Practical Growth: A Self-Recovery Podcast

Dealing With Compassion Fatigue When the World Is at War

October 19, 2023 Season 3 Episode 314
Practical Growth: A Self-Recovery Podcast
Dealing With Compassion Fatigue When the World Is at War
Practical Growth | Self-Recovery
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In the last week, we have all watched as horrific events have continued to unravel around the globe. It's a lot to take in and process.

There's been a huge debate around these events. Compassion fatigue is real. Do we look away from the horrific events that are happening, to save ourselves? Or do we keep our eyes on the pain occurring in the Middle East and beyond? 

The answer, just like the problem, isn't a simple one. 

No. None of us can afford to look away. Yes. We can burn our compassion out. What is the solution? Finding the balance so you can remain an engaged member of society, who cares for their own needs. 

In this episode, I'll help you understand your compassion fatigue and what you can do to rest and recharge - while remaining engaged in reality. Listen in now for the relief you've been looking for.  

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Practical Growth podcast with me, ebi Johnson, author, nlpmp and cognitive reappraisal coach. This is the podcast created for people like you, people looking for more, more health, more peace, more happiness. Each week, I explore new topic in pop psychology and help you build a better life and better relationships. Join me for special guests, exciting ideas and practical advice that you can use to improve your life from the inside out. Let's get into it. Hello, hello, hello, hello. Welcome back, my lovelies. It is me, ebi. We did it. We're back again for another episode and this one is gonna be eye-opening. As you can probably tell, we're not charging into this one, really, really upbeat. We're gonna be doing what it says on the tin today, and that is going to be talking about something that's gonna be very close to all of us right now because, as everyone listening to this knows, over the last week there's been a terrible unraveling of events in Gaza and there is, you know, a lot of death and destruction and pain on display right now for all the world to see and for a huge portion of those of us who are watching. We're helpless, right? We're helpless, and that's a pretty hard place to be. We're not entirely helpless, but by and large, you know, we're very restricted in the aid that we can offer right now, in this moment. So that's why today we're gonna be talking about compassion fatigue. This has been a big topic, even though people aren't necessarily using the language, because they don't necessarily know that this is a literal, psychological kind of experience. Compassion fatigue, that's something that's been going around, especially, you know, if you saw that TikTok video that went huge, huge, huge from that Good News creator last week, in which this creator said look away, you know, this is really depressing, there's nothing you can do. So stop watching, disengage, just stop watching. And I can understand the sentiment, because we are all to some degree experiencing compassion fatigue, but we also can't look away. So that's what we're gonna be talking about in this episode. How do we confront this compassion fatigue that all of us are feeling? What is it, how does it affect us, what triggers it and, more importantly, what can we do? What can we do? Because if we remain in this place of compassion fatigue, exhaustion, we can't be the ally that you know, struggling people around this need, we can't be a good parent, friend, global citizen. So we have to confront our compassion fatigue. At the same time, we can't look away. So that's what we're gonna talk about today confronting that, finding the balance, and not looking away from the people who need us to carry their stories and to help them in whatever small way we can. First and foremost, we'll just jump right into it. What is compassion fatigue? Cause I know a lot of you are going to be hearing this term for the very first time. Well, according to WebMD, compassion fatigue is the physical, psychological and emotional impact toll that's taken on people from helping others Okay, and that's a very broad term, I want you to hold on to that from helping others. It affects moods, thoughts and your general well-being. When you're experiencing compassion fatigue, it actually gets in the way of your day-to-day life. Now, usually compassion fatigue is kind of assigned to people in the helping and healing industry, so therapists, coaches, doctors, nurses, people on the ground in traumatic environments, people who have to work with traumatized children and families, these kinds of things. But and again, this is broad because that's gonna expand and we're gonna break that down but essentially compassion fatigue is a kind of emotional, psychological, physical exhaustion. It's very, very serious because it does contain physical elements of exhaustion and a lot of people mistake it for burnout, because it can feel a lot like burnout, but burnout is a completely different thing. It's a completely different thing which can be a part of your compassion fatigue. Okay, it's generally kind of seen to refer to and some people get so up in arms when I say this and it's ridiculous because it's scientifically proven but in general, compassion fatigue, you'll hear it referred to as a secondary stress reaction. It can be called secondary shock, secondary traumatic stress and you might even hear it referred to as vicarious trauma. So it's usually linked to people who are regularly in stressful situations, usually for work, but it's people need to understand that therapists right, therapists can be affected by the stories of their patients. The having constant bombardment of very deep, very traumatic stories takes