You may have heard of compassion fatigue as a condition used to describe the stress associated with working with people who are in crisis, trauma or suffering. Think of people in caregiving or helping professions like nurses, doctors, therapists, veterinarians and animal welfare, child protection workers, journalists, EMTs, police officers and anyone who works with people in trauma or crisis, like natural disasters or crisis workers.
Compassion fatigue can also be called secondary traumatic stress, secondary victimization, vicarious traumatization and “the cost of caring.”
The symptoms of compassion fatigue are similar to that of chronic stress — sleeplessness or nightmares, lower immunity or other physical issues like GI or heart problems, isolation, lack of focus and concentration, negativity and pessimism, unhealthy outlets for emotions, like addictions. The overall effect of compassion fatigue is a lessening of compassion.
The interesting thing is, because of news and social media and the barrage of stories and images of intense pain and suffering, “compassion fatigue” is now being expanded to include the general public.
We are bombarded with graphic images, videos and interviews of trauma and tragedy every day — and when they are replayed over and over, we can experience a helplessness…or hopelessness.
We talked about this in class on Sunday, and many people were eager to share their experience.
Some were most concerned about numbness and what happens when we protectively become apathetic. When we try to care about all it and we hit overload, a natural protective response is to shut down.
Others talked about the helplessness that comes with overwhelm of feeling the pain of so many. Highly sensitive and empathetic people are most susceptible to compassion fatigue as they truly take on the suffering of other people, animals and the planet.
One woman shared her concern for the teen and early 20s population as they are often engrossed in social media and don’t have the same mental capacities for discernment that adults have.
So what to do?
The first step is realizing you feel overwhelmed, whether your response is helplessness or hopelessness. If you have compassion fatigue, you know you’re a caring, compassionate person!
The second step is taking better care of yourself. It doesn’t mean shutting out the world and all current events. It does mean setting boundaries.
- Are you watching video interviews of a crisis on a loop? Stop.
- Do you check your phone, computer or the newspaper first thing in the morning? Stop.
- Do you take your phone to bed? Even if you’re watching cat videos, Stop.
- Do you ruminate and worry about things out of your control? Stop.
- Take good, basic care of yourself. Eat good food, get enough sleep, move every day.
- Have times when you check the news — set a time limit.
- Help in the ways you can. Maybe volunteering isn’t right for you, but you can send a small donation of items or money. (See below for fire relief organizations.)
One student in class said he’d been listening to music CDs in the car rather than NPR. It is a way to take a break from the news he’s already heard and recharge.
Mother Theresa knew the importance of caring for ourselves so we can care for others: she required her nuns to take a full year off every 3-4 years.
We can’t give from an empty well — we know this. Each of us have a unique capacity for holding suffering, as well as ways to be of service. Care for and appreciate yourself and
California Fire Relief Donation Ideas
Butte Humane Society (they also have an Amazon wish list)
Humane Society of Ventura County
California Community Foundation
California Fire Foundation
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