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Compassion Fatigue Is Real: Give Yourself the Gift of Recharging This Winter Break

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

“Education is a heart-centered service. Educators can often feel overwhelmed by the number of children and youth facing trauma, resulting in compassion fatigue. Prioritizing and supporting educators prioritizes and supports our kids. We hope these resources help support you as you champion your profession in the development of future leaders!”

— Susan Piazza
DPI Student Services, Prevention and Wellness

It’s nearing the end of December. We are almost at the Winter Solstice, and though we will only gain light every single day from here to the end of the school year, it sure may not feel like it.

Winter holidays are a meaningful halfway point for the school year, even though most schools won’t mark the actual midpoint until the end of January. With winter break, we get a chance to pause our work. How do we make this pause meaningful, when this season is also filled with other demands? How do we not fall into the New Years trap of setting goals without giving ourselves compassion and support to follow through? Read on.

Your emotional experiences are valid.
Acknowledging your stress and your emotions is the first step to addressing them. Listen to your body and your feelings for signs. They might show up as (check any that apply to you):

  • Muscle tension
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • General lack of focus

When you have these feelings, acknowledge them. They are messengers from your body and mind. Take a second to acknowledge their presence, and thank them for giving you a signal that something isn’t right. According to Dr. Kristin Neff, “Having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.”

For more on how our bodies and emotions signal stress and how to handle them, see section 10 of the DPI’s Compassion Resilience Toolkit.

Compassion for yourself is key to giving compassion to others.
Many people in helping professions get this the other way around. We give far more compassion and understanding to others, and are harsh and judgmental towards ourselves. When you find yourself in a negative or hurt headspace, ask yourself, “What would I say to someone I love who feels this way?” Would you berate them and tell them that they’re being weak? Or would you empathize with them? If you would ideally give compassion to others, why are you not also deserving of this same compassion?

Lots of folks in helping professions gain a sense of connection, belonging, and good feelings by helping others. However, that does not take the place of a healthy relationship with ourselves. Oftentimes, our own suffering can hamper our ability to appropriately react to stressful situations, causing deficits that are easy to overlook and de-prioritize until it feels like we have nothing left.

Check out section 11 of the DPI’s Compassion Resilience Toolkit for more on developing self-compassion.

Refresh your sense of purpose.
Instead of making a new year’s resolution, consider taking a little time to write a new year’s mission statement. Reconnecting with your life purpose can help you to prioritize where you put your energy. Feeling like your actions, decisions, and thinking are aligned with your purpose helps you be more effective and feel better.

More on writing a mission statement in section 11 of DPI’s Compassion Resilience Toolkit.

One way to remind yourself of your purpose is to collect evidence that you are making a difference. Whether it’s a file of student drawings, or a journal where you write down things that made you feel seen or proud, put some effort into holding onto tangible good things.

Make time to rest and play.
Rest and play are important for all human beings, from the very young to the very old. They are also things that tend to suffer or be de-prioritized when we are most stressed. When you can, nap. Make yourself a nest of comfy blankets, cuddle up with a pet or loved one, a warm cup of herbal tea, and a book. Set a reasonable, usual bedtime for yourself, and keep it sacred. Make sure to log off of screens and step away from the news at least an hour before bed to decompress. There’s so much going on in the world that we may feel pulled to, and right before bed is generally not the time to address it.

We know that our students learn by doing, and by playing. We need to set aside time for ourselves to do those things we see as play: taking the dog to the dog park, exercising with friends, dabbling with art supplies, or singing just for our own enjoyment. Play can be anything you do for pleasure without judgment or expectation. Schedule some special time to settle into play. Let yourself experience a flow state. Play is restorative.

Engage with your colleagues and support each other.
Know that you are not alone in your struggles, and find others who help you feel less alone and lift you up. Having colleagues as partners who are also interested in building their resiliency can help create better outcomes for you, them, and everyone around you.

Save the date and join the DPI’s January 24 Compassion Resilience Training, hosted virtually in a collaborative partnership with Rogers Behavioral Health. The training includes a comprehensive toolkit aimed at recognizing and dealing with compassion fatigue, while fostering resilience from both an individual and system perspective. This resource provides strategies and tools necessary for cultivating a compassionate culture in your organization.

Remember that DPI’s Student Services Prevention and Wellness (SSPW) Team is here to help you with resources. Reach out to us at

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The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is engaged in the creation of a five-year strategic plan. The Strategic Plan aims to align the work of the agency and the needs of all learners in our schools and libraries. Our strategic planning process features three phases culminating in a strategic plan in fall 2024.

Take the DPI Strategic Planning survey now!
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Learn more about the DPI's Strategic Planning Process