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Feeling the Strain of Compassion Fatigue? Try Journaling

Jill Nawrocki profile image

Jill Nawrocki

Someone using a pen to write on a piece of paper.

Thanks to a renewed focus on health and mindfulness in the workplace, self-care is finally having its moment. More nonprofits are offering remote work options or flexible schedules. There’s even onsite meditation, yoga, and fitness classes for time-strapped professionals looking to break a sweat (or take a breather) without leaving the office.

But changemakers and helping professionals familiar with high-stress jobs, limited resources, and exposure to trauma know that self-care is more than just a few minutes of deep breathing or taking a day to work from the comfort of home.

To combat compassion fatigue and buffer the demands of clients, families, and colleagues, nonprofit professionals need to be intentional about utilizing comprehensive self-care strategies to address their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.

An effective way to touch on all these issues—and still keep the focus on yourself—is with reflective journaling.

Who needs a journal?

Like most things in life, following a roadmap usually results in a more direct route to the destination. So when it comes to self-care, finding a plan like journaling that is rooted in a renewed focus on reflection, introspection, and mindfulness can bring about impressive results. Focusing on physical health is important, but taking steps to combat burnout and compassion fatigue by using writing prompts can make room for much-needed emotional space.

People in helping professions—particularly those in the service-driven nonprofit sector—are at higher risk for burnout and compassion fatigue. Emotional exhaustion, withdrawal from friends and family, irritability, interrupted sleep, or overwhelming sadness are some of the typical signs that it’s time to step back from the work and think about picking up a pen.

Morning rituals

Rituals and routines are one way to create more mindfulness and intention. Starting each morning with a writing ritual is one self-care strategy for those tight on time to help you to ensure that the day begins with a focus on you.

Carve out time to do one of the following when your alarm goes off each morning:

  • List four things you are grateful for
  •  Free write for 10 minutes
  •  Name one goal or intention for the day ahead

Self-care doesn’t always have to take a lot of time, but the words and practice need to have meaning. So when deadlines loom or a disagreement arises in a mid-afternoon meeting, take yourself back to the page and recall the things you were grateful for or the goal you set earlier in your journal.

Guiding journal questions

A morning ritual is nice, but a daily self-care journaling practice can be even more helpful for if you prefer to spend a little extra time, thought, and attention on yourself. It’s a private, portable way to shut out the noise and hone in on thoughts and feelings for which there may not otherwise be space during the day.

In a world of busy schedules and tight deadlines, free writing can be quite liberating, so put pen to page and see what comes out. Those looking to dig a little deeper can utilize guiding prompts as a call to action or an opportunity to press pause. Responses can be a clarifying—and necessary—reminder of why we continue to return to challenging, meaningful work.

Depending on what the day brings, consider a prompt from one of the following stems:


  • How does my physical body feel in this moment?
  •  What are my physical needs right now?
  •  What activity can I do to improve my mind and body today?
  •  Am I doing anything to myself in this moment to derail my joy?


  • What are my emotional needs in this moment?
  •  Am I able to express my feelings in this moment? If not, why? If not, how can I?
  •  How am I investing in the most important relationships in my life?
  •  What unresolved issues from the past are arising now?


  • What is my inner voice saying to myself?
  •  How can I be more creative in my daily activities and find new ways to express myself?
  •  What positive activities can I focus on to enhance my wellbeing amid chaos?
  •  What loving things can I say to myself in this moment?


  • Where do I find the most meaning and purpose in my life?
  •  How can I bring that closer to my work experiences?
  •  How am I nurturing my spiritual well being?

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Jill Nawrocki profile image

Jill Nawrocki

Jill Nawrocki is a Licensed Social Worker and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer living in Brooklyn. She is an ultra runner, freelance writer and social justice warrior with a background in program management, direct practice, mindfulness and advocacy.

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