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Compassion fatigue epidemic strikes America

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People are beginning to show the signs of, what is being coined “compassion fatigue”. Apathy, isolation, and substance abuse are but a few of a long list of symptoms associated with the stress disorder.

Compassion fatigue is also known as secondary traumatic stress (STS), a condition which is characterized by an individual’s gradual lessening of compassion over time. Symptoms include hopelessness, decreased experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, sleeplessness, nightmares, and a general pervasive negative attitude.

First diagnosed in nurses in the 1950s, the condition was common among individuals that work directly with trauma victims. Hearing and witnessing horrific stories of abuse and other traumas can be very stressful.

Some argue that today’s form of media has caused widespread compassion fatigue in society. People are overwhelmed, numb and cynical. Eventually this causes a resistance to helping people who are suffering.

As Christians we are reminded in Colossians 3:12 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (13) Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (14) And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Reducing compassion fatigue means working with feelings as they occur. Stress reduction practices have been shown to be effective in preventing and treating compassion fatigue. Take a break. It is okay to step back from things to regain your strength and perspective. Breathing exercises, exercising, and recreational activities are all anxiety reducers.

A good social network can help maintain balance in life. Relationships, from colleagues to pets, promote a positive psychological state and can protect against feeling down and overwhelmed. A positive attitude, a sense of humor, self confidence, being curious in life, always focusing on the positive, and remembering to feel gratitude are all known to be helpful.

With today’s 24-hour non-stop news updates, our minds are continually bombarded with negative stories and our hearts and souls are overwhelmed. Quiet time alone in reflective daily contemplative prayer, basking in the love, guidance and support of the Holy Spirit, can be a powerful tool as well.

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