A: Something called “compassion fatigue” may be contributing to this – as the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic grows, it becomes harder for us to process such tremendous losses.
Compassion fatigue is often experienced by the general public as feelings of overwhelm, stress, and decreased empathy in the face of mass human suffering – particularly as we live through a pandemic with more than 346,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, and more than 1.82 million worldwide.
Research tells us that we tend to feel more empathy and compassion for individuals in danger or in need, but as more people are affected, we often see a reduction in that empathy. We can become desensitized to the bad news when it comes in day after day, leaving us awash in statistics instead of touched by individual stories. Some people may even try to cope with this overwhelming time by trying to ignore or diminish the risk of COVID-19 or the pain it is causing people across the world.
The unseen suffering in nursing homes and hospitals shields many people from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. And of course, COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting older people, communities of color, and adults in lower income households, making it easier for people not in those groups to distance themselves from the tragedy.
**So, what can we do?**
Focusing on individual stories can help foster more empathy within ourselves and our community, humanizing these losses. A Twitter account called “Faces of COVID” strives to do just that – posting personal stories of those who we have lost and celebrating who they were. This week in particular, a few organizations, including the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, are hosting a “Together Against COVID” Vigil to honor each individual who we have lost to this disease.
We can also listen more to those on the front lines in healthcare. We have heard many stories from inside ICUs, where a gowned and gloved nurse may be holding up an iPad for a patient so their family can say their goodbyes.
Healthcare professionals are sharing their stories to help those in the community understand what these losses are really like.
If you personally are feeling compassion fatigue, focusing on concrete actions and connections to others can help improve it, such as:
– HEALTHY COPING: Consider building or increase your coping skills to help you deal with your fatigue. Activities like deep breathing, meditating, and practicing mindfulness can help to provide stress relief and refocus your energy. If you can, try to avoid negative coping mechanisms, such as turning to substances to manage your stress. If you feel you may be struggling with drinking or substance use, please read more at our posts linked below.
– INCREASE CONNECTIONS: Chances are, you aren’t the only person in your circle who is feeling some compassion fatigue. It may be helpful to confide in a loved one and share this experience, leaning on them for support and deepening your bond with them during this tough time.
– HELPING OTHERS: Finding a tangible way you can help others – either individually or through an organization – is a great active way to combat your fatigue. Volunteerism, donating to charity, or helping loved ones accomplish even simple tasks can help improve your feelings and compassion.
Empathy and compassion are key tools in empowering ourselves to make sacrifices for the health of our community – even the people we don’t know and will never meet. Until we can get a large number of people vaccinated against this disease, we must try to cope with our compassion fatigue and do everything we can to slow the spread while we await that light at the end of this tunnel.
Stay safe, stay sane,
Those Nerdy Girls
P.S.: We know many in our community are grieving loved ones, and the weight of this pandemic may already feel too much to bear. Please know that we see you and support you. ❤️ We’ve also written on grieving a loved one during this pandemic, if you’re interested in reading more.