It’s a mental and emotional condition that’s been discussed a lot in recent months—compassion fatigue, which is defined as the indifference to charitable appeals on behalf of those who are suffering, usually a result of the frequency of such appeals. But even by definition standards, it’s much bigger than that. Or at least it feels like it is.
It’s a reality that many people right now—Americans, in particular—are being forced to navigate in the midst of all of the crises brought on by this year. The phenomenon has long been associated with those who work in health, psychiatry, and even law enforcement—roles that not only demand a lot, but ones that force professionals in these fields to confront some of the darkest issues that are plaguing humanity today.
With the rise of 24-hour news networks, social media, and the endless stream of information provided by the Internet, compassion fatigue has evolved into a much more complex issue—one that’s now affecting everyone, even those who would otherwise consider themselves emotionally or spiritually strong.
Every day, we’re bombarded with more information than what we actually have the capacity to absorb as humans. Because our brains are not designed to manage this amount of chaos, when we find ourselves stressed and overwhelmed, we often default to fear and frustration. We seek solace in the spaces and communities that feel safe. And we’ve been so conditioned to expect immediate clarity in the problem solving process, that when we confront an issue or threat that we can’t pinpoint, we retreat back into ourselves.
This goes beyond a simple mental or emotional condition—it’s the result of millions of years of biology and science that help to explain why this “era of information” might actually be hurting us more than it’s helping us.
Compassion fatigue certainly isn’t a new phenomenon—but the cultural shifts that have taken place throughout this year have inspired a constant state of unrest, leaving many to navigate feelings of inadequacy and burnout. The stress that comes along with attempting to care about everything all at once—a global pandemic, climate change, frustration brought on by decades of social and racial injustice, and arguably one of the most divisive political campaigns in our country’s history—is forcing people to question: What is the real cost of caring?
People don’t necessarily want to stop caring about things that matter. They don’t want to feel inclined to take social media breaks or to stop watching the news. But if abandoning reality affords them any sort of peace, they will.
The problem is that we can’t stop caring. We can’t hope for a return to normalcy. And for humanity’s sake, we can’t afford to. There are ways to adequately address compassion fatigue—and to create boundaries which allow us to stay informed and stay sane. We just have to find the balance. Here are some simple steps to help get you through this season.
Be kind to yourself
The most productive first step is to address the problem, recognize how your fatigue is taking shape in your life, and offer yourself grace. No one is ever completely excluded from the problems that are taking place in the world—they just affect others more directly. And it’s important to understand that nobody really has the answers to these struggles. We’re all just trying to do our best and be our best. Be kind to yourself, regardless of which state or season you’re in.
Practice gratitude for the good
Life is all about the good, the bad, and learning how to balance and appreciate the two. Right now, it can feel really easy to only focus on the bad—but, that doesn’t mean that good things aren’t happening, especially in your own life. Be intentional about what you’re giving life and energy to everyday. And if you need more accountability, consider writing a gratitude list each morning, so that you start your day off with the right perspective and frame of mind.
If watching the news changes your mood or mindset for the worse, then eliminate how much of it you consume on a daily basis. If social media is hindering your ability to be more focused on the good, then set limits for yourself. It’s your responsibility to make sure that you’re showing up in the world everyday as your very best self—and you can’t achieve this if certain elements in your world are limiting you from fulfilling your potential. We need you, so try to find the balance between staying informed and staying sane.
Find meaning in the suffering
Everything happens for a reason—even if we don’t fully understand the reason until much later. Don’t try to hide from struggle or pain—that’s where growth happens, and true character is made.
Breathe, and let go
And finally, remember to control only what you can control. The events that are unfolding in the greater world around you, are unfolding regardless of whether or not you want them to. Life doesn’t always play out the way that we’d like it to. So, in the meantime, focus on the work that you can give energy to in your own life that will benefit you, your community and your world, for the long term.