by Kenden

Following my last post, many people have written to me telling me they valued the article.  Self-care, or the absence of it, is such an easy mistake to make.  If you missed the post of 4 top mistakes in 2013 on work-life balance, click here to read it.

I am going to write about self-care and compassion fatigue.  I also offer you an self-care action plan but first, I want to share something that inspired me. 

Over the holiday break, I facilitated a workshop about compassion fatigue and self-care in Phnom Penh for a Cambodian human rights team.  

The goal of the workshop was to share information about compassion fatigue and self-care.  I wanted each person to be able to assess where they are and to empower them to choose a self-care action that they could implement within the week.  With this post, you will be able to do the same – assess where you are and then do something positive about it. 

The workshop inspired me for two reasons:

1.  All the participants were in their early 20s and had never been to any type of therapeutic workshop.  So I was not sure how it would go - whether the topic would resonate with their life experience and whether they would open up. Given the opportunity to explore their own experiences, they engaged earnestly.  They spoke about their personal feelings and the consequences of doing human rights work honestly and without apology.

2.  It showed me again the universal power of setting up a safe environment for people to reflect and to share their true experiences.    

At this workshop, these young people spoke about the changes they had personally experienced in the last 12 months since working so closely with victims of violence. Some spoke about feeling more angry, being more fearful, having nightmares, and everyone spoke about feeling more tired. 

Even if nobody wants to admit it, work in emergency or development settings takes its toll.  If you doubt it, I wish you could listen to some of the stories I hear every week.  One things is for sure is that this type of work changes you.  All of these changes are natural responses to the type of work that you are doing. Some of these changes are positive ((i.e maybe becoming less materialistic and less judgemental), some of these changes are more difficult to deal with (i.e. maybe feeling like you do not know where you belong in the world or not knowing what you enjoy doing anymore) – and some are just scary (i.e. recklessness, auto-immune diseases, etc.).

Working in these settings can cause compassion fatigue which for some for some leads to insomnia, anxiety, maybe reckless sexuality, anorexia/bulimia coming up again, not feeling connected with your body anymore, bottomless fatigue, endless sadness and tears, becoming a very angry professional (a.k.a “the international jerk”), plain disillusionment with this work and/or people who do this work, or feeling like you really cannot relate to anyone anymore. 

Working in these contexts, seeing the worst conditions that human beings have to face leaves a mark and this is why self-care is so essential.  Self-care is the opposite – it is the antidote to compassion fatigue.  It is not a magic bullet but rather a thoughtful response. Self-care should connect you with your best self and with the best this world has to offer – ideas, dreams, art & music, spirituality, body-based healing, nature, etc.

The workshop felt so meaningful because the participants enjoyed it and benefited, and because the activity was preventative – an example of self-care.  I really wish you had been there with me!  I want to share with you the relevant information so you can benefit from it too:

Compassion fatigue: definition, physical and mental symptoms

Self-care: definition, physical, mental, and spiritual examples

Self-care action plan: I have created a template for you 

Compassion Fatigue


Compassion fatigue refers to normal displays of mental/physical emotional stress that results from work related secondary exposure to extremely stressful events

Compassion fatigue is a type of pre-burnout – a warning sign for you

Symptoms can disrupt your life and leave you feeling depressed and irritated


Compassion fatigue is common for professionals that work with trauma victims, natural disasters, and human atrocities.

Traumatologist Eric Gentry suggests that people who are attracted to care giving/ helping roles begin their professional already compassion fatigued. They enter their career strongly connected to the emotional reality of helplessness, suffering, or traumatized people.

Common features of people who suffer from compassion fatigue

  • they view care as a one-way transaction – where their mandate is to help others before helping themselves.  
  • self-care practices are absent from their lives.

Symptoms checklist:  physical/mental/emotional WARNING SIGNS for you.

Psychological: issues such as being afraid, anxiety, sleep disturbances, nightmares, images of event popping into mind, hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, a pervasive negative attitude, excessive blaming, feeling powerless, decreased productivity

Physical (somatic): nausea, headaches, general constriction in the body, feeling numb, bodily tempeture changes, dizziness, fainting spells, and impaired hearing

If you would like to take a compassion fatigue self-assessment – click here

Self- Care


Self-care is care provided “for you, by you.”  Self-care is an essential element in restoring and/or maintaining good health.  It’s about identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them. It is taking the time to do some of the activities that nurture you. Self-care is about taking proper care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others.

Self-care includes all the actions that you take to keep yourself physically, mentally/emotionally and spiritually well. 

Below are some examples just to give you some ideas. Self-care is an action but it is so much more than that.  It is a way of living your life and an orientation to yourself.  Self-care is personal, and the most important thing is that you find pleasure and satisfaction in the self-care activities that you do.

Physical self-care actions: walking, stretching, yoga, gym, team sports, rest, sleeping, dance, massage, eating a healthy diet, drinking water, hygiene and beauty activities. Physical activities can be done in group and/or by yourself.

Mental/emotional self-care actions: personal writing (journal), art activities, meditation, reading for pleasure, talking with trusted friends, allowing yourself to feel your emotions (joy, sadness, anger, fear, etc), taking a class for pleasure, rest and sleep, playing a musical instrument

Spiritual self-care actions: praying, meditation alone or with group, spiritually inspired movement, personal reflection, meetings with spiritual teachers, retreats, community service, reading world wisdom literature

Self Care Action Plan:

The group’s favorite part of the workshop was working on the Self-Care Action Plan.  They all loved this part because it is such a helpful tool.  This tool allows you to get specific about your self-care goal and to understand the specific steps you need to take to reach your goal immediately.  If you want me to send you this action plan with detailed examples, write to me here.

To finish this blog, I want to share with you my latest self-care activity, one that I feel so happy about.  It is taking my passion for veganism one step further by having just completed a certificate program in plant-based nutrition at Cornell (here is the link to the amazing program),.... 

Now it is over to you, what was your last self-care activity that you feel really proud of?

I hope that you benefit from the information above.

If you want to talk with me about compassion fatigue or self-care or even have a lovely chat about the benefits of a plant based diet – write to me here

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You CAN do meaningful work AND not lose yourself along the way;

Focus on yourself and get started!

Inside & Outside coaching make it possible for you to take charge and move forward with your personal and professional life.

DPPD coaches are certified/accredited coaches with also over 35 years experience in humanitarian and development operations.