Self Compassion for Leaders

Self Compassion for Leaders

In the next article of our series ‘Mastering leadership through collaboration’ we partner with Elaina Mullery, health leader and podcast owner of ‘the Happy Nurse’ whose goals is to help nurses live full and happy lives. In this piece we explore how best we as leaders can look after ourselves in these physically, mentally and emotionally taxing times. Emma is an ADON at Queensland Health and Tracy is a Nurse Unit Manager and this pair combined have over 30 years of experience in health with more than 20 of leadership experience.

When we think about compassion, what springs to mind? Mother Teresa? Nelson Mandela? Jacinda Ardern? What these people have in common is a great level of compassion for those around them. But there is another equally important type of compassion that is often overlooked. Self-compassion. Elaina’s podcast is focussed on wellbeing, compassion and leadership so we wanted to collaborate on this crucial topic.

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When we apply compassion to ourselves, it can feel uncomfortable. Perhaps even selfish. We keep thinking that when we choose ourselves, we are not choosing our (children/ job/ family) – this is a mistake. Have you heard the saying ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup?’ it is said so much that it’s becoming a clich. Though we know this on an intellectual level, it can be hard to translate it into actions that our physical and emotional selves can accept. Living with compassion to ourselves is a challenge. In this article we ask you to reflect and make a commitment to rise to this challenge – you will thank yourself later!

Tracy– Recently I was talking to a friend of mine about self-love. I listed all the things I was doing to show love and compassion to myself- aerial yoga, journaling, getting regular massages and so forth. She argued that I had a strong case of self like – but NOT self-love. She asked me why all of the things I was doing to be compassionate to myself were activities. More things to check off of my to do list. She asked if adding things to my ‘to do’ list was stressful? I will admit it is. 

But what are my options? How can I show myself compassion without doing anything? She said self-love might look like NOT adding things to my to do list. Having an early night so I get more sleep. Noticing damaging thoughts and spending time exploring my feelings and finding alternative ways of perceiving things. I used to joke that my self-compassion was cheese. But cheese is not self-compassion, it is food and it is passive and an easy fix. Where I am now in my journey of self-compassion is recognising that cheese and adding things to my to do list is not filling my cup so I can pour, and finding ways to replace the busyness in my life with stillness. Self-compassion can be in activity, but the stillness is where I struggle. And where I am focussing right now.

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Emma- Like Tracy I struggle with busyness. I am a do-er and an achiever and a lot of my self-identity is caught up in what I have achieved rather than who I am. Perhaps this is a struggle as who you are is harder to see that what you have achieved. Brené Brown talks about how busyness is the new badge of honour and that for some it is like a competition. I feel like she is talking directly to me! I work two jobs, am constantly studying, have four kids and struggle constantly with ‘not doing’, I find it physically, mentally and emotionally uncomfortable to not have my time planned out.

Quiet is difficult for me. I think it is a struggle to be alone with myself, just me and my thoughts and so I take the easy option of doing. My challenge to myself is to practice mindfulness and getting more comfortable with just being, without the constant need to fix, do or act. 

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Elaina- Offer yourself the same compassion that you so freely give to others. 

Nurses and Healthcare Professionals are amazingly compassionate and empathic people, but I have found that we often neglect ourselves in the compassion department. When we neglect our own emotional needs, we are on the slippery slope to burnout

As Emma and Tracy have both shared how they enjoy doing things and keeping busy, I too was like that in the past. I especially didn’t like my own company and would have my days off jam packed with activities just so that I wasn’t alone, and if I was alone, I would always have the TV on, so I didn’t feel alone. Whilst I was running around keeping busy a pressure cooker was bubbling away inside of me with all the emotions that I had pushed down in my busyness. 

Then one morning in 2005, the lid burst off the pot. I left the house and instead of walking around the corner to work, I got in the car and started driving. I still can’t recall the decision-making process behind my actions, but I just knew I had to get away. My colleagues and fiancée were frantically trying to call me, but I had turned my phone off. I drove 130 miles that morning, then something in me changed, I pulled the car over and burst into tears. This was the moment that I realised that something had to change and what led me onto my path of recovery from burnout. 

This journey ignited a passion for personal development and has led me to where I am today, coaching my wonderful Nursing colleagues on how to prevent this happening to them. 

