How do you fill your compassion tank? Ever just feel you do not have anything left to give?
Compassion fatigue happens. I remember during my law practice days, my tank would sometimes feel very near empty. During that time, I sometimes found comfort in binge watching TV, bags of chips, and a bit of wine. Other times, I would go for a walk or phone a friend.
It may feel like a struggle to offer compassion to another when our tank runs low. It took me a while to get in the habit of scheduling my self-care time and keeping commitments to myself. Doing so makes all the difference.
When not really feeling up to sharing compassion, consider these seven steps to self-compassion and self-care:
1) Consider Feelings and Needs. Remember feelings tell us whether needs are met or unmet. Ask questions, such as am I hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or sad? Am I frustrated, hurt, or anxious? If feeling anything similar to the aforementioned, it says an unmet need exists. Ask yourself: Do I need food, respect, connection, rest, or understanding? (Click here to view the feelings and needs lists.)
3) Create Choices. Lots of options exist to meet any given need. Take some time to think what lights you up or really truly meets the need for you. Take a few moments to write them. Comfort may involve calling a friend, taking a stroll in the park, taking a nap, binging on old episodes of Friends or visiting a neighbor. The list may go on and on. Think of five ideas that resonate with you.
4) Consider Impact. The way you choose to meet a need has short and long-term impacts for you, and sometimes for those around you. Ask yourself, will the choices listed really meet the underlying need? Will I be happy and proud of this choice next week, next month, or next year? (i.e, My choice to get comfort from food today may impact my waistline tomorrow.)
5) Choose. Successful people make decisions quickly and evaluate those decisions. Making choices quickly happens more quickly with a long-term vision in mind. Knowing how you want to show up in relationships or your health vision for three years from now helps you discern if your choice aligns with that vision. Choosing once does not mean that you must make the same choice next time. While something from the list of options may meet your needs today, it may not five years from now.
6) Calendar it. In some instances you may meet our needs as they arise. Other times, acknowledge it and then schedule a specific time very soon on the calendar to meet it. Ideally, you have some time each day to meet needs for rest, food, connection, and chunks of time each week for play, creativity, more in-depth connection, etc. scheduled. Self-care is not one and done. It involves both a short-term and long-term commitment. (I like to make a list of everything that needs to happen during the week, and plug it all into the calendar on Sunday evening. My time for me goes in there too.)
7) Commit. Be on time and fully present for yourself during the time you schedule for you. If you discover it to be challenge to keep commitments, it may be a sign that you have too many things on your calendar. (Go back to one and determine priorities.) Honoring appointments with and for yourself demonstrates self-respect and builds self-trust. In doing so, you will also be best prepared to offer others compassion.
Offering someone compassion becomes more easy and natural when your needs are met. Acknowledging and honoring your needs demonstrates a priority for self-care that others may choose to respect or emulate. Sometimes, the decision for self-care may feel uncomfortable and may disappoint others. Choosing to disappoint yourself rather than someone else takes a toll. You may simply tell someone you have an appointment, or you may share the details of your self-care appointment. Be mindful.
Moments may arise when you feel you must tend to another first. (Doing so may meet a need itself.) If you feel you must reschedule your “you” time, reschedule it for as soon as possible, and no more than twice. The third time it becomes your most important appointment and a dire need to meet.
Keep going. The business of self-care and compassion takes time and practice. A part of me still ignores time commitments to myself, yet every week I get a little better at it, and certainly have come a long way in the last five years.
Remember compassion, like peace, begins with you.