On a gorgeous sunny day last Summer, I was taking a walk by a pond and saw a little fluffy duckling trying to swim to the shore. The poor thing was struggling because she was too small and had a long way to go. The mother duck did not seem to be around. As she got tired, she would stop swimming and start sinking. Then she would start paddling again furiously and come up, swim a little further, get tired, stop paddling, sink in the water. She did this for approximately 2-3 minutes. I observed this happening till she got to the shore safely (being careful not to have her imprint on my instead of her mother, I stayed at a safe distance and made sure not to interfere). I remember this story today because some days I feel the same kind of exhaustion. It’s not physical exhaustion necessarily but emotional exhaustion. Paddle, tire, stop, sink, paddle…and so it goes.
As counselors, we constantly are put in emotionally charged situations that our clients are trusting enough to share with us. This can take its toll and leave us feeling as exhausted and spent just like the poor duckling trying to swim to the shore. Recently, having experienced a similar kind of exhaustion and looking for some inspiration, I came across a TedTalk by Jaon Halifax (https://www.ted.com/talks/joan_halifax) that got me thinking and also provided inspiration for this blog. In her talk, Joan Halifax talks about empathy, resilience, compassion, and endurance that is derived from them. The ability to observe pain and suffering, acknowledge it, empathize, and instead of giving up due to its enormous emotional toll it usually takes, bouncing right back up and continue to work towards improving things. She talks in the context of observing suffering in the terminally ill and individuals on death row, but this is applicable to all professionals that have any contact with human beings and human suffering in their work on a daily basis. We all have the capacity to get exhausted like the duckling who was struggling to get to the shore. Sometimes it all just feels too big and we feel a little too small, and yet in the kind of work we do as counselors, we cannot afford to stop paddling.
I have appreciated the work of some individuals like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Kristin Neff, and Brene Brown over the past few years. Doing things mindfully, finding compassion for oneself, and courage in vulnerability can be empowering in many ways. We as counselors work to empower our clients with these necessary qualities. It takes a lot of energy, drive, focus, and determination, and this can be exhausting at times. We are not productive for our clients when we are ourselves emotionally spent. Self-care then, is not just a buzz word and it should not be treated as one. I believe that individuals in the field of counseling must really take self-care and self-compassion seriously. So, what are you going to do when compassion fatigue coming knocking, or more like bursting in through the door one of these days?!
Some things that I’ve found helpful over the years (yes, tried and tested) are here for you:
- Self-compassion: Now people will say, “Be compassionate to yourself” and people like me will ask “Well…how?” One thing I have found, which is not easy but is useful is the Loving-Kindness Meditation. Sharon Salzberg has a few good ones that guide you through it and she has a great voice too. Check out her website here (https://www.sharonsalzberg.com/) and find some on YouTube that are freely available. Also, break myths by figuring out what self-compassion is and what it is not by visiting http://self-compassion.org/
- Chakra Meditation: Over the years I have used Chakra cleansing meditations that I have found helpful. I will accept it, I usually go to YouTube to find them but I am selective in what I pick and how it sounds to me.
- Movement: Whether it is taking a mindful walk in the woods, in your yard or going to a dance movement class/session can be helpful. Also, put on your favorite song, close your eyes and follow the music. It helps (Just make sure to clear the furniture away so you don’t hurt your toes or fall).
- Yoga: Personally, I love Yoga. Starting the day out with a Sun Salutation and Pranayaam (breathing exercises, preferably outdoors) can bring a spring in your step all day. One can find guided ones online or pictures with details. I remember doing these on my terrace back in India, during the early hours of the morning...refreshing!
- Mindful activities: Anything that you can try and do in a mindful way, and I mean anything. Even if it is just for five minutes is beneficial. I’ve tried drawing or painting, drinking tea, walking, watching birds, working with my plants, eating…all helpful. The point is to be mindful. Check out how Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness by visiting https://www.mindful.org/jon-kabat-zinn-defining-mindfulness/
How about we start with these five first and see if they work out?! Questions and other available resources that you’ve tried and found helpful can be sent in replies and comments.
Jyotsana Sharma is a Doctoral Candidate, Counselor, Educator, and human being in the making. Visit her website at: www.jyots21.wordpress.com or find her on twitter @jyots21s.