Are You Experiencing Compassion Fatigue?

Do you wonder if you are perhaps suffering from Compassion Fatigue? In today’s world we are bombarded by news 24/7 and events around the world come into our homes. It can at times feel overwhelming can’t it when so many things compete for our emotional reactions? I have heard people mention that they feel a sense of being overwhelmed and unable to feel the depth of compassion that they might have had when we knew less of the world around us.

Should we feel guilty about that? In my view the response is no – we are probably finding ourselves suffering a form of Compassion fatigue brought about because of the level of demand placed upon us by our consumption of news from around the world.

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue occurs when someone becomes overwhelmed by the suffering of others, and experience less and less compassion over time. Previously, Compassion fatigue was often considered to be something that impacted people who work in health care, animal welfare, or criminal justice, as well as first responders, therapists, social workers, and similar caring professions. It was also recognised that it affects journalists who report on tragedies.

As more and more of us come to experience it because of our always on world we need to think about the consequences and how we deal with it. Compassion fatigue can have a range of personal and professional consequences. Sufferers may have stress, anxiety, and insomnia, and develop a negative attitude. TV shows are filled with stories about doctors who sneak pills, or hard-boiled, alcoholic detectives. Sadly, these clichés are rooted in reality: people with compassion fatigue can turn to self-medication, and often experience a loss of productivity and confidence in their ability to do their jobs.

Increasingly, as the 24-hour news cycle warns us about political crises, epidemics, natural disasters, and climate change, all of us can feel compassion fatigue. As a result, some people stop listening to the news, and don’t vote, volunteer, or give to charity.

You can measure your own level of compassion fatigue using the Professional Quality of Life questionnaire, developed by Dr. Beth Hudnall Stamm.

Dealing with Compassion Fatigue

If you have compassion fatigue, what’s the cure? Ironically, compassion fatigue is cured through self-compassion. Before you can be there for others, you must be there for yourself. Here’s how:

  • Acknowledge your emotions. Whatever you are feeling, it’s ok to feel that way. Only by acknowledging and experiencing emotions can we move through them. You may need help getting in touch with your emotions. A therapist or support group can help.
  • Understand your boundaries and communicate them to others. It’s ok to limit the hours you work or avoid certain kinds of news. Be honest with yourself about what works for you and what doesn’t.
  • Develop self-care rituals. Whether you need a long soak in a hot bath or a sweaty basketball game, a night out with friends or a solo walk in the forest, do whatever makes you feel renewed.

If you are experiencing it then don’t ignore it. Look after yourself and soon you’ll be back, renewed, to help others.

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