1. Never-ending volume of animals needing assistance
2. Dealing with an ignorant public
3. Trying to do all you can with limited resources
4. Little or no life outside of rescueThe first step toward dealing with CF is to realize what is going on. Recognizing the symptoms can help us identify the problem and take steps to deal with it. I was able to compile is a list of common symptoms of the condition. (Please note that not all of these need to be present to be experiencing animal care burnout.)
Apathy; hopelessness; decrease in pleasure; symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression; sleeplessness or nightmares; gastrointestinal problems; exhaustion; sense of losing “self”; sense of hopelessness or helplessness; feeling that our efforts are futile; wanting to quit; sudden anger or sadness; self-destructive behavior (drinking, drugs, over-eating, gambling, retail therapy); loss of productivity; inability to focus; and self-doubt.Many of us were taught from a very early age to think first of others. To put other’s needs before our own. To become “caregivers”. There is nothing wrong with taking care of others…as long as we remember to take of ourselves as well. During the safety talk on every airline the attendant instructs us to, in case of need, place the oxygen mask on ourselves first before helping other with theirs. We must be able to breathe to be effective for others. [bp_related_article] There is no knowing if or when you are at risk of “burnout”. It isn’t more prevalent in men or women, it doesn’t affect anyone based on age or length of time in the field. It does tend to affect people who do not have a clear boundary between home and rescue. If you think you might be moving towards CF, there is a wonderful self-test that you can take at home. There's even a hand-out specifically designed for animal welfare professionals. What it comes down to is being aware of what is going on and taking steps to address it. Dr. James Fogarty, an expert in stress management, has some great suggestions, including:
1. Talk about your experiences with enough detail that you can connect emotionally with what happened.
2. Acknowledge and safely express your feelings
3. Brainstorm options and take action
4. Take care of yourselfThe best way to take care of yourself is to make sure to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep and have interests outside of animal welfare. Make yourself leave the house and take part in social activities in the “real world”. Spend time with friends who are not involved in rescue. Get out and experience nature. Take a nap. Take a walk, with a dog or alone. My writing actually serves to help me with my own sense of burn-out. The research I am doing helps me formulate a plan to deal with animal welfare issues, and gives me a sense of power and control. It allows me to concentrate on the positive rather than just the sense of overwhelming need. It is just as important to be aware of what we are personally putting out there, in our posts, writing, and pictures. Are we concentrating on the negative to the degree that we are affecting how other's begin to feel? Take a moment to share the successes as well as the urgent needs. Doing something fun or silly for animal welfare is just as beneficial as sharing the critical issues. The Pin-ups for Pit Bulls Calendar has been a great fundraiser, because it is fun and upbeat. Laughter is a great release and an excellent tool to promote mental health. We all need to have a sense that we are actually making a difference, that things aren't as dire as we fear. Humor can help us do that. If you start feeling like you can’t do enough to help, you need to take a step back and do something pleasurable for awhile. We can’t just concentrate on the mountains we still have to climb…every once in awhile we need to take a moment to celebrate the ones we have already conquered.
All images via JC Johnson (unless stated otherwise)