a toll on therapists. They always say like if you're a therapist, you should have a therapist, if you're a coach, you should have a therapist, and that's very, very true, because you spend so much time processing extreme, extreme emotions for other people, extreme stories, extreme circumstance, violence, abuse, and that's heavy. It takes a toll and that is what ultimately leads to compassion fatigue. Let's talk about some of the triggers, because there are some distinct triggers for compassion fatigue and let me tell you. This is where I remember when I said to keep your mind open, it's gonna get broad. This is where it gets broad. Here are some of the triggers of compassion fatigue, just before we get into the signs of it. If you're someone who provides therapy, if you are someone who works in an industry in which, while providing service, you get physically or verbally assaulted, if you're someone who gets confronted with the threat of death or suicide, if you see a lot of death or suicide, providing care in a dangerous environment, caring in the long term for someone who is experiencing depression and you don't have to be a therapist or a doctor, this is just anyone providing care to someone with depression in the long term, anyone who is caring for grieving people, people who are experiencing death and bereavement, especially and this is important, especially the loss of a child. If you're caring for someone who's experienced the loss of a child, if you care for a lot of people who are experiencing the loss of a child, that can have a big, big toll and it can trigger compassion fatigue. Also, providing care under a heavy workload, with excessive demands, day in and day out that can also lead to compassion fatigue. But get this visiting accident scenes and viewing graphic evidence or engaging an extensive reporting of trauma and violence can also lead to compassion fatigue. Now, I know that when you go to FMD, it's going to say therapists and doctors, therapists and doctors, but I want you to imagine this For the last week. You're someone who's working two jobs and trying to take care of your family. You're dealing with the stress of just that, just that part of your life. And now, every single day, every morning when you wake up, every night when you go to sleep, every time you get on Facebook during your lunch break in the middle of the day, you're scrolling Instagram. You're now being confronted. There's constant videos and images of extreme death and violence. All of us now have ingested hundreds of hours, no matter what side of the conflict you're on. This has nothing to do with sides. No matter what side of the conflict you're on, we've all now been exposed to hundreds of hours worth of videos and images of extreme violence. Extreme violence, death, horror, grieving, bereavement, the death of children. It's no wonder that so many people feel as though they are now stepping into a maelstrom of compassion fatigue. And for us to defeat that compassion fatigue which, make no mistake, you do need to get yourself out of this mode. It is so dangerous, this burnout is so dangerous, not just on a physical level, but on a social level, on a societal level, for you to be the best possible ally you can be for the people in need to be a good parent, to be a good friend, to be a good family member, whatever it is, you need to have this compassion. You need to get yourself out of this burnout because you can't show up and be there for people the way you need to be if you're stuck in it. And the best way to do that is to take preventative action before you hit the bottom of the hole. Take steps to bring yourself back up out of that mine, and to do that we have to create intentional space in which we can balance, taking care of our needs, making sure we recharge our batteries and not turning away from reality and what's happening. So what are the signs of compassion fatigue? There are seven concrete signs, and they include cognitive things, they include physical things, they include emotional, psychological signs. So listen up and listen good, because this is big Number one, the first big sign that you might be dealing with compassion fatigue. Mood swings, long term stress erodes your moods and your ability to juggle those moods and to regulate them. This is especially true as you get older. It gets harder to regulate these mood swings when you are stressed and getting older. So these drastic shifts and moods becoming overly pessimistic, irritable, quick to anger that could be a sign. Number two emotional detachment. You start withdrawing from friends, from family. Things just suck or they hurt or they feel numb and you don't take joy in the things that you used to take joy in that sense of numbness, very important to pay attention to. Number three anxiety and depression. Oh, yeah, oh, absolutely. If you are dealing with long term, constant exposure to violence, death, grief, the worst of the worst when it comes to people and what they can do, it can create an anxiety about the world, anxiety about your relationships, about your own life. You start to see everything as dangerous, as bad. You want to pull away from it. You might become overly conscious, obsessed almost, with the idea of death, with the idea of harm. It creates this depression. That again, it leaves you feeling numb, but it also leaves you feeling hopeless and demoralized. You feel powerless, out of control of your own life and that hopelessness just builds. Number four you'll also potentially be experiencing a lot of low productivity in your life, not just at work in your life. If you're experiencing compassion fatigue, you may struggle to show up for your kids. You're not getting to the soccer games on time. You're not showing up to the band concerts or the little art shows. You're struggling to do work when you are at your job. You're struggling to show up for