Life Coach Magazine

Compassion Fatigue and the Importance of Self Care

By Kristin Davin @kristindavin

young sporty woman runing and jumping on meadow

My recent return from a mini vacation provided unwavering clarity to the importance of self care. I relaxed, soaked in the sun, and totally decompressed. I was able to reboot and recharge!  Over the years, I have acquired a greater understanding and appreciation for time off and away from work. Because of my chosen vocation (which I love!) listening to people’s problems all day, everyday means that if I am not careful, my energy can quickly dissipate. And truth be told, its not always easy. People have this misguided perception that psychologists just sit in their proverbial chair and say, “how does that make you feel” all day! Ah, no. Many days are emotionally challenging. So are some weeks.

For those like myself in the helping/healing fields -doctors, nurses, psychologists, emergency responders, trauma workers – a lack of self care can lead to compassion fatigue, a gradual lessening of compassion over time. A colloquialism often used for the compassion fatigue that people experience when they give too much and don’t replenish their own tank is “burnt out.” They can find themselves running on empty. Exhausted. Checked out. Desensitized. Not good.


Compassion fatigue is not relegated to only those in the traditional helping fields. Its stretches to people in other care taking roles – taking care of an elderly parent, those who have a special needs child, single parents, military families while the spouse is deployed, among many others. Symptoms of compassion fatigue include “hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, sleeplessness or nightmares, and a pervasive negative attitude.” People can also experience feelings of incompetency, self doubt, difficulty focusing, and a decrease in productivity.

If you are not vigilant, you may find yourself taking care of others and neglecting the most important person – yourself! Despite what people may think, self care is not a selfish act. Quite the contrary. In my book, its mandatory in order to live a healthier and productive life. And if you want to bring your A Game not your B game to work, self care needs to encompass a significant part of that equation.

Ways to Include Self Care Practices in Your Life

Despite the challenges that many people have with self care, a small start, a small change does go a long way. Intentional practice while creating healthy habits helps make self care practices part of your routine.

Self statement. I am important. Let’s begin with that. Say it. Repeat it. Mean it. Implement it. If you don’t care about yourself, how can you take care of others? If you do not see the importance and utility in taking time out for yourself, who will?

Total decompression. Vacation time. Sometimes a few “mini” vacations throughout the year do more good than one long vacation.

Personal Care. A hot bath (with no interruptions), a glass of wine, a good book, a telephone conversation with someone important, manicure/pedicure, time out with friends without your spouse/partner, a hobby, a walk – solo or with someone.

Boundaries. Learn to set them. If you are saying yes to too many things, you are probably not saying no to things you should be. If your “knee jerk” response is to say yes due to guilt or difficulty saying no, start by not immediately responding to requests. Give yourself some time to stop and think. Ask yourself, “is this what I reallly to do or am I doing it because its expected of me or out of guilt?” “Do I even have the time in my schedule?” Even taking 5 minutes before you respond makes a difference. Although most people are Initially uncomfortable with saying no and setting boundaries, it does become easier and more comfortable. You will be glad you did it!

Maintaining important relationships. Spend time with friends and family and make them a priority when your schedule permits. Even if you have time just for a cup of coffee. It doesn’t have to be anything lengthy. Start with a short period of time and increase or add other people to your schedule as you become more comfortable with taking the time for yourself.

Compartmentalize. Being able to compartmentalize your life is important. This means putting your life in compartments to the best of your ability. For example, leaving work at work and home issues at home. Working towards being more present and not allowing one issue/problem bleed into every other part of your life. Being able to compartmentalize is a skill and can be learned through intentional practice. I have learned over the years and through intentional practice and a certain mind set that when I leave for work, “I lock my door and I lock my brain.” Though not always perfectly because there are times that I have to tend to a patient crisis, but I work hard towards this end.

Move! Exercise and healthy food choices. No brainers, sure, but for many people these are the first things that fall by the wayside when we are under stress and focusing on taking care of others instead of ourselves. Exercise – in whatever form – the gym, walking, running, biking, hiking – is beneficial on several critical levels that extend beyond self care.

Fun. Add a healthy dose of fun in your life. Stop taking everything in life so seriously.

As my friend and colleague Rachel Strella points out, “as time becomes more and more critical, its so important to be aware of how we spend it.” Perfect! Use your time wisely. Take the time needed for self care.

Self care is high on my list of priorities. Is it on yours?


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