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Managing Stress in Compassion Fatigue

In honor of National Stress Awareness Day, I want to share with one of my all-time favorite ways to fight stress and induce relaxation. One of the most helpful ways to combat compassion fatigue is through self-care, and progressive muscle relaxation is a perfect example.

With practice, you can use this tension tamer almost anywhere, anytime. Some people like to begin the day with this exercise while others (like me) enjoy it just before bedtime. Do whatever works best for you, but remember: it takes practice to become more in tune with your body and train your muscles to relax. To get the most out of progressive muscle relaxation, try to practice on a daily basis.

Please consult with your doctor if you have any medical issues or injuries that may cause pain.

Helpful Hints for Stress Relief

  • When your are first learning progressive muscle relaxation, you might want to set aside a special time and place to practice, free from any distractions, such as loud noise or bright light.
  • Do not practice progressive muscle relaxation after drinking alcohol or eating a large meal.
  • Count to ten while tensing each muscle, release immediately, and then count to twenty before moving on.
  • Each time you relax a muscle, you might say something, such as “relax.”

Progressive Muscle Relaxation: The Technique

  1. Sit or lie down in a relaxed and comfortable position. If possible, remove your shoes, and close your eyes.
  2. To set the stage for ultimate relaxation, begin by taking in a few deep belly breaths.
  3. Make a fist with your right hand, as if you’re squeezing the juice out of a lemon, hold for 10 seconds, and then relax. Remember to rest in between tensing muscles for 20 seconds.
  4. Now, tense your right bicep by bringing your forearm up to up to your shoulder, just as you would if you were lifting a dumbbell, and then relax.
  5. Repeat the above with your left hand and then your left arm, and then relax.
  6. Now for some facial exercises. Raise your eyebrows up high, and then relax.
  7. Shut your eyes and scrunch up your face, and then relax.
  8. Open your mouth as wide as you can, and then relax.
  9. Give your neck a gentle stretch by very carefully rolling it from side to side.
  10. Shrug your shoulders as if you’re trying to touch them to your ears, and then relax.
  11. Stick out your chest and squeeze your shoulder blades together, and then relax.
  12. Would you believe that we hold stress in our buttocks? Squeeze those glutes, and then relax.
  13. Tense your upper right leg. Make your quad as hard as a rock, and then relax.
  14. Very slowly, extend your right leg, lift your right foot, and point your toes toward you. Now relax.
  15. Repeat with your left leg, and then relax.
  16. Gently curl your toes under on your right foot, and then relax.
  17. Do the same with your left foot. Now relax.
  18. Finally, take a moment to mentally scan your body from head to toe and notice any remaining tension. If needed, tense and relax those muscles again. Take a few more deep, cleansing breaths, and, when you’re ready, open your eyes.


Managing Stress in Compassion Fatigue

Jennifer Blough

Jennifer Blough is a professional counselor, certified compassion fatigue therapist, certified pet loss grief recovery specialist, and the owner of Deepwater Counseling in southeast Michigan. In addition to counseling individuals and couples, she presents compassion fatigue workshops to local animal welfare and veterinary organizations. She is the author of the book, To Save a Starfish: A Compassion Fatigue Workbook for the Animal Welfare Warrior, available on Amazon. Jennifer shares her home with her husband and their eight rescued companion animals.

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APA Reference
, . (2016). Managing Stress in Compassion Fatigue. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 26, 2019, from


Last updated: 6 Nov 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Nov 2016
Published on All rights reserved.