Animals can bring us so much joy, showing us true loyalty and unconditional love. But working with animals, and dedicating your career to improving protections for animals, has been shown to significantly impact mental health, here is a look at Managing Emotional Fatigue & Burnout In A World Of Animal Suffering.
Mental health challenges felt by animal rescue workers are often due to what psychologists call “compassion fatigue.” According to Psychology Today Canada, compassion fatigue occurs when someone has prolonged exposure to trauma, which can include witnessing animal suffering. “Symptoms of compassion fatigue can include exhaustion, disrupted sleep, anxiety, headaches, and stomach upset, as well as numbness, a decreased sense of purpose, emotional disconnection, and problems with personal relationships,” writes Psychology Today Canada.
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And it’s not just animal care and protection workers who can experience fatigue of this kind. More and more online videos are shining a light on the cruelty and suffering that animals face. To educate ourselves on the issues can mean being exposed to upsetting content but it’s a powerful tool to make the changes necessary to give animals better lives. We can’t turn away.
So, how can you manage helping animals and maintaining a healthy balance? One of the ways that individuals can combat and manage this type of trauma is to practice self-care, including speaking with a therapist or psychologist, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, spending time with nature, enjoying time with loved ones, and exploring personal hobbies.
We interviewed two long-serving campaigners at World Animal Protection Canada to find out if they’ve experienced compassion fatigue, and what advice they have for others.
Melissa is the Canadian Campaign Director and is responsible for overseeing the delivery of national campaigns to improve the welfare of animals. She has been leading campaigns to protect animals and the environment for 18 years.
Lynn is the Campaign Manager working on our oceans and farming campaigns and has worked in animal protection and advocacy for over 10 years.
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Do you experience emotional burnout and/or compassion fatigue? What often causes it?
Melissa: Yes. I sometimes get depressed and overwhelmed when I don’t have enough time to accomplish everything I want to do. Campaigners don’t typically work 9-5 – we are always cognizant of our amazing donors who support our work and trying to make sure we are doing everything we can to make the most of their contributions to help animals. There is always more we can do and it’s hard to say no and set personal boundaries. Every request has potential to help animals but there’s only so much we can do. It’s also emotionally draining to hear, witness and document countless stories of animal cruelty and then deal with the fact that change is frustratingly slow and incremental. There’s only so much your heart can handle.
Lynn: I experience fatigue yes, but not burnout. The main thing is taking on too much and not feeling like I have enough time to accomplish everything I would like to do, or to do the best job I can. It can feel overwhelming when we consider how hard we must work to make even small changes for animals – we are up against institutions and value systems that believe animal exploitation is acceptable, and thus, even small “wins” take a huge amount of effort.
How do you regroup when you do feel fatigued?
Melissa: Spending time with family, exercise, and especially being outdoors in nature – all helps immensely but it’s a catch 22 because these are typically the first things that get axed when work is busy. There’s nothing like being on a remote lake in the middle of Algonquin Park to recharge.
Lynn: I take time off to relax, socialize and participate in joyful events or activities that can help to re-energize me – for example, take vacation or simply some time off at home to relax, do something pleasurable like seeing a movie, play or concert.
What advice would you give to other eco-advocates and animal welfare advocates to combat this sort of emotional fatigue?
Melissa: Be kind to yourself and prioritize your wellbeing. You will be a better advocate for animals and the planet by doing so.
Lynn: Take a break to re-energize and re-group; it doesn’t help the animals if you crash, can’t work or can’t focus.
How do you stay inspired to keep going, keep working for animals?
Melissa: Our loyal and passionate donors and the achievements we’ve made for animals thus far keeps me going.
Lynn: There is so much work to be done for animals. They are exploited and suffer in mass numbers, mostly as a result of human activity. They deserve to be respected and treated better. Helping them to achieve better protections and elevate their status so their suffering is lessened is what inspires me to keep working hard on their behalf.
What do you do to manage compassion fatigue? Tweet World Animal Protection Canada at @MoveTheWorldCA to let them know.