Compassion Resilience Starts with You!

Compassion Resilience is the power to return to a position of empathy, strength, and hope after the daily experience of whatever challenges we may face. It is the ability to maintain our physical, emotional and mental well-being while responding compassionately to people who are suffering. It allows us to be able to find optimism in an imperfect world. Tune in to this week’s episode to hear the Mental Health Mamas give an overview of their ten week Compassion Resilience course and talk about why they are so passionate about this topic.

Notes and Mentions

Compassion Resilience for Humans; Save Your Seat!

Watch the Compassion Resilience video:

Compass of Wellbeing:

Visit Kristin Neff’s website:

Check out the individual toolkits:

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Serena: Hey Everyone, I’m Serena.

Tina: And I’m Tina and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain, we are so glad you’re here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you NOT as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You’ll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website,

Serena: We are so excited to share with you today a topic we are both very passionate about. As you all know, Tina and I have worked together on this podcast for well over a year now and it is just a small part of the work we do together and have done together over the last 8 years or so. Some of the other things we do together are trainings in a variety of topics including partnership, self-care and Compassion Resilience.

Tina: We are just coming off of offering a one hour free workshop on Compassion Resilience and we figured that we would share a bit of that goodness and joy with you today. We feel really strongly about, as those of you who listen to the podcast know, taking good care of any human who takes care of others and we want to share a little bit of that with you today. And it was quite popular. We put it on Eventbrite and there it was. We totally filled up all the seats and had to add extra seats and an extra day. So clearly this really spoke to people!

Serena: Yes. Absolutely. And just a reminder if this is your first podcast listen, we will remind you as we said in the intro that Tina and I do this work as parents with lived experience on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health. We actually met each other through our work supporting other parents like ourselves. So the information we’re going to share with you is from our perspective as parents.

Tina: Mmhm. Always with our parent hats on. For sure. So in the workshop we make an important distinction we would like to make today. We will remind everybody that while often we identify with our job title in the world, you are first and foremost a human and many of you who are listening are caring for other humans in one way or another. When you are listening today, try to view this information with your human lens.

Serena: So here’s what we’re going to be covering today. We will talk about the definition of Compassion Resilience. We will discuss the Cycle of Compassion Fatigue. We’ll identify What Drives Exhaustion/What Gives You Energy personally and I’ll give you some prompts for that as well. We’ll talk about setting Compassionate Boundaries and then also some strategies for wellness and renewal. And overall we really hope after you listen to this episode that you all come away with concrete strategies and ideas to fill your compassion resilience toolbox!

Tina: Right. And so, the title of today’s episode is Compassion Resilience starts with YOU and we want to emphasize the importance of always checking in with yourself before you begin to care for others. So Serena, tell me, how are you feeling right this very minute?

Serena: So I’m just going to point out that Tina and I really, literally do this every time we get together and we were doing this before we started recording and so I’m gonna repeat what I said. First was annoyed because my computer decided today that it didn’t want to turn on and I thought, OK, maybe new computer, I don’t know but we got it working. And two, I’m tired, I just, yeah, sorry. How are you feeling Tina?

Tina: A case of the Mondays. Yes. You will hear this on a Tuesday, but for today it’s a Monday for us. And yeah, I have a new pillow so I have a little bit of a sore neck and feel a little bit tired quite honestly. I’m also feeling compassionate. There’s some things that happened in our town and I’m feeling a little compassionate for all those folks. So, yeah.

So here, what we’re gonna share with you, the real definition of Compassion Resilience: which is the power to return to a position of empathy, strength, and hope after the daily experience of whatever challenges we may face. It is the ability to maintain our physical, emotional and mental well-being while responding compassionately to people who are suffering. It allows us to be able to find optimism in an imperfect world.”

Serena: And this particular definition comes from a series of toolkits that were created by WISE Wisconsin and we will pop a link to in our notes to that. So they (WISE) have created three separate toolkits: they made one specifically designed for parents and caregivers, one for health and human service professionals and one for school personnel. And Tina and I, what we did is we took all three of these toolkits and we put them together to create a course designed for all of these people and more. Essentially our goal was to create a Compassion Resilience course for humans because we think this material is incredibly valuable to everyone regardless of your roles. Any human caring for other humans in any way really. And I mention all of this to say that in our episode today, it’s just gonna be a brief overview of what is a really large curriculum.

