How have you started the new decade? On a positive note? Gosh, I wish I could say the same, but with everything that is already going in the world, it’s safe to say that compassion fatigue is looking more likely for me. This syndrome – Compassion Fatigue – is essentially the gradual lessening of compassion over time. It’s actually quite common among those who work in the healthcare industry and those working with victims of disasters, trauma or illness. However, other professions can also be diagnosed with the syndrome, as can non-workers. If you experience compassion fatigue, you probably show symptoms of hopelessness, pervasive negative attitude, continuous anxiety and stress, sleeplessness and decrease in experiencing pleasure. For many of us, it sounds familiar, given all that the end of the last decade threw at us.
It’s only the second week of the new year, but you may find yourself in this situation, too. After all, there is the issue surrounding tensions between America and Iran, Australia is going through a national crisis with the fires, and there is probably more to come in the next few days. There’s a lot going on, a lot to care about, and that’s when you should take a step back. Perhaps you’ll notice that you are moving from one crisis to another. This is a pervasive syndrome which you must remember doesn’t only apply to professional caregivers, but that it can happen to most of us. There is an insidious nature to this syndrome and it can have devastating effects. We’re vulnerable because with the widespread nature of media and the news, there is now compassion fatigue present within general society. There are countless newspapers and websites illustrating stories and images about tragedy and suffering, so it’s understandable to witness how the public has become resistant to helping those who suffer and are genuinely desensitised to these situations.
Since we’re exposed to all of this bad news all the time, it makes us feel like we have to care about everything all the time as well. Just take a look at the last year in a nutshell: many of us were marching for climate change. Wait, then I had friends in Hong Kong where there were protests, of which are still happening to this day. Talking of things still happening, there is the issue of family separations at the American-Mexican border, nor can we forget what is happening in Myanmar with the Rohingya. After the change of your profile picture to blue to support Sudan, wait no, change it red to support Kashmir. Did I just see you eating beef? Stop eating meat, you’re killing the planet. Hold on, did you hear there was another shooting in the USA because they won’t ban assault rifles and the NRA is essentially supplying guns to everyone? Oh wait, there is another pedophile and there is that other celebrity rapist on the loose.
That is how compassion fatigue starts in our society. It’s a system overload. Yes, these issues matter. Although, how can you expect yourself to care about all of them, all the time? We need to stop this overload and select a few to care about, yes, self-care is important here, too. This year you should pick a few things to not care about, for your own mental health. It’s hard to decide what to care about. Then you have another issue parallel to compassion fatigue, and that is displaced concern, where you feel you have to show concern. This is prevalent on social media, people are sharing the stories they see about the travesties of the world and injustices, but they are are not actually reading these stories. They’re probably reading some article on how they have a sugar daddy to pay for all of their Gucci (yes, I did see this article on my feed the other day). Another issue is cancel culture, let’s take a look at the Kardashians, because I do indeed love to keep up with them. Kim and Kylie faced backlash for showing concern and posting on their stories about the Australian bushfires last week, but many accused them of not donating, even though they had actually donated a considerable amount of money in private.
If you are feeling this burn out, just remember that you’re not alone. For me, I have my concerns about Brexit, but I can’t escape it, whether from the news or in my degree. You can still care about all of these issues, but instead of them being at the forefront of your mind, select what you care about the most. There are also other ways to care about things: we cannot always fear being cancelled, and simply show we care even though we know nothing about the topic. Remember that personal self-care is important and to create boundaries as this can reduce compassion fatigue. Try to maintain a balanced world view, not all bad news must come from the angle of bad news, you can show solidarity for these issues through satire, for example. You can even practice mindfulness. It’s time to unburden yourself.
If you want to research further into this topic, I suggest watching this TEDx Talk on Compassion Fatigue from Juliette Watt.