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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

The Buzz on Compassion: 5 uniquely appropriate mindfulness tips to managing compassion fatigue


For all of us compassionate and caring people, especially in our lovely non-profit sector, we know too well how exhausting it can feel to offer and hold emotional support for others. It’s not that it makes you any less worthy to do this work, it is to be expected that we will reach a capacity where things need to be adjusted. This is when our mind, body and spirit start communicating essential feedback, meaning that it is a good time to increase some needed self-care in our lifestyle. 

Here are some very uniquely mindful things to consider:

It’s Time to Regulate

Yes, that’s right, allowing your emotions to get the best of you does involve the feelings you tuck away and store in places not touched or seen by light. This comes out of us when we’re sitting in traffic, yelling at cars when no one within a mile in front or back of us can move. Feelings can still be expressed even when we ignore them. When something is frustrating you, it is actually healthy to understand what it is and where it is coming from. Now, hear me clearly, I am saying that feeling is good. It means you’re alive. Emotions are meant to be felt; that’s their function. However, unwanted feelings also have their function; they’re unwanted. Therefore, they must be dealt with, preferably in a healthy way like acknowledging them through mindful awareness. This means that when you feel something in your body that isn’t quite right, be honest with yourself that it doesn’t feel good or it even hurts. This doesn’t make you weak. Being able to identify your feelings closer to when they arise better helps you prepare for managing them and putting them into something that may be more helpful to you. When you’re unsure how to deal with what feelings are coming up for you, it may be a good time to pay some attention to how you’re living your life. Your emotional well-being depends on it. This is also a good time to take a nice deep and relaxing breath in through your nose and then a long full breath out through the mouth. 

Surroundings matter

Notice how certain people, places, and things make you feel. There’s no shame in having negative emotions, it’s all about how you process them. Consider the possibility that it’s not the emotion itself that you are having difficulty with managing, but the timing of when the unwanted emotion is being felt. Allow mindful awareness that the timing of the emotion is a bit out of place. Allow yourself to take notice of them almost like you’re writing a new idea down on a piece of paper. Then ask yourself, “Is it a good idea to use this emotion right now?” 

When you follow through with mental effort like this, you give yourself an opportunity to transform those negative emotions into something better. Acting like they aren’t there will not help you. It will just prolong the process of progress. Feel, and understand yourself. Do this without judgment. Take some calming breaths in the awareness that your feelings are valid and give yourself a moment to reflect on what is the best course of action for your well-being right now. It could mean that it’s time for a change in your environment, or a change in your mindset. If it is not possible to change either of those things at the moment you feel these unwanted or challenging emotions, then give yourself grace by being patient with yourself and kind with your mind on what you’re going through. And, when the timing is more appropriate to shift the environment, then please do so. 
In your personal life in particular, it will become even more essential to surround yourself with people that bring positivity into your life. The work you do is very important and inevitably takes up space in your emotions and thoughts.  It is encouraged for promoting balance in your personal life not to constantly surround yourself with people that catastrophize, and express very high levels of negative thoughts and feelings with you. This will ultimately require you to spend time and energy without any sort of positive exchange, and you’re going to become emotionally exhausted. If you are not able to effectively communicate within your needed mental health boundary with the people in your personal life currently, then consider what a healthy distance from these people could be for you. This is also a good time to take a nice deep and relaxing breath in through your nose and then a long full breath out through the mouth. 
No one wants to be around negativity, not even when you’re by yourself. Create more opportunities to understand what brings joy and a healthy mindset with healthy boundaries into your life. If you allow yourself focused and calm breathing more often, then you are on your way to regulating your emotions in ways that make sense to you uniquely. Additionally, you allow better focus on positively impactful ways to concentrate and calm yourself. You are worthy of this level of self-love. 

You are what you scroll

We all know a healthy diet and exercise are important to maintain. This same concept applies to your content consumption. Are you scrolling through your phone and watching, reading, and listening to content with heavy and dark themes? Well, just like eating a lot of heavy food, this is energy and permeates your existence.  That content is a part of your diet and it will need to come out somewhere. Consuming large amounts of dark and heavy content may make you feel out of balance, numb, or even stress you out. Allow yourself to perform an act of balance if this is the kind of content you consume in larger amounts. If not, the result could be that you are becoming that negative person other people in your life just somehow create a larger distance with. Know this with love, you can and will be able to change your surroundings. First, that starts with your mind, and if you’re spending time away from work consuming heavy and negative content, then you’re still digging into the crates of despair. Thus setting yourself up to become mentally exhausted, negative or even cynical. I’m just saying, you may want to consider having more balance. Listen and consume some good news, something that makes you laugh and makes you feel good. It’s okay to allow yourself to feel good. You deserve it, especially after the long day of work you had. 
Have a good before bed routine, looking at your phone may stimulate your thoughts on all the things you have to do and your worries about life. Scrolling your phone before bed will likely not help you create restful sleeping patterns, especially if you’re consuming content that brings up those unwanted and negative emotions I was talking about earlier. If you’re looking or listening to something that is calming and relaxing to you then you’re on your way to at least giving yourself some restoration from your long day.  
Listen to soft music, nature sounds, rain, or nothing. Lie still and breathe in calming through your nose and breathe out fully through your mouth at a calm pace. Close your eyes and imagine your breath coming into your body and filling your stomach to a point of roundness and then place one of your hands on the bottom of your stomach as you breathe out fully feeling your stomach deflate, and your body becoming more relaxed. Repeat this at least three to four times. 

Getting sick is not the comeback you should be hoping for

Frequently getting sick is not a right of passage to needing time for rest. On the contrary it is a very clear indication that your lifestyle needs a much higher dose of rest incorporated on a more regular basis. Your immune system cannot do its job to protect you from illness when you’re not getting enough sleep, or time to just allow the body to rest. Getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night has been recommended. However, you know what feels restful to you. Sleep is just a part of that equation. Give yourself grace and be patient with yourself as you learn and discover more about what feels restful. Sometimes, it’s just about unplugging from everything and sitting or lying still knowing you need to relax. 

Just Be and Breathe

Take a calming breath in through the nose for at least 3 to 4 seconds and then exhale fully out the mouth for at least to five to six seconds. Just breathe. Take calming breaths as frequently as needed. Focusing on calming breath allows you to slow down your thoughts, calm your emotions, and clear space to make better decisions. Breath is life. And remember, you’re alive, and you’re a caring person. You’re going to feel compassionate for the people you care about. The most important of those people to feel compassion toward, is you. Just be and breathe. You are worthy. 

Be the change in your community with Public Allies Arizona

Public Allies Arizona is changing the face and practice of leadership throughout Phoenix and Tucson communities by demonstrating our conviction that everyone can lead, and that lasting change results when citizens of all backgrounds step up, take responsibility and work together.

We are a 10-month AmeriCorps program that places emerging leaders in full-time, paid nonprofit internships with partner organizations in the community. Allies come from many backgrounds and do not need to attend ASU. Our mission is to create a just and equitable society and the diverse leadership to sustain it.

Jessica Tindal


ASU Lodestar Center Blog