Care Fatigue – When you run out of cope

When we are in a crisis, our bodies go into overdrive to be able to put superhuman effort into survival, whether that is running, fighting, or fixing. Our brains go into overdrive along with the rest of our bodies, improving our intellect, empathy, perception and or reflexes. Sometimes our reaction is the opposite – we hide and shut down.

When the crisis is over, we come down from the hyper state and can show reactions such as fatigue, irritability, shaking and avoidance. When a crisis doesn’t abate, we stay in that heightened state. Long term crisis is bad for humans. While short term stress is good to shake things up and prompt us to get out of a slump or groove, long term stress creates unhealthy patterns, makes us more prone to illness. Our mental state can become aggressive, anxious and or depressed.

If we are not alone in the crisis, we can become care fatigued. Care fatigue is where your empathy for the suffering of others becomes overwhelming. Consequences of this are frequently being far more emotional about everything, or becoming numb to everything. We can either want to act and fix everything, or we feel powerless and just want to shut everything out and yell “la la la” until everything has gone away.

If the crisis is big and pervasive, it won’t just go away. We must act. However we can’t always act. We need to care for ourselves and take breaks, have some down time, recover our strength and then go back and push for solutions again. It is fine to turn the screens off for a few days to get some distance, before going back into the quagmire again. It is fine to let someone be wrong because this is not the fight you have the strength for. It is fine to lose your shit at someone who is being offensive occasionally, because you are too tired to be calm in the face of their irrationality. Take a breath, take a break, and then try again.

Anxiety increases when we perceive a problem that is outside of our control. As an example, I am currently witnessing reports of the East side of Australia burning and the North West side flooding. I live in the South West of Australia and can do nothing direct about these things. I am currently witnessing our countries leaders continue to deny 40 years of research on an international scale that says the problems we are experiencing are being directly contributed to by climate change. These and many more things can make me feel very powerless. And indeed, there is little to nothing I can do to directly affect these things. They are so far away and so far beyond my power to affect.

So it is important to look at what I can do. I need to make far away more local. I can and have changed the way I live to ameliorate my own impact on the climate. I can try to educate those around me to ensure that people are woke to the old science of climate change. I can support our local firies and speak to my local politicians to ensure that their future plans are green. I can attend protests and be linked in to XR (extinction rebellion) and other groups that are focused on trying to stop the destructive policies. When I can, I donate to good causes. I paid for a years worth of The Guardian online paper simply because their reporting is accurate and I want to encourage that.

When I take these actions, I feel like I am achieving something at a level that I can affect. Believe me, if I could, I would wade into Parliament and sack the lot of them. But I can’t. So it is important to look at what I can do and go and do it. In the doing, I feel better, and I can see the changes that I have made. I can then encourage others to do the same and if that works, the world will be different.

While one person cannot push back against the world of people, a world of people can push back against the threat to humanity. I can’t make every person act. But I can make me act. And if I can encourage you to join me, then that makes two of us. Now you go prompt someone to stand and act – soon it will be all of us.

Hand squishing a stress ball shaped like a brain
Stress can sometimes feel like someone is squeezing your brain