your partner. You're struggling to be a present source of energy in your own life. That's because this emotional burnout, this compassion fatigue, it genuinely physically exhausts you. It creates higher executive dysfunction in your life and that creates a lowered ability for you to organize and structure your work or your personal time. You'll struggle to concentrate. It will literally affect your memory, your cognitive ability. So it's not a joke. Number five insomnia. We're getting into more of these physical symptoms now, but insomnia, this compassion fatigue, can affect your ability to sleep, your ability to stay asleep, your circadian symptoms, and that exhaustion in the sleep department equals exhaustion in your physical body. It also equals lowered immune function, lower endocrine function, all of that stuff that you don't want to be dealing with. Insomnia leads to it. Number six appetite and digestion. Yeah, you might find yourself eating more, eating less, eating junk food, having an obsession with healthy food. There's all kinds of ways that your appetite might be changed because, like if you feel hopeless and out of control, you might find yourself struggling with eating disorder behaviors, whether that's eating too much or eating too little. Trouble with digestion also in there, because as these fluctuations in your diet take place, your digestive tract takes a hit. You might experience inflammation there which can affect again immunity, your mental health. A whole bunch of things not nice. And last but not least, this compassion fatigue, another physical symptom headaches, migraines, nausea, neck tensions, shoulder tension, back problems. All of that adds up from that stress, from you being tense, from you carrying all this emotional burden around without discharging it in a healthy way, without finding that balance which is what we're going to look at now. So if you've got compassion fatigue, how do you beat it? But how do you beat it without turning yourself off? Because the thing is that TikTok video that I mentioned up top, and I can't even remember the creator. They seem very delightful and usually their page is a really, really good source of information or a different way of looking at things, but when this creator said, just turn it off, you can't do anything about it, just turn it off. That was not the right answer, because, if we look away now, we are not being global citizens, we're not being good global citizens. We are a part of this, all of us. We're like a hive of bees on this planet. It's all connected, whether we like it or not, and it's our duty as citizens to not look away, to call our representatives, to stay engaged, to donate money to make sure we're carrying on these stories and these names and things that are happening right, because that's how we make sure it doesn't happen again. So we have to find a balance. How do we get away from this compassion fatigue and still remain an engaged global citizen? Number one if you think that you are experiencing this compassion fatigue, you have to take a and this is important temporary step back. A temporary step back, and here's what that means You're not completely turning off, as that creator recommended. What you're doing is you're saying right, okay, I watched four hours of these stories yesterday. I am now dealing with compassion fatigue. I'm going to watch two hours of these stories today, or I'm going to write a letter to my representative today and I will watch more stories tomorrow, or I'm going to listen to something else and then I'm going to go and read a book about how this conflict built. Whatever it is. You need to take a temporary step back from the things that are causing you the most emotional duress and figure out how you can reengage at a lower energy level so that your internal batteries have some time to balance out and then you can get back into engaging in that high level emotional content. Okay, so take this kind of temporary step back. You're also going to need to number two, incorporate self-care. Incorporate self-care in these temporary windows of time. When you say, right, okay, I'm going to go and step back for two hours or for an afternoon. What you need to fill that time with is things that help you boost, recharge, get your energy back with the intention of re-engaging in the conflict, re-engaging in the struggle. Right, it's like. Think about it as you were the first wave of soldiers. Now you're going to take a step back for an afternoon so that the next wave of soldiers who have been rested, they can step forward. Okay, in that space, you need to be eating better, you need to be drinking a ton of water, taking your medication and listen some people. Right now you might be experiencing really extreme emotional ups and downs and maybe you do need to go and talk to someone and be on medication. Never underestimate that. Self-care is not just like getting a massage, but it can be. That can be a part of it. Get more sleep If you can build an active routine, get outside and walk and make sure you're moving your body. While you're listening to these stories, while you're educating yourself, while you're sharing things, you can get a massage. You can try meditation, cold therapies excellent for your nervous system but also spending quality family times. Do not neglect your present relationships, your family, your friends, your duties, your needs, your desires. In this moment, while you are still doing the work of being a good, engaged global citizen, you can do both. Figure it out. Travel might also be in there, and I always have to say this if you're feeling like you have compassion fatigue, you need to be talking to someone. Okay, you may not be able to handle on your own, especially if you're someone who works in the mental health or physical health fields in this current age and now you're also trying to juggle the