Intentionally living a life of kindness and with the strong belief that everyone’s needs matter means that sometimes I can feel drained and that I have no more to give. Empathy burnout can happen when I’m spending so much of my time caring for and thinking about others that I forget to care for myself. When I start to feel like this, I know it’s time to pull back and find ways to fill my cup and nourish myself. Here are five ways that I avoid empathy burnout.
I make sure I’m unplugging at least an hour before sleep time, so I have time to wind down and slow down enough to ensure a good sleep. By unplugging, I mean no TV or devices. I get ready for bed an hour before I want to sleep and make sure my bedroom feels peaceful and comfortable. Then I hop into bed with a book or listen to music. Sleep expert, Matt Walker, has some great tips on how to improve your sleep: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRp5AC9W_F8
Exercise and Nature
Walking and other forms of exercise can do so much to replenish my energies and capacity for the world. Even better is to go for a walk in nature – at the beach or in a forest or park if possible. Exercise makes our bodies release endorphins – hormones that boost our positive feelings and reduce pain.
I regularly debrief what’s going on in my life with close friends and family. This helps me to feel like I’m not dealing with things on my own. I also regularly see a therapist which for me is just like getting my car serviced, part of my wellbeing maintenance program.
Know Your Limits
Having experienced empathy burnout a number of times now, I’m much more aware of my limits. I won’t be of any help to anyone if I burnout to the point of collapse and non-functioning. One practice I find useful is when I’m not sure what to do in a situation is to ask my body. “OK body, (decision I’m trying to make), YES or NO?”. My body usually has a clear response. “No” feels like a contraction and pulling away. “Yes” feels like an opening and leaning in.
Life needs to be enjoyable too. Visiting friends, watching a movie, playing music, dancing, whatever works. Even when times are tough, it’s important to find some simple and healthy ways to have fun and lighten the load.
I can’t save the world, I can only do my bit: the best I can with what I’ve got from where I am. I’m no use to anyone if I’m lying in bed unable to care for my children or be there for my nearest and dearest ones. Knowing my capacity means I have more to give over the longer term and it’s more sustainable.