Tina: Yeah. So before we can talk about Compassion Resilience, we need to talk about Compassion Fatigue and the various things you might experience if you are dealing with Compassion Fatigue. For the purposes of our episode today, when we talk about compassion fatigue, we mean the feelings of depression, sadness, exhaustion, anxiety and irritation that may be experienced by people who are helpers in their work and/or their personal lives.

So it’s important to note that compassion fatigue is a totally normal response, totally normalizing that. And it’s a reaction to challenging and often overwhelming situations. We’ve all kind of been in an incredibly challenging and overwhelming situation for the last two years, right Serena?

Serena: Mmhm.

Tina: Cue global pandemic. There is a difference though between compassion fatigue which develops over time and triggered reactions which can happen really without build up. Both can take us to what we call our “downstairs” brain. I’m sure we didn’t coin that, someone else did I’m sure. But that’s what we call it when we work with schools and so forth. When something takes us from our frontal cortex (that really thinking/reasoning part of our brains) down to our brainstem or what we call dinosaur or downstairs brain we are not able to reason but instead we feel and react. So it is pretty obvious when you are just feeling and reacting that you are not necessarily your best self, right? So let’s take a look at the stages of compassion fatigue and how this might play out.

Serena: Yeah, so we just want to note that if you are interested in taking a look at what we did for our presentation (which was actually just over 30 minutes without the audience part of it), we have it up on YouTube and we’ve created a YouTube channel, Mental Health Mamas with you know, two subscriber so if you would go subscribe that would be awesome. And so the slides are there for you to see. We are going to attempt to describe the stages in detail and again if you want to see the slides, we’re gonna pop a link in the show notes so you can go check that out.

So the first stage we want to talk about is the Zealot stage. And in this stage we are committed, involved, and available. We’re gonna problem solve. We’re gonna make a difference. We’re gonna change the world. We’re putting in extra hours, our enthusiasm overflows. we volunteer, we go the extra mile often without prompting. And this could look like a new parent committing to doing everything perfectly and setting the expectation that they will love every single part of parenting which is clearly not a good expectation or perhaps an employee who is ready to change the world and will do anything to make that happen.

Tina: Mmm. So the second stage is Irritability and it’s when we begin to see the imperfect nature of the systems and people around us. We might distance ourselves from our families, coworkers and friends. We might belittle some of those folks as well. We talk unfairly about their challenges and their efforts. The use of humor is often strained. We daydream or we’re distracted when people talk to us. We might make mistakes or have oversights in certain things. We may notice our anger, cynicism, diminished creativity, and sadness. In this stage you might start to realize that the expectations, the perfect parent hahaha, we set for ourselves, they’re just not attainable

Serena: Right. And then we may hit Withdrawal. So in this stage we are unable to embrace the complexity of the problems. We lose our ability to see others as individuals, so if we’re serving clients or if we think about maybe family members, everybody around us becomes an irritant rather than a person. And we might get easily frustrated with our kids. Complaints might be made about our work and we might have problems in our personal life. We are tired all the time. We don’t want to talk about work and we may not even admit to what we do. We also neglect our family, our coworkers, our clients and most importantly ourselves. We’re growing our shield here, it gets thicker and thicker. We’re trying to block the pain and sadness but unfortunately that shield is also blocking out our joy and our fun. We may experience difficulty empathizing and feeling too numb to other’s pain. And sadness and you might have a hard time connecting with others.

Tina: Mmm. And the fourth stage is the Zombie stage. Our hopelessness turns to rage. We begin to hate people. We even hate our coworkers if they question us about something. Others become incompetent and ignorant in our eyes. We start working in silos. We have no time for humor or fun. We may have a sense that we can never do enough, an inflated sense of self-importance related to our work or home activities, hyper-vigilance/ sleeplessness, and a sense of persecution. You may feel like you are the only one who can get things done either at work or at home with your family even though there are plenty of people capable of helping you. You may lose your temper and let’s just say you never have fun when you’re in your zombie stage.

Serena: Mmhm. Yeah. If we have not addressed this cycle earlier, we come to a fork in the road where we can either continue deeper into compassion fatigue to a place of poor health, and that’s both physically and emotionally, and victimization where we’re feeling overwhelmed, we might leave our jobs or change our position or we might repeat the cycle over and over again and find ourselves sick. Or we take a turn towards renewal, hardiness, resiliency, and transformation. So I think it’s important to point out here too that this cycle, so we have Zealot, Irritability, Withdrawal, Zombie and then, you know, we might come to unwell or renewal, but this is not a linear cycle. You may move back and forth between the different stages, maybe in one day. So I’m curious Tina if you have experienced any of these?

