When you’re caring for an animal, you need to remember to take care of yourself and your own mental well-being. Marie Miguel has been a writer and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. In our latest blog, Marie takes a deeper look at compassion fatigue and how to look after yourself while carrying out the important role of caring for animals.
What is Compassion Fatigue?
Compassion fatigue is also known as secondary traumatic stress or vicarious trauma. It is the physical and emotional effect that may occur when you are working with animals or humans. As a caretaker, you are exposed to many different stories, and not all of them are positive. From tales of starving lions to the world of dolphin welfare, these stories can stack up and have a negative effect on you.
Sometimes, being invested in animal welfare can give you compassion fatigue. If you are an extremely empathetic person, news stories about animal suffering can be detrimental to your mental health, and you may not know what to do. Your empathetic fuse may blow up, and you could lose all feelings of sympathy you have.
Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue is experienced in different ways depending on who you are, but there are many common symptoms that one may face, including:
- You feel physically and mentally exhausted. You have trouble focusing, and you could have insomnia, which could make things worse. When you do sleep, you may have more nightmares and have a hard time opening up about them.
- You feel like everyone’s suffering is a burden, and you may even blame them. An overload of compassion could turn you against the people that you care for. With animal welfare, you may start to believe that animals dying is just a part of life, and you could feel apathetic about taking care of them.
- The activities that you loved to do don’t seem fun anymore. Losing pleasure in activities that you used to love is a classic sign of depression, and one that you must handle as soon as possible.
- Your performance at work could suffer. You may end up not performing as well as you should, and your coworkers or clients may complain about your performance and your attitude. You may end up complaining about the job that you love.
- You may feel hopeless and try to drown these feelings with drugs or alcohol, which is never a healthy solution.
Preventing and Treating Compassion Fatigue
If you realise you might have compassion fatigue, that deserves recognition. Many people who have compassion fatigue are not aware of it, or could be in denial. Educating yourself about compassion fatigue and learning more about why it happens is a powerful first step. Below are some evidence-based ways that you can prevent and treat compassion fatigue.
Take Time for Yourself
Taking care of animals is important, but you must take care of yourself as well. Compassion fatigue tends to be due to spending too much time taking care of others while not bothering with your own self-care. Eat right, exercise, get as much sleep as possible, enjoy some downtime, and do anything else that you enjoy. Prioritising self-care has been shown to prevent compassion fatigue.
Make Sure That You Have Friends Outside of Animal Care
While having friends in animal care is important, you also need to make sure you have friends that can help you take a break from that world. Spend some time with your friends and family, and this can help you quite a bit.
Be Mindful of Your Feelings
Practising mindfulness can help you defeat any thoughts that bring you down and keep you focused on the present. Take some time out of the day to meditate and write down how you feel about your emotions. By doing this, you can be more mindful of how you feel and find possible triggers for your emotions.
Another way to help educe these emotions is to learn how to cope with them. By practising coping strategies that are positive whenever you’re feeling down, you can succeed. Examples of positive strategies include taking a hot bath, getting enough rest, enjoying what you love, and anything else that makes you feel happy.
Resilience is how you are able to recover from a stressful situation. Some people learn resilience easily, and with others, it takes time. Being resilient to the negative emotions and situations that you face can help you better learn how to manage them.
At your workplace, it is important that you spread awareness about compassion fatigue and its effects. In the animal care world, there may be more people who are feeling the way you do. A workplace that implements excellent mental healthcare can help to reduce any instances of compassion fatigue and help everyone get back on their feet. From mental health check-ups to going to a therapist on-site, improving how you work can reduce and treat compassion fatigue.
Remember, the Mental Health of the Animals Are Important, Too
In animal care, it’s important to be mindful of the mental health of the animals you take care of. Many animals can get depressed, anxious, or feel other negative emotions, and these can rub off on you. Make sure you are taking every measure to protect the mental health of the animals you’re working with, including the protection of their natural habitats.
If you have compassion fatigue or other mental health issues, it’s important to seek the help of a licensed therapist. A therapist can help you identify the cause of compassion fatigue and teach you how you can prevent it. When you are feeling your best and you are mentally strong, you will be the most able to help protect the mental health of animals. Animals are a crucial part of our ecosystem, and as humans, we depend on them to maintain our ecosystem’s balance.
Of course, being in the animal care business, it’s difficult to take the time to schedule an appointment. This is where online therapy platforms like BetterHelp offer solutions. If you’re experiencing compassion fatigue, you can access the tools you need to move forward in healthy ways – all from the comfort and privacy of your own home.
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