events and listen. There's going to be people listening to this as well, who probably have family who are in these events. As a matter of fact, I know there are people listening to this who have family on both sides of the current conflict and they will be dealing with extreme compassion fatigue on top of trying to juggle their day to day lives because we haven't shut the world down for this right. Kids still have to be taken care of, school is still happening, work is still open, so never underestimate reaching out, getting help, getting therapy, getting a coach, whatever you need to do to make sure you're balancing yourself so that you can be engaged and as helpful as possible. And, number three, last but not least, you need to figure out, literally sit down and draw out a compartmentalization plan, and here's what I mean about that. So, over and over again, you can't afford to look away in this moment. We've heard it over and over and over again, and for you to look away right now would be like the people who looked away in World War II, right? So you've got to figure out where is your balance? How can you be the most helpful? When are you the most effective ally and how are you going to build that into your daily schedule? Within that, how are you going to make sure you're getting time for yourself. So maybe each day you spend your mornings reading, learning, watching the videos, sharing the stories, writing your representatives, donating money, and then the rest of the day it is for yourself, it is for your kids, it is for making sure the groceries are done and the bills are paid and the animals are taken care of. Or maybe you do it the other way. Maybe in the mornings you stop doom-scrolling on social media first thing in the morning, you get through your morning, you get the kids off to school, you get yourself through the day, you have your lunch at work, you come home, you have your dinner and then you spend the evening watching these stories, sharing these names, sharing these videos, writing your representatives. Figure out what the balance is in your schedule where you can turn on for those in need and then turn off and turn back on for yourself. That is what we talk about here when I'm talking about figure out the balance to beat your compassion fatigue. So what do you think? Again, the goal of all of this is not to check out, like that TikTok creator said. The goal is to find the balance. There has to be a balance. You have to create both a door and a window for yourself. The doors that you can come and go is the engaged again, global citizen and ally that you need to be. And the window so that, when you step back and take that distance to rest or recharge, you can still watch the battle and make sure you're informed and engaged from a distance so that when you get back in line, you are ready to go, you're ready to help, you're ready to be the citizen that you need to be pushing for the changes that you need to change for. Remember, if your compassion is exhausted, if you are in this state of compassion fatigue, you can't keep battling on through it. You need at least a couple of hours away from the battle to freshen up before you get back in it. At least give yourself that, because you need that compassion. You need to get yourself out of this state of physical and mental exhaustion so that you can think clearly and you can be a true and good ally to those who need it. You need a charged battery. You need to charge batteries so that you can have this conscious balance. Thank you so, so much for listening. I know it was a heavy topic today, but I hope that it has been helpful. I hope you will share this with people. I hope you will listen to it more than once and apply it to every element in your life because, again, this compassion fatigue, it applies across the board. It applies across the board Whenever we're dealing with these high stress situations again, especially for those who are working in these high stress environments, compassion fatigue comes for you hard and you can't just keep fighting through it. You can't, you cannot, so you're gonna have to figure out your balance. Thank you so so much. You know, if you want to find out more about working with me, I am offering one-on-one coaching. I've got a couple of special little packages that are going to be coming up for Black Friday and a current little holiday offering. I've had a lot of requests from people who are nervous about dealing with the holidays with their families. Maybe they have toxic family, narcissistic family, dysfunctional family, but they have to see them. They're not really ready to cut ties or go no contact for whatever reason, which is fine, absolutely fine and they want a plan to navigate the holidays and they want a plan to maybe take care of themselves. They know they're going to burn out during the holidays. They want a plan afterwards so they can hit the ground running in 2024. So I'm offering a special one-hour coaching session for that, and if you want to learn more, you can head to therealebyjohnsoncom. Slash articles For everyone else. If you're interested in working with me, you can again head to therealebyjohnsoncom. Click on working with me, apply, apply, apply. I will be opening a new program in 2024, so you're going to want to be a part of that. Also, follow me on Instagram. You can follow me on TikTok for daily coaching and advice, and I even do some free live coaching sessions on TikTok. So find me there, the real EB Johnson for everyone else. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you for following me on Medium and boosting me on TikTok and Instagram and everywhere else. You guys are the best and I couldn't be here without you, couldn't be doing this. So until next time, keep your heads up, keep your eyes on the stars and keep moving forward. Bye-bye.

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