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Compassion Fatigue: The Emotional Toll of Others’ Trauma

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After serving in the Vietnam War, Charles Figley became interested in the concept of trauma and its lasting psychological effects on individuals and their loved ones. Today, Figley's research on compassion fatigue is more relevant than ever, as people are constantly exposed to news and social media content about war, violence, death, and injustice.

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue refers to the emotional and physical exhaustion that can affect individuals who are exposed to others' trauma. It can manifest as symptoms similar to PTSD, including trouble sleeping, being triggered by difficult emotions or memories, and changes in personality or mood. People may also experience emotional numbness and struggle to connect with others.

Who is at Risk?

While health care workers are often at risk due to the nature of their professions, compassion fatigue can affect anyone. Volunteers, such as family caregivers and emergency service volunteers, may be even more susceptible due to the lack of extensive training and personal ties to their chosen cause.

Personal Identification and Triggers

Regular individuals may be more likely to experience compassion fatigue if they personally identify with an issue in the news or if a loved one is experiencing it. Triggers vary from person to person, and it's important to monitor one's emotions during stressful or emotionally taxing times.

How to Combat Compassion Fatigue

If experiencing compassion fatigue, taking a break from difficult news and social media is a good first step. It's essential to differentiate between ignoring a situation and purposefully taking time to recharge. Engaging in personal wellness activities, connecting with people in the community, and volunteering for local organizations can help counter overwhelming feelings.

The Importance of Social Connection

Confiding in coworkers, fellow volunteers, or a therapist can provide a sense of support and alleviate compassion fatigue. Social connection is a crucial element in replenishing compassion and preventing emotional exhaustion.

Remember, compassion is like a tank of gas. If it's not replenished, you'll eventually run on empty.

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