How To Recognize Compassion Fatigue

We are living in unprecedented times. Political upheaval has been building for several years, and next came the COVID-19 pandemic, which, in its earliest stages, sparked racially-fueled hate crimes against the Asian community. Then, we witnessed an insurrection on the Capitol that was encouraged and even applauded by the then-president. Just when it seemed like things were in the clear, at least relatively speaking, there was an uptick of mass shootings (which had dropped during early COVID lockdowns), and the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which effectively bans abortion in 26 states. 

If that wasn't enough, we now have monkeypox making the rounds, as well as an even more contagious variant of COVID-19. Plus, Vladimir Putin is still warring with Ukraine, and who can forget Justice Clarence Thomas' comments on revisiting cases that will roll back marriage equality and even strip birth control access from those with uteruses (via Politico)? This all might make you feel scared, angry, disappointed, and maybe desperately in need of a nap. This is because you're probably experiencing compassion fatigue. There's only so much bad news someone can take before they're emotionally and mentally wiped out.

"Usually we're gradually shifting into this state of becoming less and less capable of coping with the stress of new events, and therefore, when we get big news — like what happened with the most recent ruling on abortion — we might not really have the emotional reserve to cope with such big news," Sheehan D. Fisher, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, tells HuffPost

Nevertheless, here's how to recognize compassion fatigue.

Symptoms of compassion fatigue

Not only are you exhausted emotionally, but it's hard to shake the feeling that is disrupting your everyday life. Anxiety, hyper-vigilance, depression, feelings of numbness, headaches, irritability, exhaustion, helplessness, and simply having nothing else to give the messed-up situation we're all in is compassion fatigue hard at work. Essentially, it's being burnt out on everything that's happening in life (via Good Therapy). And, the worst part is that it's all out of our control, at least to a degree, so there's no escaping it. 

"Those who have experienced compassion fatigue describe it as being sucked into a vortex that pulls them slowly downward," writes John-Henry Pfifferling, Ph.D., and Kay Gille, M.S., for AAFP. "They have no idea how to stop the downward spiral ... they work harder and continue to give to others until they're completely tapped out." We can listen, we can advocate for change, and we can make our voices heard, but still, in a climate like this one, it can feel like you're just banging your head against the wall. 

How to overcome emotional fatigue

While we're all swimming in our own version of emotional fatigue, there can be a light at the end of the tunnel — that is, if we make one because, considering the state of the world, that's not going to happen on its own. A way to do that is to be part of a community. We're all feeling this way right now, so partaking in groups with similar-minded people can be a good thing. It can make us all feel less alone in our struggle.

"It may not sound fancy or sophisticated, but building community is the most powerful thing you can do," Geoffry White, Ph.D., a private practitioner in Los Angeles, tells the American Psychology Association. "Compared with other societies, the United States has a very mind-your-own business culture, prizing independence and self-reliance over community. But anything that takes away from that isolation — peer support — will help."

Also, recognize what you're capable of and when you need to walk away. It's not your job to fix the world on your own, so don't try to take on that burden. Instead, take a step back from all the negativity in the world and try to practice self-care and mindfulness instead (via Healthline). Get adequate sleep, eat right, and exercise to try to keep your physical and mental well-being as strong as possible. This doesn't mean you won't be hit with emotional fatigue again — especially considering the state of the world — but once you learn how to manage it, you can be proactive in the future about protecting yourself when things become too much.