When we are stressed, we are operating in a constant state of fight, flight, freeze. I see it in myself and I see it with my clients. We all tend to have one state that we default to. Some will become irritable and at times aggressive, others (like me) want to run, and some just bury their heads in the sand and hope that it goes away. Recognising our own tell-tale signs is important in the prevention of burnout as it allows us to show ourselves compassion and make simple changes to improve our mental health. 

Life is a rollercoaster as they say and having the toolkit to be able to deal with stress as it arises has uncovered a compassionate resilience, I now have toward myself. 

So, what is in my toolkit? I will share a few tools with you; 

Knowing my personal boundaries. Brené Brown has found through her extensive research that the most compassionate people have the strongest boundaries. Knowing what is acceptable to us as individuals encourages us to realise our own value and know that we are enough.

Befriending the voice in my head. We all have this inner dialogue, it’s the voice we hear most throughout our lives. Sometimes it can speak to us in a manner that we would never dream of speaking to others, recognising when this is happening is the first step in befriending it.

Sleep. I need 8 hours sleep per night; I have made this a non-negotiable in my life. If it means I have to say no to a social occasion in order to achieve 8 hours sleep, I will say no.

Meditation. Being comfortable with sitting in silence with my own thoughts allows me to identify any repetitive or harmful thoughts that I may be having. When we meditate it’s not about stopping our thoughts but instead witnessing them and letting them pass. Thoughts only become things when we give them the energy to.

Meal Prep. I am a busy single Mum with a clinical role and my own business. Meal Prep prior to a run of clinical shifts ensures that I am eating well and not having the added stress of cooking after a long shift. 

We are going to wrap up this article with some more strategies for your to consider, but before we get to that I hope that this article has allowed you a few moments of ‘ME’ time and a lot more future moments that you can use to reflect and dedicate to your own strategies. All of us have struggled with giving the compassion we so freely give to others to ourselves….. have you struggled with this too? We would love to hear your feedback.

So to finish, just a few more strategies that we wanted to share on how to practice your self-compassion:

·      Notice what makes you smile. Give yourself more of this.

·      Find ways to keep things OFF your to do list (remember when you say YES to something, you are saying NO to something else)

·      Find one area of your busy life that can be simplified. DO it.

·      Share what you are practicing with someone else so that they might benefit too.

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The Truth About Self Care.

The Truth About Self Care.

Self Care is something that we do for ourselves but ultimately the ripple effect impacts our relationships, our confidence and how we cope emotionally.  When we do not make self care a priority we easily default into overwhelm, become reactive and emotional and feel like we are powerless.  

Here’s the thing,  Self care is not just about bubble baths and trips to the day spa.  Self care is an act of self compassion.  It’s allowing ourselves to experience the compassion that we so freely give to others.  

Often when we become reactive and overwhelmed it is because we go into the story in our minds.  The inner critic and self confessed judge of all things has been let loose.  We get caught up in this self criticism and self judgement which gives rise to the inner fear of not being enough.  

The ultimate act of self compassion is realising that we are enough.  You are MORE THAN ENOUGH!  

Next time you feel yourself going into overwhelm, becoming reactive or feeling like you are powerless, ask yourself “what would I say to a friend or loved one who was experiencing this?”

Stop the inner critic in their tracks and offer yourself the same love and compassion you would to others.  

 When you feel balanced you give off a calming energy to those around you.  Through this act of self care you create a beautiful ripple effect.  

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Surviving The Rapid Change That COVID-19 Has Thrust Upon Us.

Surviving The Rapid Change That COVID-19 Has Thrust Upon Us.

Whilst I have been affected by the rapid onset of change that has been thrust upon us all in recent weeks, I have also been observing the effect it has been having on us all.

Our worlds have been changed into something unrecognisable to what they were this time last month. Enforced hibernation, Isolation from loved ones, unemployment, homeschooling and loss of a sense of freedom are just some of the “new normal” that we are all trying to accept.

Over the past few days, I have been unpacking my thoughts/feelings surrounding it all and trying to make some sense of my“new normal”.

Here is what I have come to realise.

Humans tend to fear change, we see it as a threat to our happiness. When in fact change is constant and continually happening. Day turns to night, Monday leads to Tuesday, Summer leads to Autumn, etc… We live in an ever-changing world. The difference is, these changes are expected and normal to our everyday lives. This sudden life-changing event that is the current Pandemic has been thrust upon us suddenly and turned our lives upside down.

We are all experiencing this slightly differently, but each of us are experiencing it together.

