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Compassion Fatigue In the Era of 24 Hour News Cycle

What is compassion fatigue?
Compassion fatigue is the emotional, physical, and psychological distress that is usually brought on by helping other people process their own trauma or stress. It’s often mistaken for burnout, but the two are not exactly the same. Compassion fatigue started out as something most common with health care professionals and caregivers because of the nature of them constantly seeing or hearing about people suffering. But now that we see tragedy broadcasted more frequently — through cable news, social media, online news – it’s no longer unique to certain professions.

How do you know if you have it?
It’s best to consult your doctor or licensed therapist if you believe you may be suffering from compassion fatigue. Some of the symptoms include: emotional and physical exhaustion, irritability, insomnia, headaches, poor job satisfaction, feelings of hopelessness, frequent complaining about your work life, and feelings of self contempt. Dr. Beth Hundall Stamm, one of the world’s leading experts on compassion fatigue, developed the Professional Quality of Life (PROQOL) questionnaire for people to see where they fall on the compassion satisfaction/fatigue continuum. Because the systems are similar to countless other conditions/illnesses, it’s best to not assume and self-diagnose. However, Dr. Hundall Stamm’s questionnaire is a good starting point.

What are some things that could potentially bring compassion fatigue on now?
Although compassion fatigue commonly affects those who work in a helping and healing capacity, it can affect anyone. A heavy workload, stress, caregiving, working in a nurse or therapist position, and lack of support are a few of the things that can bring on compassion fatigue.

Are there things as of late (pandemic, etc. related) that could be an extra catalyst for compassion fatigue?
The pandemic has affected all of us in different ways. We won’t know the extent of how the pandemic — and seeing and experiencing so much loss – has affected the collective for years to come. I’m not sure the pandemic is an extra catalyst for compassion fatigue, but it probably doesn’t help those already suffering and coping with the weight of the pandemic. Last year was also a hard year for Black people specifically dealing with racial injustice and state sanctioned violence. All of those factors have psychological effects on people.

What are some ways to prevent compassion fatigue?
A healthy self-care routine can help prevent not only compassion fatigue, but a lot of other ailments that are caused by the stress of our day-to-day lives. Making sure you’re checking in with yourself everyday about how you feel and doing things that make you happy is really important to your overall mental health. A sense of gratitude for what you have can help improve your mood immensely. Acknowledging that pain and suffering will always exist in the world, and we can’t control everything, is one way to prevent compassion fatigue. Limiting daily news intake, finding people who affirm you and support you, reducing your stress which can oftentimes be from your workload or household duties, meditation, and journaling are all ways professionals say can help prevent compassion fatigue.

If you’ve succumbed to it, what are some ways to troubleshoot it?
I’m an advocate of therapy. A therapist or good life coach can best help you talk through what you’re feeling and provide actionable steps to pull you through. I think journaling and meditation work for some people while self-care and prayer works for others. Everyone heals differently. As a coach, I’m going to always advocate for allowing the professionals to step in if that’s an option available to you.

Anything else to know about compassion fatigue?
Nope! I just want to reiterate that it’s best to seek medical advice from medical professionals. If you think you may have compassion fatigue, please consult a licensed therapist, life coach, or your doctor.

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