Learning to recognize when you’re on the (sing it with me) “highway to the danger zone.”


For Christmas I asked for a book called “The Compassion Fatigue Workbook” by Francoise Mathieu.  My brother begrudgingly obliged me but it killed him to buy “the most boring gift ever.”  He also got me a Wonder Woman mug, so it evened out in the end.  (And yes we are adult humans).

Well, the book is just WHOA.  It has been validating everything I’ve felt about the caregiving field.  Such as, why didn’t we get any training on SELF CARE?!?  When did we create a culture of honoring those who overwork themselves to the point of burnout? When did taking time off become a sign of weakness? And on and on…

One of the things the book helps you do is create zone systems.  Bear with me here, it’s good stuff.  It’s basically a way of showing yourself (especially when you are drowning a bit) when you need a break, or some help.

For instance, in the green zone you are on top of your game.  You are open and available and the best version of your caregiving self.  Yellow zone is probably where we live most of the time.  Moving back and forth from energized to tired but able to get back to the energized place with self care, time off and breaks.  The red zone is the danger zone.  As Robin Cameron puts it,

“When you’re in the red zone of compassion fatigue, a bath ain’t gonna cut it!”

In the red zone, you need a real break.  Time off.  Time to re-evaluate.  But essentially, time.

Let me use myself as an example.  In the yellow zone, a nice long hot shower can be just what I need.  A good book.  A long run.  A cup of hot cocoa.  A walk with a friend.  Taking time for some creative outlets.  Going to a concert.  Going to a party.  Going away for the weekend.  Eating delicious food.  Snuggling up and watching something on Netflix.

These are restorative actions I can take.

But what about when those things don’t cut it?  Or more accurately, when I forget to practice self care and just go on autopilot for far too long?


In the red zone, everything is exhausting to me, including all those restorative actions in the yellow zone.  The smallest social interaction feels like a chore.  Exercise feels like a hilarious idea.  Returning a text is anxiety producing, never mind returning a phone call.  Essentially every ounce of energy is given to work so that I can remain employed but nothing is left for me.  This also means that my job is getting a patched together version of myself.  I’ll feel like I’m being kept together by duct tape and safety pins.

Some of you might remember that about a year ago, I was STRONGLY encouraged to go on vacation.  And not a stay-cation.  FAR FAR AWAY.  (Heyyy, wait a minute…) And I did.  To Italy, Spain and Morocco.  It was incredible and it moved me away from the red zone.  In fact, that simple art of planning that trip moved me out of that zone.  (p.s. please note that I 100% recognize my privilege here and know that a European vacation is not in everyones’ budget) Also getting told I NEEDED a vacation was very humbling as well.  Especially while writing a self care blog.  WAKE. UP. CALL.

Anyway, I encourage you to determine for yourself what your zones look like.  Ask your partner, best friend and/or family.  Be vulnerable with them, this can only help you.  Ask them to keep you accountable.  Use those zones, or use numbers or whatever works to get you out of autopilot and away from the duct tape and safety pins.

We’ve got this!

Take care of YOU.


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