I used to get home from work and cry the moment I walked in the door far more often than I do now.
Last February, I packed up my ten years of producing prowess in the film/television/commercial industry, moved across the country, and landed a job in the video department at a leading animal rights organization. As a vegan for eighteen years and counting, there was no other place that I wanted to bring my skills to, knowing that I wanted to make a real difference in the world and take my animal rights activism to the next level.
Holy s*$!, though, I couldn’t have been prepared any less.
It’s safe to conjecture that vegans are amongst the most compassionate and sensitive members of the human population. Our lifestyle seeks to end the exploitation of animals, humans, and the environment–since, yes, all three are abused in the name of animal products. That’s a tall order and a lot of responsibility to take on.
Over the past year and a half, I have grown in more ways than I could have foreseen and have also tumbled more than ever before. After several rounds of trial and error, I settled on a system of behaviors that allows me to be the most effective activist that I can be, while also taking care of my body, mind, and soul.
Self-Care Essentials for Avoiding Compassion Fatigue
1. Compassion Fatigue is REAL. Acknowledge How it Manifests For You.
Admittedly, when I first heard the term “compassion fatigue,” I thought it was a whole lot of yuppie hooey. According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, the symptoms of compassion fatigue “are normal displays of chronic stress resulting from the care-giving work we choose to do” with such symptoms including isolation, apathy, recurring colds, compulsive behavior, and poor hygiene. Sound familiar? Becoming aware of these symptoms before they hit a breaking point is the first step to actually engaging in self-care and thus an essential for this list. I can always tell when I’m on the brink of physical and spiritual fatigue when my normally iron-clad immune system (thanks, vegan diet!) fails me by cultivating those all-too-irritating head colds, and when I start ordering too much take-out instead of cooking myself something nutritious for dinner. Be kind to yourself, realize that compassion fatigue affects even the most seasoned activists, acknowledge both your incredible strength & beautiful vulnerability, and divert your feelings to methods of self-care that work best for you.
2. Try Visualization Exercises.
The only time that I can stay still is when I’m sleeping (and the jury is even out for that). Chalk it up to being a native New Yorker, but my body and my mind need me to get up, walk around, and be active–relaxation is not something that comes naturally or easily to me. That said, building a simple practice of sitting (or, my favorite, lying down) and visualizing a world without animal suffering for 15-30 minutes a day (okay… as often as I can) has been a tremendous asset in re-centering my focus and keeping my eye on the prize. I have friends who do this while practicing vinyasa flow yoga, and while I wish that I was that coordinated, I have found podcasts for yin yoga–a method of deep, slow, seated stretches that last as long as an “average” yoga class–that allow me the space to cultivate these visualization exercises on a more intense level, engaging both my body and my mind.
3. Network (No, Really).
Being around large groups of people has never been my forte. At any sort of gathering, I beeline for a friend or two and stick with them for the rest of the evening (or until my hour of socializing quota is filled, whatever comes first). Better yet, staying at home and trying to figure out everything on my own has been my M.O. for as long as I can remember, even though I’m fortunate to have a close-knit group of friends and family that I know that I can rely on, but rarely do. Remember point 1–isolation being a symptom of compassion fatigue? Do your best to remember that the community is supportive of you and that reaching out to your fellow activists for support isn’t a sign of weakness but a sign of solidarity and strength. This, too, took me a lot of time to learn and trust in, but the payoff has been beyond measure.
4. Cultivate Outside (Literally) Hobbies.
Mother Nature is your best friend, and one of the reasons why you’re doing the work that you do. Take time to recalibrate with her, and yourself, by spending time outdoors. Whether it’s walking, hiking, biking, surfing, or whatever outdoor activity you enjoy, put your phone on mute and connect with the thing that gives everything else life.
5. Put Those Chips Down and Eat an Apple.
We’ve heard it time and again: you are what you eat. That’s why we all chose veganism in the first place! I don’t know about you, but when I start to up the ante of pad see ew takeout, tater tots, and semisweet chocolate chips, I feel like garbage and not particularly energized to change the world. As simple and obvious as it is, eating healthily and mindfully is a real challenge when you’re emotionally overloaded and want to hug yourself on the inside with vegan donuts. While you’re certainly entitled to treat yo’self, be sure to remind yo’self to eat whole foods and to drink plenty of water. If you know that you’re about to encounter an especially challenging week, stock your fridge ahead of time with snacks and meals that are guaranteed to keep you energized, nourished, and healthy.
Remember that self-care is a toolkit that shouldn’t be neglected, and that takes time to build. Depending on where you are (both literally and metaphorically), you might need to add things, modify things, or remove things. Certain modes of self-care that worked for me six months ago don’t work for me anymore, and the journey of finding things that work for ME has been equal parts frustrating and enlightening. Being an effective activist for other beings hinges on being an effective activist for yourself first, and dang, you are worth it!
What are your self-care essentials?
Also by Sara: Why Vegans Should Identify as Feminist (& Vice Versa)
Related: How Yoga Teaches Us Self-Care
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