When your well is empty: Empathy in the time of COVID-19

By Susan Ward, Program Manager at Wood’s Homes

All my professional life, I have been known as someone with a soft heart, someone with a lot of empathy. I came to Wood’s Homes 18 years ago and instantly started a love affair with out-of-home care; and not just with the kids in the programs, but with the staff who showed up every day to engage in this crazy, and often misunderstood type of work. 

Having an empathetic heart can be both a blessing and a curse in this line of work. The blessings come with the passion that brings you back to work, even after hard days. Hard days can come in the form of kids keeping you at bay as their own hearts are too sore to let you in. Ultimately, the good typically outweighs the curses and you keep striving forward, even during the really hard times.  

COVID-19 has impacted all people and every aspect of life. One of the impacts has been for those people who have huge hearts, or deep wells of empathy. For many of us, we have felt that well running dry. People are having to dig a little deeper into their reserves in order to choose kindness. So what do you do when you find yourself quicker to be irritated, faster to fall into frustration, just generally annoyed more frequently than typical? 

I have had to be very deliberate in how I re-fill my empathy tank in a time when most people’s tanks are also empty. To start, I needed to make a list of the things that bring me joy, things that make me happy, things that I may not have been appreciative of prior to COVID-19. What I discovered was that being deliberate in seeking happiness can actually be a lot of fun in and of itself. 

I keep this list on my fridge as a reminder. Some of the things on my list include: 

  • Walk an extra block when walking the dog (push yourself for that bit of extra exercise) 
  • If the sun is shining…go outside! 
  • Find one thing a day that I am grateful for (sometimes it is something simple, like having a person I can call and say hi to) 
  • Read a book (real pages, not electronic!) 
  • Walk away from the tablet/computer/phone (it can be easy to lose yourself in electronics) 
  • Painting (make time for your hobbies…or take some risks and try to find a new hobby!) 
  • Listen to music that makes me want to dance (singing out loud – and trust me – I can’t sing) 
  • Call a friend (not just text, but hear their voice) 
  • Tell someone you love them (it might sound small, but it is powerful) 


Being deliberate and pushing myself to engage in activities can feel harder on some days than others. It is ok to acknowledge that for yourself when you have having a hard day, but those are the days when it is even more important to push! These are little things that can help put some empathy and compassion back into your tank. 

Our world with COVID-19 continues to change and evolve. We have a responsibility to make sure that we are doing the best we can, for ourselves, and for the people who rely on us!