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  • Writer's pictureErin

"Compassion fatigue" and 5 essential remedies for overcoming it

Our world certainly has no shortcomings of bad news - take five minutes to scroll the front page of Reddit and you'll find the latest on the chemical leak crisis in Ohio, worries of China beginning an allyship with Russia and starting a world war, drag ban bills in the midwest, previously untold horrors of politicians' dirty deeds...the list goes on, always and forever.



We know by now. It seems everywhere we turn, there is a stream of bad news: new and old threats to worry about, issues we want to change, but feel powerless to. That, my friend, is known as "compassion fatigue," and it's a real thing. Psychology Today defines compassion fatigue for the general public as "the experience of any empathetic individual who is acutely conscious of societal needs but feels helpless to solve them." They say people who actively engage in charity or volunteering may come to feel that they cannot commit any more energy, time, or money to the plight of others, because they feel overwhelmed or paralyzed by pleas for support. They feel that the world’s challenges are never-ending.


And that's the thing - I believe if you're here reading this, you want to help make a difference in the world around you. You want to see things get better. You want the madness to stop, or at least slow down a little. It hurts to the core to watch death and destruction happen every day, over and over again. I've said this before, but we are not meant to be exposed to all of the world's horrors all the time (see tip #4 below). Eventually it feels as though there is no point in even trying to help, because it will never stop. We know by now. It is never going to end.


It's a fast, hard fall from feeling inspired and excited to incite change, to feeling as though there isn't a damn thing we can do to change anything at all. If you care about what's going on in the world or in your closer communities, there is no way you haven't felt this helplessness. But I'm telling you (and reminding myself) right now: we cannot afford to stay in that headspace. It will lead us down a dark, lonely, terrifying path that is nearly impossible to come back from. I start walking this path all the time. I think most of us do, but over the years I have learned a few methods to practice that have helped me get out of it and carry myself forward.


I wanted to share them with you today, because I think it goes without saying: we could all use relief right now.



First: "You can only control what you do."


This is a hard pill to swallow. We give up way too much life force trying to force people or systems to change. It took me years to learn and accept it, but it's true, and once you can remind yourself of it whenever needed, it feels like the weight of the world finally comes off your chest a bit. It started in much smaller matters for me: when friends were acting like strangers, not following their word, or not meeting my needs, I had to surrender to knowing that often times it wasn't something I was doing wrong, they just could not meet me where I was, no matter how badly I wanted them to or how much effort I put into the relationship. That said, I still wanted to change their behavior. I tried every tactic I could think of to get them to do the thing I wanted, whether it was to invite me to hang out or even just text back.


I had to surrender it all, eventually. I could not control their actions. I could only control what I did, how I acted toward them.


Let it sink in for the bigger players in this game: You cannot control political decisions (as an individual). You cannot control how far the toxic chemicals from East Palestine travel in the watersheds, or how many animals die as a result. You cannot control the things you'll see on the internet or the awful news you'll be exposed to without your permission or desire. You cannot control climate change. I know it's terrifying, but it's reality.


There is some light at the end of this tunnel, though. On the flipside, the core of the message is that you DO have control over the things you choose to do with your time. If you're able, you can donate to help clean up the messes. You can call and email your legislators to allow your voice to be heard. You can share out important issues with loved ones and volunteer together. You can provide goodness in any variety of ways; whatever comes naturally and feels good for you. When so much of our news feeds go dark, we can still counteract them with light.



Second: Get familiar with your "seasons"


I talked about this in my third podcast episode, but if you haven't heard it yet, the basic idea here is that we all have personal seasons of growth, stability, rest, and stagnation (they correspond as spring, summer, fall and winter to me, but you can think of them in any way that makes sense to you). Recognize that when you are in periods of stillness and exhaustion, it is not on you to give up your already limited stores of time and energy. When you enter these seasons, focus on yourself. Focus on reenergizing and filling yourself back up. I tend to take lot of naps, do gentle yoga, stay home on weekends, and cook lots of warm, nourishing meals when I'm in this space, but again, it's all about what feels best for you.


This is also a great time to practice reaching out to others for love and support, when you are perhaps not feeling your best. Do not leave yourself alone in the dark cave of your mind. Light a candle and invite someone in. I say "practice" because I know this can be challenging for the majority of us, but in a world where the majority of us are experiencing compassion fatigue to some degree, we would all benefit from supporting one another with more intimacy and care. Your friends want to be there for you. They may be in their seasons of abundance, and they may be able to help you move along more quickly. Let them.