Tina: Yeah, absolutely. All of them. I always think of the zealot as the new job, right? You feel excited about getting everything done and we know in our world, you know, that’s a lot about making people’s lives better and you get so excited about that part of it and yeah. It’s exhausting, for sure. I would say today I’m probably in the a little bit irritable state. There’s a lot going on and I can’t seem to get enough done and I’m just irritated with the world, so yeah. That’s where I’d say… How about you? Where are you right now Serena?

Serena: Right now, you know, I think I feel pretty OK right now. I’m not sure I’m in this cycle. But I certainly have had…I think back to the beginning of lockdown. So that was, what? March of 2020? With five kids in the house, nobody was sleeping, living in a small house, two adults trying to work on top of five kids. I would say that I bounced back and forth between irritability and withdrawal. Just back and forth all day long.

Tina: That was a lot. I remember those days and that was not good. It’s coming up two years, right? Seriously.

Serena: Yeah.

Tina: The good news, and I really want to talk about the good news. Can I talk about the GOOD news? …is that at any stage in the cycle, you can learn skills and mindsets that change the path towards compassion satisfaction and resilience. So the goal of Compassion Resilience is for us to learn these mindsets and skills to proactively address our wellbeing and to avoid compassion fatigue and, when it does arise, which it will, right? It’s normal and it will. You can address it early with lots of confidence and support. It’s really beneficial to begin by getting a sense of where that is for you.

So at the point where you are faced with continuing that path of deeper and deeper compassion fatigue you also have the choice to begin to recognize these stages and start to build up your Compassion Resilience toolbox. If you’ve already built it, just take one of those tools out, right? And you’ll be on the path to wellness.

Serena: Right. Yeah. So as humans caring for other humans, again no matter what that looks like for you, we like to make sure that others are well. We are fixers and problem solvers. And we know…and I’m just going to say, we know these things but they’re not easy to do. In order to effectively care for others, we have to start with ourselves! So that’s why we titled this Compassion Resilience Starts with You. And building your compassion resilience toolbox is going to help us move closer to wellness and our ability to renew.

Tina: Absolutely. And I just want to stop here and say we are giving you permission to take good care of you before you continue to take care of other people. So that’s part of this, right? The realization that you are important. In order to be your best, in order to do the best job we can do, to be the best mom or caregiver or whatever. You need to take care of you and check in first. So here we are. We’re going to help you build that toolbox. So this is really about that awareness. It’s really about building that toolbox. So let’s start by identifying some of the things that drive our feelings of exhaustion. Serena, what are some of the things that most, kind of drive those feelings for you?

Serena : So I mentioned that the beginning of lockdown and having a small space and lots of people. And I didn’t mention the dog and two cats although I think I’ve probably mentioned that in another episode. So not having time and space to myself, that is exhausting for me, just trying to take care of others when I haven’t had a chance to have some space for myself. And a messy house which comes with all of that, right?

Tina: Yes. It does come with that, for sure.

Serena: So, how about you? What drives your feelings of exhaustion?

Tina: Yeah, so I would say the reason I feel a bit fatigued today and irritable is because, well, many of you know I’ve moved, I’ve had a new hip installed, I’ve done a lot of things in the last six months and I feel like it’s now starting while I had a little bit of rest to get well after my new hip, things are getting pretty busy and overscheduled. And that is definitely something that exhausts me. Serena, was I not just saying to you that I really need to pick and choose what I do so that I am not exhausted all the time. Yeah.

Serena: Yep. Yeah. So let’s flip it around because we like the other direction better. And let’s think about what fills you up or gives you energy. Like things that give you a sense of renewal, fill your bucket, recharge your batteries. And keep in mind as we talk about this that something that gives you energy might deplete someone else and vice versa. And sometimes, the things that deplete us also give us energy, if that makes sense. To give an example, I think about spending time with my kids. Sometimes that gives me energy and sometimes I just need space from my kids. So Tina, what gives you energy?

Tina: Yeah so I would agree with what you just said in that people give me energy. I really like people but when I’m too overscheduled, that is, that does deplete me. So I would say in general people give me energy. I do like neat spaces. I like to be outside in the garden. I like to knit. Serena and I are both knitters and that just is a relaxing kind of energy. So other than knitting, Serena, what gives you energy?

Serena: Well you know I love gardening and spending time in my garden and just being outside in general. Even when it’s really cold out, like it was yesterday. I think it was, I don’t know, I think it was 15. It really felt colder than that. A good walk in the woods is still renewing for me even at that temperature.

