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Are You Tired of Coaching?

Posted by Niamh Gaffney, PMC, ACC | March 2, 2018 | Comments (1)

At the end of a busy year, coaches look forward to recharging their batteries, restoring depleted energies, and engaging in a little self-care. In the new year, we feel the benefits of that new energy; we are motivated, excited, ready for action. However, for a few of us, the tiredness may stretch beyond the “normal” fatigue.

Compassion fatigue (CF) is defined as a combination of physical, emotional and spiritual depletion associated with caring for people in significant emotional pain and physical distress. While it has long been associated with the medical and therapy professions, there is no doubt that being exposed to other people’s sadness, distress and struggles can have a negative effect on coaches as well. Coaches who deal with heavy caseloads of struggling clients or who themselves have experienced an inner trauma may be at greater risk for CF.

Repeated and chronic exposure to these struggles can affect a coach at a physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral level. A cumulative and persistent exposure can cause severe disruption in all areas of a coach’s life as the symptoms and signs of CF can spread to family and friends if left unmanaged. While there are many similarities, there is a clear difference between compassion fatigue and burnout—burnout emerges over time and is often a career-finisher. Compassion fatigue has a more rapid onset but equally has a faster recovery if it is recognized and managed early.

Physically, a coach suffering CF might experience physical and cognitive symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • Digestive problems
  • Blood pressure issues
  • Muscle tension
  • Cardiac issues
  • Frequent colds or other illnesses
  • Fatigue
  • Memory issues
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Decreased concentration and focus

In addition, there are many emotional and behavioral symptoms of CF including:

  • Diminished creativity
  • Inability to listen
  • Deliberate eye avoidance
  • Anger and cynicism
  • Sleeplessness or sleep difficulties
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Dissociative moments
  • Difficulty empathizing/Feeling numb
  • Grandiosity/Inflated sense of importance of work

So, how do you recognize and manage compassion fatigue?  Think ABC!

The key to recognition is Awareness. Think of the unusual or abnormal coaching events or situations which you felt were outside of your control. Do these events happen a lot? Do you feel that you are working harder but accomplishing less? Do you find yourself losing compassion for some people while becoming overinvolved with others? Do you find yourself disassociating from family, friends and colleagues? If so, perhaps you are at risk of compassion fatigue. Read articles in Coaching World that help you frame what you’re working though. Listen to what your body is saying, and act on that information.

Having Balance in your life is central to the prevention and/or recovery from compassion fatigue. A healthy diet, consistent exercise and adequate rest helps reduce the impact of stressful events. Learn to say no to allow yourself a mental rest. Mind-body balancing techniques—meditation, mindfulness, gadget-free time—and the creation of a sustainable schedule at work and at home allow the space for you to discover what is needed to regenerate the passion in your life. Putting activities in that schedule that are sources of pleasure, joy and diversion allows you to nurture the energy that comes with true passion, which will allow even chronic fatigue to disappear.

Your Connections are the final step to managing compassion fatigue. Take back responsibility for your self-care by asking for professional help to deal with the physical or emotional symptoms that interfere with daily function. Talking out your reactions and thoughts with someone else can help process it so that it doesn’t compound a problem. Work with your supervisor. Build a positive support system that supports you rather than fuel your stress. Share something that made you laugh. Connect with your peers and social groups. Reach out to someone you love. Be kind to your inner self. Record three things you feel grateful for today. Celebrate your successes. Have fun!

Awareness, Balance and Connections are fundamental to managing compassion fatigue and are a necessary part of any coaching self-care.

So, as your new year continues to unfold, and you lay out new strategies, goals and aspirations, why not see how you can build your ABCs into those plans? Show yourself the same levels of kindness you give your clients at every session. Take care of yourself so that you can continue to care for others. Avoid compassion fatigue by showing compassion to the one person who needs it most: you!


©Niamh Gaffney

niamh gaffney headshot

Niamh Gaffney, PMC, ACC

Niamh Gaffney, PMC, who founded her company Directionality in response to the challenges of life-changing events, is an award-winning ICF Ireland coach and TedX speaker. She supports her clients as they choose to accept change, take control and unleash the power of their hidden mental and emotional fitness reserves. Find out more about Niamh and Directionality at

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (1)

  1. says:

    Interesting to see increasing awareness within the coaching profession about compassion fatigue. In the latest edition of Coaching at Work we discuss this and how Mindfulness for Coaches acts as an antidote in managing secondary stress from coaching work.

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