The thoughts and feelings rising from this current pandemic can be so exhausting.  There is many a day I get to the point of feeling completely and utterly spent, drained, “done.”  The strain of tending to family members, friends, clients, random people in the public.  Sometimes you are just so tired of caring about it, tired of talking about it, tired of adjusting to it, problem -solving, finding good things from it- just tired.  Sometimes numb. Empathy starts to wane, apathy sets in.  So many similarities to common grief responses.  Anyone who has experienced loss can relate on some level.

According to the National Institute of Stress, “Compassion Fatigue” is a condition which the institute defines as “the emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events.  It differs from burn-out, but can co-exist.  Fatigue can occur due to exposure on one case or can be due to a “cumulative” level of trauma”. 

COVID-19 is experienced as a trauma do some degree by many.  Indeed, the first responders and healthcare workers may be totally feeling the effects right now and are still showing up daily working long hours witnessing awful events.  But you don’t have to be in one of these professions to have the symptoms commonly seen in compassion fatigue and grief of apathy, sadness, purposeless, low motivation, feeling emotionally raw, irritable, spaced-out, easily angered or frustrated, inpatient, testy. 

Rick Hanson, Ph.D., respected psychotherapist, author of several books and weekly BeingWell podcasts, speaks to the subject of Compassion Fatigue and suggests a coping strategy that includes a gentle mindset.

Here is are some thoughts he offers:

  1. Taking refuge in “service”– the duty of the provider, in whatever capacity that is, to care for the needy, the sick. There is purpose and meaning behind this work.  Of course, this is not limited to healthcare providers. Parents cooking and cleaning constantly, reviewing school academics and physical education with their children. The duty of educators creatively exploring new methods of instruction and dealing with tired and overworked parents and restless children. Grocery workers, janitors, Amazon drivers, etc. – their duty in those jobs to help others receive goods and services.
  2. Getting in touch with all of the difficult emotions experienced– sadness, apathy, frustration, anger, feeling it on a bodily level, leaning into it, expressing it.
  3. Acknowledge the positive emotions of feeling helpful, productive, kind, loving, valuable.  Embody those too.
  4. Embrace the spirit in comradery, the feeling that we are in this together, and we will get through this time, we are here for each other.
  5. Acknowledging philosophically the idea – we are a smaller part of a larger part.

As a movement psychotherapist, I think it can be especially powerful to find body movements to go with each of these ideas.  The power of movement, of the mind/body connection, can take these ideas one step further. With Dr. Hanson in mind, here are my own interpretations:

  1. Find movements to express all of the difficult emotions relating to the fatigue- how does your body move when it’s: tired, apathetic, numb, not motivated, angry, frustrated, helpless (feel free to add to the list of what you are feeling).  There is no right or wrong way to move- just move, even ever so small.  You can do it from your chair.
  2. Come to a still place.  Now slowly begin to elongate your spine. Look forward.  Focus on the feelings associated with the words: helpful, kind, productive, of service, humble, purposeful, energized, grateful, enlightened.  Move your body to each of these words in a way that makes sense to your body.  Be gentle and refrain from judging yourself. If it’s hard to move the words or feelings I listed, try moving the ‘opposite” of the words associated with the difficult emotions:  anger, helpless, etc. Notice how you feel.  Then come into a quiet, still place again.
  3. Move with the thoughts of being part of, involved, together- a community coming together.
  4. Move with the thought of being small part in a larger people, faith in the longevity of human kind.

This is quite a time for us all.  I wish you the ability to treasure small moments of peace, calm, beauty, love and joy when you can.  Even for 30 seconds.

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