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Moving from Compassion Fatigue to Resilience

13 February 2023 |

Regardless of your role at your school, it is likely that you chose the profession you did because of a desire to help support young children. Being in education – whether you are a teacher, school-based mental health professional, paraprofessional, or administrator – working with young learners at the elementary level can be both physically and mentally exhausting. When we add trauma to the situation, either the child’s, our own, or both, our feelings of being overwhelmed and “stuck” increase dramatically. 

Like champions, we enter the school building every day with compassion to hear children’s stories and experiences. As helpers, our own empathy for others can be our greatest gift and our greatest flaw at the same time. Compassion fatigue is defined as “the cumulative transformative effect on the helper of working with survivors of traumatic life events, both positive and negative.” 

What are some of the signs of compassion fatigue?

  • Poor self-care and/or not finding pleasure in the things that you once enjoyed
  • Apathy – “I just can’t anymore”
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability and/or impatience
  • An urge to isolate yourself from others
  • Decreased productivity and job satisfaction
  • Signs of physical complaints (digestive, headaches, muscle tension, etc.)

As cliché as it sounds, when traveling by plane we hear the reminder that in case of a loss in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will be released and you should put your own mask on before helping others. The same holds true for helping professionals – we need to put on our own masks and breathe in deeply so that we can “be present” for and continue to help others. 

How do we take our “fatigue” and turn it into “energy, ability, and strength?” Here are some suggestions:

  • Plan – make time in your day to do something for you. For example, schedule time on your calendar each day for a ½ hour and take a walk.
  • Play – reconnect to things that you like to do as an adult. For example hike, read a book, find a new recipe.
  • Phone a friend/colleague – share how you are feeling! When we can talk about our feelings to someone we are close to or trust it makes what we are dealing with more manageable.  
  • Personal self-care – this encompasses a lot, but making time for yourself is essential!
  • Persue – additional resources for more information
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