Tina: That’s awesome. So really being thoughtful about what gives you energy is an important step in building that compassion resilience toolbox. And another very powerful tool that we certainly keep honed in our toolbox is our ability to set compassionate boundaries. Here’s a quote from Brene Brown that we both really appreciate. “Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”

Serena: And I love that quote. I think that’s the thing I hang on to…that idea of when we’re not setting good boundaries, we tend to feel resentful and it’s not a good feeling.

Tina: Mmhm. Yeah. Absolutely.

Serena: So we know having boundaries is important and again easier said than done. We totally get that. And it can be helpful to sort of think about what the different types of boundaries you might have around certain things. And you may have all of these boundaries around the different areas of your life.

So the first area is a permeable boundary, with holes and I think of a jellyfish, right? Something that’s kind of wiggly and squishy. It might mean that you’ve set a boundary but there is very little reinforcement of the boundary. Or maybe you haven’t set a boundary. So for most of us, having these overly permeable boundaries will allow unwanted behaviors from others and may mean that we are letting too much of ourselves out so then we may not have the privacy or self-care that we need to feel well.

On the other end of things is a rigid boundary. Think like a brick wall. So these are the boundaries that you reinforce at all costs. What we know is that too rigid boundaries don’t allow us to be open to new ideas or perspectives and can sometimes keep us in the dark and make us unapproachable.

And then in the middle of that we have flexible like a tree blowing in the breeze. It bends but it doesn’t break. So flexible boundaries are firm and clear yet open to new ideas and resources when needed. And they are also sufficiently closed to keep us safe, to protect us from harm.

So again, you mind find times in your life when you need each of these types of boundaries but know that flexible boundaries are best for keeping us safe and allowing for new experiences and circumstances.

Tina: Mmhm. I love the permission this gives me to really think about what I need, what I need. So we would like you to think about what in your life you might need to say no to in order to support one of the things you want to say yes to. For example, this is just my example that I use a lot because it’s just so important to me. Sleep is a totally firm boundary in my life and that often means that I have to say no to other things in order to say yes to sleep. So many nights we have been in the middle of a recorded show or movie and I will just kindly let my husband know that it is time for bed and I need to go to bed. This is just a firm boundary for me and it confuses him every time even though we’ve been married for 30 years. It confuses him every time. He’s like, what do you mean you’re going to bed right in the middle something? I’m like, no no no, it’s about sleep. So what is something, Serena, that you need to say “no” to to support your yeses?

Serena: Yeah, so you mentioned before overscheduling and that’s a big one for me. The idea that if we’re overscheduled then that cuts down on time together as a family and again, time and space for ourselves. And another one is I like to say no to driving when we can actually walk because then I’m saying yes to fresh air, to exercise, it’s better for the planet and better for our wallets too.

So we have a few tips for you for for setting compassionate boundaries.

The first one is know what you want to say “Yes” to in your life. So being able to know what those yeses are. What are your values, your behaviors, your priorities? And that will enable you to figure out what you want to say no to.

Second, be proactive. Have “meetings” to discuss boundaries. It may sound silly and these could be meetings at work with co-workers, it could be meetings at home with your family. And again it may feel silly but we know that structure offers safety for both sides.

And then, Just say it! Don’t make people guess. I think we, at least I, fall into this trap of well they should know that. They should know that that’s a boundary for me and they may not, whoever it is. So use simple and direct language.

Number four is to reinforce by pointing out the violations IN THE MOMENT. Point them out when they happen. Don’t wait.

And then, give explanations that are specific, relevant to the other person, and you know, figure out together, shared solutions, how you’re going to respect one another’s boundaries.

And finally you want to back it up with action. We know that if we give in, we invite people to ignore our needs. And I always think of my kids when I think of number six here. And you know, the checkout line at the grocery store and they ask every single time and maybe once I let them have something and Tina, you know what happens next.

Tina: Mmhm. Come on Mom, you let me have it the last time.

Serena: Yeah, that one time. That one time.

Tina: I don’t know if I was channeling anyone there but I’m just, yeah.

So setting compassionate boundaries is a great tool to add to your toolbox and we need more. Right, Serena? We need more. So we want to break down more of these tools in a very specific way. We’re going to use the Compass of Wellbeing. It looks a bit like a compass rose and includes four quadrants of Strength, Mind, Soul and Heart. This is one good way to look at self-care. This particular self-care compass comes from and so let’s break it down.

So let’s start with Strength. Strength is broken down into Stress Resilience and Care for your body. With Stress Resilience think of questions like What are your go-tos when stress arises? Who do you turn to for support when you feel stressed? Who are those champions in your life?

