Name That Feeling! :: Coping with Compassion Fatigue in an Overwhelming World

I think we’ve all hit this wall. And I don’t mean at one point in your life, I mean right now.

photo of man pointing finger with the word symptoms across

Are you experiencing the following symptoms?

  • physical exhaustion
  • emotional exhaustion
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • irritability
  • difficulty sleeping
  • dissatisfaction with your role at home or work
  • difficulty sleeping
  • headaches
  • brain fog
  • feeling overburdened by the suffering of others
  • blaming others for their suffering
  • excessive use of drugs or alcohol
  • difficulty concentrating
  • change in eating patterns
  • many many more symptoms in this same vein

Well, then you may be experiencing compassion fatigue.

What is Compassion Fatigue, you ask?

woman at laptop with hand on forehead thinking

According to Merriam Webster, compassion fatigue is “the physical and mental exhaustion and emotional withdrawal experienced by those who care for sick or traumatized people over an extended period of time.”

And while this definition refers mostly to those in the medical field, it is very applicable to all of us, particularly mothers, in this current climate.

Here in 2020, we are exposed to a far greater amount of trauma in this social media ruled world. It is literally a 24 hour news cycle of trauma on all social media platforms and television.

And, it’s not only the exposure to trauma, but the expectation that you must do something that causes the fatigue. I have so many causes on my radar right now, it’s a wonder that I ever sleep!

Here are some of the traumas that many of us have witnessed this year:

So, what to do?

Using a 12 step framework, can we admit that these traumas have presented themselves? They are here and there is nothing that we can do to change the fact that they have happened. We our powerless over the past.

However, we are not powerless over is the present and future.

Powerlessness does not mean weak. It means “out of our control,” “already done,” or these things are a “gone pecan.” We cannot change what has already happened.

Some awesome coping skills to manage compassion fatigue are as follows:

image with words such as protect, accept, secure, shield, with a mix of emojis in the star in the middle of the circle

Truly understand that we cannot do everything and save everyone.

This one stings. As a mother, I want to care for anyone and everyone who is hurting. I feel callous and heartless if I pass a cause or traumatic event without looking into it more, donating, or getting involved.

But we cannot pour from an empty cup. There are only so many hours in the day and only so much of you that you can sacrifice to it. Be judicious when choosing your causes or where to focus your energy.

We sometimes need to be in self preservation mode and that’s okay.

Hang with your sweatpants crew

Spend time with people who are low stress and just be. If you don’t have a sweatpants crew yet, just throw on some sweatpants and enjoy yourself. Becoming skilled and comfortable with alone time is extremely therapeutic!

Journal

Maybe it’s the “Dear Diary” type for you or perhaps you need some prompts to get you going. Do a little retail therapy and grab a cute journal and some fun gel pens (I am obsessed with everything OOLY)  and get to writing! Check out this list of 30 journaling prompts on psychology today.

Meditate

A lot of people get intimidated by the idea of meditating. But, let me break it down for you. If you are taking a few minutes and tuning into your own breath and finding 10 seconds of quiet for the mind ….. Bam! You’re meditating! It’s as simple as that.

Guided meditations are also wonderful ways of taking the guess work out of meditation. Click “meditation” for a link to a meditation that I recorded to quell anxiety prior to a hurricane.

Yoga

Much like its cousin meditation, yoga is a great way to quiet the chatter of the mind. We can shut out the traumas that we are witnessing and take time to care for our parasympathetic nervous system. The “rest and digest” area of our nervous system can be activated when practicing yoga or meditating. This helps us to more effectively manage stressful situations.

Check out this restorative yoga sequence from Jessica Allain!

Connect with a friend over FaceTime, not just text

While many are still keeping their social circle tight for safety, it is important to have real human interaction. Make sure that you are connecting with other in a way that you can see their face from time to time. There is much lost without facial expressions!

Find a therapist

If you find that your compassion fatigue is interrupting your life in such a way that it is disrupting your ability to care for you or your family’s needs, it may be time to seek professional help. You can contact your insurance provider for a list of covered therapists or seek an online option like Talkspace.

Break from Social Media

Maybe it’s a temporary break or maybe it’s permanent.

But, if you find that seeing the day in and day out of the World’s trauma happening in real time on social media is too much for you, it’s okay to disconnect.

I have started “muting” certain people temporarily for my own mental health. I found myself becoming anxious every time I saw certain people’s name come up on my newsfeed. So, I muted them and hopefully in 30 days I may be in a better place to deal with what is being brought up. If not, mute again!


I read a quote that said “Almost anything will work if you just unplug it for a few minutes and then plug it back in.”

And, so it is with compassion fatigue.

If we recognize this issue in ourselves, that is half the battle. Unplugging is the coping and plugging back in is living in the world again. We cannot change the traumas that present themselves, but we can change the way that we cope when witnessing them.

Amanda Fuselier
Amanda is a native of Kenner, LA and is now an honorary Cajun. She is married to the most interesting man in world (Joe) with one son (Kael-pronounced like the superfood), one dog (Luna), one cat (Loki) and a partridge in a pear tree. She spends her days working as a social worker/yoga teacher/toddler tamer. Amanda graduated from the University of Louisiana of Lafayette in 2003 and earned her Master’s in social work in 2005 from Louisiana State University. She has worked in the fields of inpatient and outpatient mental health and is now immersed in Hospice and End of life care. For fun, she enjoys long walks with her favorite furry companion (Luna the wonder terrier) accompanied by a disturbing amount of true crime podcasts. She has learned that life is too short - do the things, pet the dogs, drink the drinks, and eat the cake!

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