Compassion fatigue is one of the new buzzwords in the field of psychotherapy and beyond. It’s used by media, it’s discussed at conferences and recently it also featured in the latest issue of the New Psychotherapist, by the UKCP.
It might be a buzzword, but what does it mean? In this fourth instalment of the #Mentalhealthawarenessweek series, we will explore compassion fatigue, from what it is to what can be done about it.
What is compassion fatigue?
Compassion fatigue, sometimes also known as disaster fatigue, is a very recent term, first coined by psychologist Charles Finley. It refers to a state of physical and emotional fatigue or exhaustion caused by exposure to distressing and emotional content, also known as compassion stressors.
In other words, compassion fatigue is what happens when you are exposed too much to any kind of content like natural disasters, accidents, attacks, wars or violence.
It’s called compassion fatigue because of the effect that being exposed to the above-mentioned types of content creates. In a world full of violence and unexplainable disaster, if we let ourselves feel the full compassion each happening deserves, we would soon find ourselves completely burnt out and probably experience some form of PTSD.
In order to survive, we have to disconnect and this is what compassion fatigue is: it is a disconnection from our own sense of compassion, because of the overload of news, content and social media access.
Why does it matter now?
So why am I writing about compassion fatigue? You might have already guessed it.
Now more than ever we might find ourselves suffering from it without even realising. The lockdown actually increases the chances of developing compassion fatigue.
Every day we are bombarded by news about overcrowded hospitals, rising death tolls, and maybe someone in our circle of friends has had first-hand experiences of the Covid-19.
Because we are also isolated, the possibility for support is diminished and therefore, to survive, we must switch off and disconnect from what we read. Do you remember how stressful and intense it was (maybe still is) to find out that so many people were (are) dying because of the virus? And do you remember how hard it was to adapt to this new reality and know that you might catch the coronavirus any time you went out?
We have had to normalise everything. And we have had to retreat to our smaller realities. For some, this normalisation is still happening and that’s okay: this situation is not normal.
What can I do?
So many people (including the NHS) are now calling for a decreased intake of news and social media. And many more are finding themselves looking for ‘positive news’ nowadays. I think there is something really healthy about that. There is only so much stress that we can take, and creating healthy and safe boundaries is part of psychological maturity.
Apple News sends me updates every day, so I am pledging to change the settings so that I will stop getting notifications on my phone.
Another thing I want to do is talking about compassion fatigue with my therapist. If there is one thing I know is that if I let things slip unnoticed and unprocessed, they will come back to the surface of my awareness at some other point.
So, before the lockdown ends, I am going to, first of all, be kind to myself and accept that I cannot care deeply about everything I see on the news and then, I am going to give myself the space to grieve, to process and to (hopefully) find a healthy way to feel compassion.