain that I had been operating from for so long, (or so I thought), was now being challenged by my creative and empathic right brain.

Recently in chatting with a Diversity and Inclusion consultant, biracial friend and colleague, she spoke about “code-switching”[1] and how women of color typically show up differently at work compared to with friends and at home. They do this because they feel and understand, based on experience, that if they bring their whole selves to work, they will not be valued, respected or promoted.

It made me reflect on which environments I felt most comfortable bringing my whole self to work in. Curiously it was in cross-cultural situations where I was working internationally with teams from countries such as Pakistan, Colombia, Nigeria, and Afghanistan; with people from cultures other than my own, that I brought my whole self to work. Curious isn’t it? Perhaps I had internalized from a young age that it was better to only share parts of myself in the North American work environment; and not to acknowledge my intuition and creativity?

How about you? Do you bring your whole self to work? What environments facilitate that? Which ones prevent you from sharing your whole self and why? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.


[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/achieving-health-equity/202012/what-is-code-switching

“Power With” or “Power Over”: Which is the Way Forward?

“Power With” or “Power Over”: Which is the Way Forward?

Recently, I was in an interactive workshop of female leaders, and a number of women voiced that they had negative feelings around the word “power”. I must confess, that was my belief for a number of years, based on my experience with leaders and leadership. However, recently I have changed my perspective around power after being energized and impressed at the way so many of the female leaders around the world responded to the pandemic. They were confident, decisive, and worked collaboratively with their teams and even consulted female leaders in other countries regarding their policies, practices and lessons learned.

The time has come for us to change our mindsets from “power over” to “power with”. Examples of “power with” include how Jacinda Ardern during the pandemic broadcast nationally to her fellow New Zealanders in her sweatshirt coming from a place of empathy and understanding, rather than command and control. How scientists from around the world banded together to find a vaccine for COVID-19 in record time, also demonstrated “power with”.

When you think of “power with”, what images does it conjure up? What does it mean to you? I see men and women standing together in a circle holding hands. I see community. To me it means admitting I don’t have all the answers and working together with others to solve complex issues and generate creative solutions. When I think of “power over” I think of a man on his own at the top of a hierarchy, making the decisions on his own from a place of ego, without seeing the need to consult with and understand various perspectives.

“Power over” is when one person or group unilaterally, usually through their political and/or financial influence, imposes their views and ways of working on others for their own gain, rather than trying to understand others and see the world through a different lens. They are threatened by new ideas and perspectives and often want to maintain the status quo that keeps them in power. They also encourage and support competition over collaboration.

The days of the Lone Wolf are over. Complex issues such climate change and systemic racism require leaders from a variety of backgrounds, disciplines, sectors and countries to solve them.

I believe that “power with”, which involves collaboration, is the way forward.

In order to collaborate it is important to:

  • Believe that more than one “head” is better than one; that multiple perspectives around an issue lead to more creative and sustainable solutions
  • Trust those you are collaborating with
  • Be clear on your role and that of others in the process
  • Have values aligned with those you are collaborating with
  • Be open to new ways of understanding and looking at a problem
  • Come from a place of service; of making a positive difference in the world.

What does power look and feel like for you? I welcome your thoughts and comments below on “power over” and “power with”.

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