And then the body, care for your body, how do you care for your body? Are you eating well? Are you doing things that feel good for your body now and later? Some ideas to support and strengthen that tool box, that strength toolbox, might be to Identify your trusted support people, find those champions in your world. You know doing that self…taking the time to breathe and do that self-check in. And also soothing good now and later things; music, walking in nature, for me knitting, drinking a warm beverage.

Serena: So I’m just going to emphasize that feeling good now and later to explain what we mean by that, it’s always something I add in. The idea that I could eat a gallon of ice cream and it might feel good now but it’s gonna feel really awful later. So just thinking bigger picture, longer term is really easy to sort of go to certain soothing things that are not actually self-care.

So another part of the Compass of Wellness is Mind which has been broken down into work/school/service and organization. And so some prompts here that might help you think about this are, What activities are you engaging in that bring you purpose in your life? How do you engage in growth and learning opportunities? The organization piece is kind of like, you know, your environment. Are there things in your environment that add to your stress like a mess? And how are you planful or intentional in your life to promote calm?

So a few ideas to go with this. I would like to talk just for a moment about the Danish concept Hygge. And I may not be pronouncing it correctly. I see a lot of different pronunciations out there. But if you haven’t heard of this before, it’s about togetherness, relaxation, indulgence, presence and comfort. And it’s the idea of pursuing every day happiness and self-care. When I think of Hygge, I think of winter coziness which is something I definitely need living in the Northeast. So it might be a warm blanket, a hot beverage, comfortable clothes, maybe a fire or candles, and gathering together when we can.

Tina : Mmhm. The next part of the compass is soul and it breaks down into spirituality and rest and play. The questions you might ask yourself include thinking about practices that help you feel grounded, What you are doing when you feel most alive? And at play, what do you do that makes you smile? What activity makes you feel most alive? Some of the things might include activities that you enjoyed when you were younger, praying, journaling, meditating, walking in nature. And I love this one. Going to places where you can be your authentic self.

Serena: Mmm. Last but not least is heart and we think about this in terms of the emotional side of it so the feelings check-in that we did at the beginning of the episode. Checking in with yourself. Have you done that lately? How are you feeling? So the other side of that is relationships and thinking about finding your people and again there’s some overlap between all these different categories because we’re one whole person.

So a few ideas are you know, to Be the One for yourself and others which is a safe, stable, nurturing relationship. We have a digital self-care workbook that we’ve developed. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can still get it. You can signing up for our mailing list to get that and we’d be happy to share that with you. If somehow you’ve ended up on our mailing list and you don’t have it, please let us know and we’ll get it to you. And the other thing we want to recommend is Krisitin Neff’s website. She is the self-compassion expert, does all sorts of research and work around self-compassion and her website is And there’s a great exercise there about how you would treat a friend and there’s other exercises too and lots of resources there.

Tina: Mmhm. And there’s a little hyphen there between self and and we’ll drop this and so you’ll get to the right place. As we said in the beginning, the compassion resilience course is much more than an 1 hour and the 30 minutes that we are sharing with you today. It is really meant for a deep dive. We have really only scratched the surface and would love for you to join us in our 10-week course. It’s just 1 hour per week. That’s what we’ve felt like people can consume and we’ve done this before and that’s exactly the feedback we got. It starts on March 1st and we have put a link in our show notes. It’s to Eventbrite. We need to limit the attendance and the purpose of that is so that people can really feel connected and really get that sense of community as you’re building your Compassion Resilience toolbox. So we’re gonna limit it to 30 people and we’d love for you to sign up.

Serena: And we also know how hard it can be to commit to a weekly class and we are happy to offer this material in a way that works for you personally or your organization, your school, your agency. Just send us an email to discuss your needs. And you can get us at

Tina: Yeah and like Serena said, we really do a lot of things like this. It’s not just about compassion resilience. What did we say? Partnership and lots of other things. Go to our website. Email us. Tell us what your need is. What you’re going to be getting is our authentic selves which is important, right? And if you are already liking our podcasts, this is an opportunity to kind of be with us in this online course. We would love to meet some of our listeners and really keep building our toolboxes together! So, yeah!

Serena: Yes! It’s a great opportunity for connecting with one another, which we get as much as you do. And a way to build resilience!

Tina: Absolutely. So podcast friends, we are, as always, grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts, leave us a review, subscribe and please share with others. You will find lots more content on our website You will also find us on all the socials and all that is on our website so just head to our website.

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks again for listening!

Serena: Bye!