Oh no not again. Not another story of horrible abuse by the police force. Please no more news article on children screaming as they are torn from their mothers. I cant take another headline spreading information on how this once proud nation is being destroyed by its leaders and its citizens. Where is the compassion? What happened to empathy? Republicans are destroying the economy. Democrats are destroying morality. Or vice versa depending on which side you lean toward.
Turn it off. Just turn it off. Maybe if I restrict myself from my social media feeds I will feel better. Perhaps if I just don’t watch TV this will all go away. Maybe if I stay buried in my bed like I did when I was in my deepest depression it will feel better than this. It is scary to think like that but these days it is hard not to.
What is Compassion Fatigue?
It is the cost of caring for people facing emotional pain. Healthcare workers, caregivers for dependent people, partners to war veterans, people who are overly conscientious, empathic, and even those we may not consider to be those things, like lawyers are all more likely to face this. It is also called secondary traumatic stress and bystander effect. fMRI-rt utilized research suggests the idea of compassion without engaging in real-life trauma is not exhausting itself. According to these, when empathy was analyzed with compassion through neuroimaging, empathy showed brain region activations were previously identified to be related to pain whereas compassion showed warped neural activations. We are not imaging it, our brains are being warped by this world and its horrors.
Who is at risk?
While those who are in a profession of care, like therapists, nurses, mental health workers are trained to be aware of this potentially devastating condition what about the rest of the us? What should we be on the look out for? Here’s a check list from psychologytoday.com to help us figure it out.
- Feeling burdened by the suffering of others
- Blaming others for their suffering
- Isolating yourself
- Loss of pleasure in life
- Difficulty concentrating
- Physical and mental fatigue
- Bottling up your emotions
- Increased nightmares
- Feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness
- Frequent complaining about your work or your life
- Excessive use of drugs or alcohol
- Poor self-care
- Beginning to receive a lot of complaints about your work or attitude
Oh that last one though. Denial is a tricky little sucker. Making us think, ‘oh no not me. I am doing just fine’. The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project states that “denial is one of the most detrimental symptoms of Compassion Fatigue and Life Stress. It can easily hinder your ability to assess the level of fatigue and stress in your life”. Their website offers 3 self tests designed to help you recognize whether or not this might be an issue. I took the Life Stress test and scored 271 which equals medium susceptibility to stress-related illness. However that doesn’t take into consideration that I suffer from major depression. I have to be more aware. So what can we do about it?
How do we avoid or overcome this?
The two biggies are personal self care and social self care. Personal self care can be taking a break from work, breathing exercises, exercising, and other recreational activities. Social self care can be maintaining a diverse network of social support from colleagues to pets, limiting the amount of daily news you watch or read about, being grateful for what is good in your life and in the world, try to find some meaning in the suffering you see, and show compassion to yourself by being kind, soothing, and comforting to yourself.
For those like me, those “bleeding hearts” that care so deeply it physically hurts and who appreciate a direct suggestion of what to do to fix it. Here is a list of actions we might take:
- Enhance your awareness with education
- Accept where you are on your path at all times
- Exchange information and feelings with people who can validate you
- Clarify your personal boundaries—what works for you and what doesn’t
- Be kind to yourself
- Express what you need verbally, and
- Take positive action to change your environment.
Starbucks and memes
This world can be cruel and hard and unrelenting. The media, society, family and friends may all contribute to our fatigue. However this world can also be gentle and caring and beautiful. The media, society and our family and friends may also help us to see that. Wherever you might be on the scale of compassion fatigue just remember its only temporary. This too shall pass. It’s okay to bury your head under the covers for a minute as long as you know that its only for a minute and when its time to find the strength you have a tribe that will peel back the comforter and bring you Starbucks and memes and if you feel like you don’t you can call on me. I am always available for Starbucks and memes.