Four Simple Truths About Stepping Back and Tuning Out

I have said it before. Gather some friends, throw your problems in a pile, take a good look, and chances are you will grab yours back. It seems everywhere we turn, everyone is going through something. In all the years of magnifying hope in hurting lives, there is one thing that has been crystal clear. We cannot take away their hurt … we can only ease the pain of the journey.


No matter how much coffee you drink, caffeine will not do the trick to sustain you. You cannot pour from an empty cup, no more than can you lead an all work no play lifestyle. Psychology Today’s list of burnout risk mirrors what I have observed in many caregivers, including myself. The risk heightens for those whose compassion compels them in: “the more I see the more I want to help.” Likewise, the spirit of volunteerism can carry similar risk stakes. Compassion is a beautiful God-given trait and a muscle the world needs to see more frequently exercised. Still, the trek can be long and arduous. Compassionate hearts need rest, time to rebuild healthfulness of heart muscle.


Photo credit: Michael Gaida

Burnout can occur when you are not in control of how you carry out your job, when you are working toward goals that no longer resonate, when you lack social and emotional support, or when care-partner road blocks crop up.


There are times when we (sadly) run out of options. We must acknowledge that we cannot take away the hurt … we can only ease the pain of the journey for ourselves, as well as our loved ones. In the end, a prayer and a hug may be best gifts you can give.


Four simple truths make stepping back and tuning out the right thing to do.


    • Stress makes you vulnerable to getting sick. The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project offers a self-administered online Life Stress Test. Simple questions help you measure whether you have low, medium, or high susceptibility to stress-related illness (click here). Your score may serve as a wake-up call for an empty cup in need of emergency refill or simply a nudge to incorporate more “me time” into your list of priorities.

    • Release and retreat each serve a purpose but are entirely different. Progressive relaxation techniques can make all the difference between actually releasing stress before it has a chance to build up versus retreating from stress through distraction, such as taking in a movie; both beneficial with entirely different results. (Joan Shaplin, PT, provides excellent sessions for daytime and nighttime stress release.)

    • Compassion enables comfort, but it does not guarantee change. Compassion is a muscle we all need in this life, sometimes to exercise it towards another and other times to receive its blessing from another.  It is like an extension of unconditional love; if you give with expectations, you may end up disappointed. Freely give the gifts of love and compassion solely because it is the right thing to do. It does not guarantee change of mind or circumstances for the receiver, but it will often change the heart of the giver.

    • One drop at a time, there is a season for everything. I take heart in knowing there is a time for every purpose and for every work. My last blog dove into the seasons we can expect throughout our lives. I encourage you to read that one here.


Share one another’s burdens, and make time to release your own. Embrace a refresh for your heart, mind and body – it will help sustain you through life’s most difficult journeys.

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