“Compassion fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.”
- Dr. Charles Figley
Secondary traumatic stress is like post-traumatic stress, except it is experienced by those who have witnessed trauma. This includes witnessing through a screen, for example being exposed to horrific images online. As caring individuals, it can be hard to turn away from these, as we tend to focus on what we can do for others and neglect our own needs. This can lead to burn out and this is one of the biggest reasons that people stop fighting for the rights of others.
Ending animal experimentation is a long-term goal, and to successfully achieve this we need the people opposed to vivisection to be a part of this movement for the long haul. It is unreasonable to expect ourselves to still be fighting effectively for these animals in 10 years if we are neglecting our mental health today.
It is important that we learn how to recognise when we are experiencing something like compassion fatigue, and that we learn to implement coping methods to deal with these stresses.
Symptoms of compassion fatigue include:
- Sense of hopelessness
- Intense or misplaced anger
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty enjoying life and activities once enjoyed
- Reclusive behaviour
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss/weight gain
What to do if you are experiencing compassion fatigue:
Sometimes you need to focus on caring for yourself and if you are experiencing compassion fatigue, this is one of those times. The best advice we can give is to try your hardest not to feel guilty about taking time for you and your mental health. At times, you may need some support, and that is okay! There is a lot of support available and we will link our go-to resources at the bottom of this article.
Some small steps towards wellness can include making room for the things that bring you joy; implementing habits that support your mental wellbeing; de-stressing through healthy activities such as physical exercise, relaxing to music, eating well, etc.
At the moment you might really need to focus on caring for yourself. We can continue the fight if you need to take a break. NZAVS has achieved many important victories in the past, and our progress is only going to grow.
Look after yourself. We owe it to ourselves, the people around us, and the animals.
For more information visit:
- The Crisis Helpline.
- The Activist Burnout Resource by EffectiveVegan.com.
- In Defense of Animals has a fantastic list of compassion fatigue resources for animal activists here.