In the era of 24-hour news updates and growing channels of telecommunication and broadcasting of information via social media and other sources around the world, we have never been more aware of the appalling events that occur around the world every day. Every minute our personal use devices like mobile phones, personal AI assistants buzz with new news notification updates. Regardless of it as trivial as a pop culture celebrity losing her wedding ring or major crisis updates like terrorist attacks, global warming or global political turmoil, we get updated within seconds. But in the face of so much overdose of news, is there a danger that we become numb to the headlines? Can overexposure to the global updates and happenings around the globe affect our mental health and harm our social outlook?
The answer is, Yes, yes it can and there is also a specific psychological term for this state which is ‘compassion fatigue’.Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress (STS), is a condition characterized by a gradual lessening of compassion over time. In this state of compassion fatigue, we are not directly exposed to the trauma scene in the news, but we hear the story told with such intensity, or we hear similar stories so often, or we have the gift and curse of extreme empathy and we suffer. We feel the feelings of those in the news. We experience their fears. We dream of their dreams. Eventually, we lose a certain spark of optimism, humor, and hope. We tire. We don’t become sick as such but we stop being ourselves.
Historically, this condition has always been associated with a certain profession where the professionals as a result of their routine services provided to their clients, eventually grew emotional numbness and depressing state of mind. It was and is still common among professions like Attorneys, Psychologists, Medical practitioners, and Nurses. Mother Teresa very well understood compassion fatigue. She wrote in her plan to her superiors that it was MANDATORY for her nuns to take an entire year off from their duties every 4-5 years to allow them to heal from the effects of their caregiving work.
But in today’s world, this condition is not limited to certain professionals. Individuals particularly teenagers are now at a higher risk of falling prey to this condition. The highest percentage of workers that reporting experiencing some form of compassion fatigue are IT professionals and corporate heads at over 40%. 7% of workers within the helping fields took their last sick day because they needed a mental health day, which is equal to the number of people who took one because of a family situation.
Compassion fatigue symptoms include cynicism, helplessness, emotional overeating, changes in sleep, substance abuse and isolating oneself from others. These symptoms are observed more among teens than any other individual, primarily because of their overexposure to world events via the technological window of social media. Youth today while is actively involved in political, social and ecological issues, somewhere in their brain being indulged in all these movements their mental health is getting affected. 1 in 2 child welfare workers experiences Compassion Fatigue symptoms that fall within the severe range, as per recent studies.
Stand comedian and celebrity show host Hasan Minaj also addressed this issue at the end of the last episode of his Netflix series “The Patriot Act” for the sake of his teen viewers. Creating awareness about global issues at no point is wrong and to get involved and talk and spread awareness about stuff that really matters is important but mental health should also be taken into account. It is like multiple tabs are open in our brain browser resulting in distress and eventually lack of feeling anything and depression.
The American Institute of Stress has researched extensively on Compassion Fatigue and its symptoms, trying to find out its solutions. In layman terms, this STS can be put to rest by trying to talk about the condition you are going thru with someone you trust, but make sure you don’t get indulged in the blame game. Make sure you put your own priorities on the same pedestal as of others. Indulging in a physical exercise is always a good vent out for emotional distress. Thus it’s quintessential that we take a moment, sit back and contemplate, maybe start with concentrating on one issue at a time saving ourselves from the constant news update being bombarded on us. It’s our Compassion and the emotional intelligence that makes us humane, better not lose it to the constant news flash and information overload.