Compassion Fatigue: A syndrome of 2020
2020 is proving to be a very difficult year. This cannot be stressed enough. Almost every day the world is exposing us with issues that make us feel helpless, frustrated, and angry. It’s not just 2020 which started this since pretty long the world has been at our fingertips, we are expected to care about everything happening around us- the environment, Hongkong or Saudi Arabia, CAA- NRC, forest fires, police brutality, sexism, racism, the economy, the PANDEMIC and what not! The list of our personal issues is as long as this list!
So, If you feeling too overwhelmed, out of touch with yourself, or feeling a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness and anxiety than you are not alone. In fact, a lot of times you would feel absolutely nothing when reading a newspaper and then would get guilty about not caring enough. Again, you are not alone and no you don’t have a problem.
This phenomenon is referred to as ‘compassion fatigue’ in Psychology. Compassion fatigue is a decline in a person’s capacity to feel empathy and compassion towards the suffering of others because they have been caring for others so much that they now feel empty. As Dr. Amit Sood points out in his book, The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living
“… we are inundated with graphic images of the unimaginable suffering of millions. We can fathom the suffering of a few, but a million becomes a statistic that numbs us.”
The term compassion fatigue was brought to light in 1992. It used to be a problem that was most commonly seen among health care professionals. Because their work puts them in situations where they commonly see or hear about ongoing and sometimes unspeakable suffering. Thus, doctors, nurses, psychologists, etc who constantly provide for other humans were the target of compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue is also referred to as secondary traumatic stress, where the other person’s trauma affects you so much that you start living their stress. Usually, if a person is a caregiver to someone- say to their children, parents, special needs students, etc can more often than not have compassion fatigue.
But with the world being so tight-knit, with social media bombarding you with information and seeking your attention every minute, it is very common that you or I might be suffering from compassion fatigue. In fact, the University of Michigan and the University of Rochester Medical Center found that empathy among students has declined by more than 40 percent compared to the late 1970s
Common symptoms present in an individual include:
Bottles up emotions
Isolates from others
Voices excessive complaints about administrative functions
Employs substance abuse to self-medicate
Ignores self-care (i.e., hygiene, appearance)
Suffers from chronic ailments such as gastrointestinal problems and recurrent colds
Inability to enjoy once pleasurable activities
Feels apathetic, sad
Employs denial as a means of self-preservation
Experiences recurring nightmares and flashbacks
This may sound like a lot but is usually not as big as it sounds. Half the battle is won when you know you have symptoms of compassion fatigue, which is very likely as the world we live in has not been kind to us.
Compassion fatigue can be overcome if you acknowledge the fact that ‘I feel fatigued, i feel powerless’. If your compassion cup is empty, you can’t change the world! You need to recharge yourself, take a break, and come back again stronger than before. Because the world needs empathy and compassion more than ever now!
Things you can do to overcome compassion fatigue:
Limit the amount of daily news you watch or read about
Try to comes to terms with the fact that pain and suffering are realities of life over which we have little or no control
Be aware of changes in your compassion level
Make self care a priority! So, exercise regularly, eat healthy food. The basics
Spend time with friends! That helps you ground yourself.
Write in a journal, pour your thoughts and feelings down. Acknowledging would help.
If you must blame something, blame the situation, not the person
Indulging in self-care is the most important hack to overcome compassion fatigue. You don’t need to feel guilty when you feel apathy, you don’t have to beat yourself for doing even better than you are. So, acknowledge compassion fatigue, take a step back, fill up your cup, and come back again stronger than ever because as I said before, the world needs empathy and compassion more than anything today
If you want to know more about compassion effort and how it can help you, read these articles for help:
Written by: Manasvi Shah
Feature image: goodtherapy.org