Part of understanding and overcoming compassion fatigue is, in all honesty, letting yourself rest in it for a little while. By that, I don't mean wallowing in the worst news updates and getting lost in existential crises, but rather recognizing that you're in the thick of it, you're feeling it hard, and it's time to slow down and rest. Then, when you are back on your feet and ready to give back to your community, give back.



Third: Recognize your gifts


Okay, so maybe you don't think of yourself as one to "give back" often, or maybe this sounds like a daunting task. I still associate the term with donating a ton of money to organizations, spending time in soup kitchens or food pantries or homeless shelters, and generally doing the most, but it certainly does not have to be the grand gesture we may have grown into believing it is. Instead, identify what it is that you are good at, and what makes you feel good to provide to others. Do you enjoy hosting dinner parties for your friends? Maybe you know a single mother who could use a meal she doesn't have to make herself. Have a ton of clothes shoved in the back of your closet? Donate them to a local shelter (just make sure they want the items you're looking to get rid of).


In other words, what can you provide? In a world where so much is out of our reach and out of our control, how can you make the local community a little better? How might you be able to take the load off of someone else, even if only for a day? This is the stuff that truly matters. Not only will it help others, but it helps you feel better, too.



Fourth: Get the f*ck off the internet


I'm all for staying informed, but it is not good for anyone to have 24/7 access to the news. If you find yourself doom-scrolling on the regular or consistently feeling exhausted and depressed by the state of the world, I would highly suggest a detox from social media, and maybe from your phone and the internet altogether. I know this isn't entirely realistic - most of us have jobs that require us to use the internet - but set serious boundaries with yourself for a while about what you will choose to consume. Keep it to work emails and some light YouTube. Stay far away from social media and any platform like Reddit or Twitter which constantly blasts news updates at you.


Out of all of the advice I could give, this one really tends to do the most immediate good for our emotional and mental states. A study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that college students experienced a significant change in their wellbeing: "The limited use group [who capped their usage at 10 minutes per day] showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over three weeks compared to the control group [which had no change in usage]. Both groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out over [the] baseline" (Hunt et al., 2018).


In 2022, I spent a good nine months off Instagram and tried to limit my usage of other social media platforms as well. I'm an unfortunate sucker for Reddit, but I was able to bring this down a bit as well. Did my anxiety magically go away? No. But was I a lot more present in my own life, with the people I know and see often, and able to enjoy my surroundings more? Absolutely, without a doubt, yes. I was actually able to build more empathy and authenticity, which in turn helps with giving back in real time, in sustainable ways.



Finally: Reorient yourself with Goodness


Notice interactions between people on the street the next time you're out getting brunch or window-shopping. At least where I live, the social scene tends to be pleasant and friendly. People smile and nod at strangers, ask to pet dogs, and help each other find their next destination. Kids skate in the street without fear of adults yelling at them, and store owners welcome you in. This is privilege, and I thank my guides every day for putting me in such a place, but I know it's out there beyond my town. I know you've witnessed it, and I know it is not a foreign concept. Goodness - capital G goodness - is out there, all over the place.


Amidst the bad news spiral, it is excruciatingly difficult to remember that in a wide variety of realms, things really are getting better. Many things really are better than they've ever been. Worldwide, incomes are growing and absolute poverty is declining. More mothers survive pregnancy and more babies live into adulthood without medical issues, without starvation. We are better fed, better educated, and healthier than ever. We have never been so nonviolent in recorded history. From the perspective of children in school, bullying is decreasing and it is normalized to be accepting of others. That acceptance of queer, neurotypical, minority, disabled, and otherwise "othered" people has translated to the passing of laws for them to live and express freely. A lot of people DO care about the climate crisis and are making sweeping changes to slow its progress.


The world really is getting better. Not everywhere, not all the time, not without steps back. But it is getting better. We cannot forget this.



 

The next time you feel the grip of compassion fatigue beginning to darken your days and blur your view, I hope these tips will help you find your way out of it sooner. As the cliché goes, remember that you are so not alone in it. If you need support, reach out to loved ones - reach out to me! My DMs are open and I always love continuing the conversation about the topics presented here.


If you have any additions to this list of strategies, I would be delighted to hear them. Leave a comment below or follow me on Instagram and lets keep the discussion going. I love you and I'm sending you waves of healing. Lets get through this together.


- Erin 🤍

1 Comment


Ari Garcia
Ari Garcia
Mar 15, 2023

Love your post and helpful tips! I particularly relate to learning to shield ourselves from the outrage in everyday news. I would listen to the news every single day in what I now see as an attempt for me to prove to myself that I cared by staying informed. In reality, I was just filling my day with overwhelming information that was actually just paralyzing. I’ve come to accept that I cannot care about everything and that is ok!!

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