Tired of #RESISTing? Here's How to Cope With Compassion Fatigue
I was one of those assholes who said they were going to move out of the country if you-know-who got elected. I just *lies down on fainting couch* couldn't fathom what America would do.
In October 2016, I applied for an international scholars program and crossed all my fingers and toes. Studying Italian feminist artists was going to be my escape.
Welp, I'm writing this post in English so you can guess what happened. Despite my devastation, I'm really glad that I stayed here in the US; experiencing all of the emotion and history-in-the-making firsthand has changed so much of my worldview. I don't think I would have been able to say that if I was a gajillion miles away.
But processing anger and frustration on a daily basis is fucking tiring.
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Between 24 hour news cycles and the ubiquity of social media, it's easier than ever to find your protest passion project. No longer are you relegated to plastering a "Save the Whales" sticker on your Subaru and hoping to change someone's mind while sitting in bumper to bumper traffic; now you can tweet about it, too. But with that ease comes the paradox of choice: how do you select the one (or few) causes to care most about? When there is so much suffering in the world, how do you stop yourself from getting "compassion fatigue"?
Compassion fatigue, for those unfamiliar, is a feeling of distress caused by LITERALLY CARING TOO MUCH. Often experienced by nurses & caregivers, compassion fatigue can produce symptoms such as isolation, emotional outbursts, deep sadness, and more. It's the real deal, and I believe it's having real effects on today's activists. I'll use myself as an example:
Everyday, I wake up with the CNN & New York Times alerts already on my phone's lock screen. I get ready in the morning to my favorite news podcasts: Pod Save America, NPR's The1A, etc. At work, I play foreign policy shows in the background; BBC's Global News is a favorite. And on my way home, I get my economics fix with Marketplace.
No wonder I live alone.
Really, I'm just fascinated with learning about the world around me. And about the people around me—how we're different and, more importantly, how we're the same.
But this fascination turned to obsession in November 2016 after I learned that many Americans didn't feel the same way I did. From that point on, I started doing more than listening to podcasts. I began contributing to the conversation.
But it isn't always easy. When I first started, I experienced those same symptoms associated with compassion fatigue: I isolated myself because I had very few people to talk to IRL about my favorite causes. I picked fights with friends. Most of all, I felt extreme sadness for the people I could not help.
I want to bring the idea of compassion fatigue from the wellness community to activists for one big reason: it's a long way to the 2018 midterms, and even longer to 2020. If we don't stop to self-examine, identify, and modify our stress levels, we can get seriously burned out. And when we get burned out, we stop fighting for the causes we believe in and allow a "racist scrotum dipped in Cheeto dust" to become president (thanks to Patton Oswalt for that gloriously disgusting visual).
So if the last nine months have also felt like nine years to you...if you've felt overwhelmed, lost, or out of control, here's what I recommend to remedy what might be your compassion fatigue:
Make Your Awareness National & Your Activism Hyper-Local
If you're tuning out of the political discussion altogether, you're privileged. Period. Not many people can ignore what might happen to their healthcare or undocumented relative. But if you're paying attention & unsure of how to help, start within your community.
Volunteer or look for events located in your town that address the issues you care most about. You may not feel like you're saving the world, but you will see firsthand the benefits of working for a meaningful cause.
I can only speak on my behalf here but I think a lot of my compassion fatigue comes from a need to be "the problem-solver". When I can't fix something, I blame myself. I think of all the things I could have done differently and obsess over the imaginary outcomes.
With a lot of practice, I've mostly learned to accept what I cannot control. If you're in the same boat, put that thing in autopilot (do boats have those?) and forgive yourself for not being able to fix everything. Literally say the words, "I forgive myself." It helps. It may sound silly but I promise that phrase has magical powers.
Practice Self-Care That is Unique to You
You cannot give out if you are not filled up. Take time to do an activity that recharges you and you will be surprised by how much it strengthens you.
Bubble baths and binge-watching Parks & Recreation may not be your best way to practice self-care, so think carefully about what makes you feel best (but P & R is pretty great). Whatever you do, find a substance-free activity that relaxes you and work it into your weekly schedule. Believe me, there is time for it.
Have you ever experienced compassion fatigue? What helps you unwind without falling off the wagon? Share your thoughts in a comment below!