Compassion Fatigue: Are current affairs harming your mental health?

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Does checking the news nowadays leave you feeling overwhelmed and hopeless? Maybe you’ve hit an emotional wall, where you feel you have no more energy for all the negativity – so you can either block it out or break under the pressure.

If you feel like you’ve spent so much energy worrying about the world’s problems that you are beginning to detach yourself from it all, then you aren’t alone. As information is more accessible than ever – as useful as this is – our immersion in global affairs can also really take a toll.

Arguably, for the first time in history, it has become near impossible not to be aware of the world’s problems – no matter whether or not you are ever likely to meet those affected in real life. As a result, we have become worn down and flattened by the never-ending stream of anxiety-inducing bad news, to the point that we can choose to either have a nervous breakdown as we try to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, or become desensitized entirely in order to protect ourselves from the grief of it all.

Does this mean that we should stop caring about others’ suffering or reports of impending doom? Of course not. But the burnt-out apathy which results from holding the world on your shoulders for too long serves as no relief for anyone.

What is compassion fatigue?

Compassion fatigue used to be a problem most commonly seen among healthcare professionals, whose work exposes them to unspeakable suffering on a daily basis. However, now that every depressing headline – no matter how far afield the tragedy – is instantly available via our devices, compassion fatigue is no longer unique to certain professions.

These days, we are inundated with graphic images and headlines of conflict, terror, and mass misery. And although our empathy can safely expand to a limited number of those around us, when that number jumps to millions or billions, our emotional capacity is stretched beyond its natural bounds and as such, it breaks us – eventually leaving us numb.

Compassion fatigue: what are the symptoms?

  • Detachment from others and their problems
  • Isolating yourself
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia and nightmares
  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Bottling up your emotions
  • Feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness
  • Frequent complaining about your work or your life
  • Dependence on food, drugs or alcohol to self-soothe
  • Poor self-care

Like burnout or any other stress or anxiety-related condition, compassion fatigue can bubble away in the background until you reach a breaking point. Through awareness and healthy self-care, those who experience compassion fatigue can start to understand the complexity of the emotions they’ve been suppressing, thus learning how to better cope with them.

compassion fatigue: tips on how to cope

The bottom line

Overall, empathy has declined in recent decades.  We live in a world that desperately needs more compassion. As such, the last thing we need is for those who are most adept at giving and showing compassion to lose that gift to something completely avoidable.

However, by practising self-care in the midst of negative news, and being aware of the warning signs of compassion fatigue, you can channel this empathy into a more productive and less damaging outlet. Instead of senselessly ruminating over the evils in the world, grasp that emotion and turn it into determination to change lives for the better – one act of kindness at a time.

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