The cataclysmic events of recent months have made me consider how we find the balance between compassion and helplessness at times of disaster.
With the immediacy of social networking and the media it’s very easy to get dragged into the emotional rollercoaster of disaster reporting. But after repeated viewings of horrific footage we tend to move from open-mouthed disbelief, to despair, sadness and finally desensitization.
So how do we connect in a healthy way to a disaster outside of our own life without being consumed by emotion or switching off?
Ways to overcome compassion fatigue
Meditate: By consciously letting go of the drama and becoming centred, meditation is the simplest way to regain our compassion mojo.
While meditation doesn’t change what is going on in our world, it can help us alter the way we respond to it. In a way it “heals the mind” to help us be less reactive to the stresses of daily life.
Read more about how and why to meditate
Switch off the box: Sometimes we feel compelled to remain in the loop, even if there’s nothing new to report. However it can help to limit media exposure, especially repeated, disturbing images. Studies have shown that we can be negatively impacted by such media reporting, to the point of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, from watching disasters on television.
Pat a pet: Spending time with a loved cat or dog lowers our physiological reaction to stress.
Think global, act local: When we can’t actually pick up a shovel or rebuild a devastated village, we can still offer hands on help in our own community. Find a cause that resonates, donate blood, get involved in your neighbourhood and offer someone a hand.
Donate money: More than anything else emergencies are expensive. Even developed countries feel the pinch. When we don’t have specialized skills that can directly help those in a disaster-ravaged location, money is the next best thing. Even a little helps. Consider what you buy to bring you comfort – books, movies, music or recreational eating and drinking? Donate the equivalent you’d spend on comfort buying over a week, a month or a year.
Learn First Aid: Until the first quake in September 2010, the people of Christchurch didn’t know they were at risk of a high magnitude earthquake. The fault that developed under the city was new. Even when you think you don’t live in a disaster-prone location, the unexpected can strike. Be prepared. The least we can do is to know how to save a life.
Be kind: It’s not unusual to feel a little frayed when all we hear is bad news. Be gentler on yourself and those around you. Cut yourself and others some extra slack. Learn to change your reaction to stress.
Think positive: It may feel like the world as we know it is coming to an end but we are a resilient species. War, famine, flood, fire and quakes are not new. Humans have an incredible ability to recover.
Reconnect with nature: A recent study has shown being outside in nature improves vitality. In another study the same author, Richard Ryan of Rochester University, showed that spending time in nature makes up more caring. “Exposure to natural as opposed to man-made environments leads people to value community and close relationships and to be more generous with money”.
“Nature is fuel for the soul”
How do are you dealing with this extraordinary run of disasters?