I have broken it down into six stages to help us understand what is going on in our minds at this time. These are Shock, Fear, Grief, Overwhelm, Rationalisation and Acceptance.

I will discuss each stage further.


Our initial response activates the fight/flight response in our brain. This causes our executive processing to shut down. Our Amygdala has been activated and the Jumping monkey as I like to call it is ready to fight or to run. Panic sets in.


We feel like we have lost control over our lives and due to the shock we are also now ready to fight or to run. Our rational thinking is clouded due to the executive processing centre being closed down, we want to do everything we can to protect ourselves.


We don’t like this new reality and are mourning our old normality. We want to bury our heads in the sand and avoid the truth. We resist the change and feelings of depression and anxiety can set in.

It is important to reach out to loved ones during this time. Social distancing may be preventing us from seeing each other physically but we are fortunate to live in the digital age where it is easy to connect online or via the telephone.

If you are struggling and feel you have no-one to turn to please reach out to an organisation such as Lifeline 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36.


We start to imagine what this new normality is going to look like. Frustration rises in us, feelings of loss of control return and Overthinking leads to anxiety as we look into an unknown future. We head off down the rabbit warren of uncertainty with our imagination, creating doomsday / apocalyptic scenarios in our minds.

It is important to watch your mind chatter. I use the acronym T.H.I.N.K to keep a check of mine. This stands for True. Helpful. Inspiring. Necessary. Kind. If what you are saying to yourself does not fall under any of these headings then its probably causing you unnecessary stress and is not worth listening to.


Time to make a plan.

I look at change in 3 different perspectives. What I can control, what I can influence and What I have no control/influence over.

If we look at the changes we are currently facing through these 3 lenses it will help us to make a plan and feel like we have more control than we did when we were in Overwhelm.

Make a list of all the changes that have affected your life since the onset of this Pandemic. Then draw a grid and assign each change you are currently experiencing into a column of what you can control, what you can influence or what you can’t control. It may be an idea to do this with your partner or a friend as they may see things from a different perspective and be able to help you. Once you have identified what you can control and what you can influence you should feel like you have some clarity over your current situation. It will also feel easier to let go of the need to control or change what we have no influence over.

Which leads to;


Once we accept these changes we have the capacity to show ourselves more compassion, find realistic solutions and allow ourselves to mindfully make a plan.

Mindfulness is an amazing tool that keeps you present and helps you to navigate change. If you are new to mindfulness and meditation I recommend the Headspace or Calm apps as great ways to get started.

It feels to me like we have been stripped right back to basics and I know for sure that it has made me even more grateful for the simple things in life. A gratitude journal is a great way to help you to focus on the good things that are happening through all this. It will be interesting to reflect on in years to come too.

It’s very important to maintain the connection to others during this time of what I am calling physical distancing. We are hard-wired for connection, isolation is an unnatural state for us. We can still be social, just via an online connection. Make yourself a cuppa or pour a glass of wine and jump online for a chat with your friends and family. I have seen some very creative ideas around this on my social media which look like great fun.

Lastly, know that this storm will pass and we will have all gotten through it together.

If you are struggling and feel you have no-one to turn to please reach out to an organisation such as Lifeline 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36.

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The Value of Being Clear on Your Values

The Value of Being Clear on Your Values

As humans we are wired for connection with others.  Throughout the ages we have lived as Tribes, Communities, Villages and Civilisations.  Many of our basic needs were met through our sense of belonging and our relationships with others.  

In todays digital age we are more connected than we ever have been but we have lost the security of our fellow clansmen or villagers.  Those interpersonal relationships have been replaced with chat rooms, forums and google searches to name but a few.  

Instead of seeking the sage advice of a trusted confidant in the village we can seek advice from every corner of the globe.  Whilst this is awesome and offers us an array of answers and possibilities it can easily put us into overwhelm.  We start to question our own judgement and loose sense of our personal values.  

We all make decisions 95% of the time based on a subconscious set of values and beliefs that we have picked up mostly in our childhood.  

Within the security of the village our beliefs and values would be very similar and most likely aligned with our fellow villagers.  This meant that any advice received from others would most likely be relatively aligned with our own values.  

With an international audience we are now exposed to individuals with very different values.  This is what can send us into a tailspin of self judgement, overwhelm, chaos and reactivity If we are unaware of our own subconscious values, boundaries and emotional triggers.  

On the flip side if we are aware of our values this digital age can offer us connection and information like never before.  

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