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Are you suffering from compassion fatigue?

Are you feeling devastated by the high number of bears getting killed, yet working with tireless determination to create a bear smart movement? Does it sometimes feel like an overwhelming task? A thankless job? Like you take one step forward and two backwards? Do you feel as though you may be developing compassion fatigue? Sometimes when compassion is a one-way street; you give all of your energy and compassion to helping a cause, and aren’t able to get enough back to reassure yourself that the world is a hopeful place.

You are not alone. Many of us are feeling it.

What actions can you take to prevent this serious occupational health hazard and risk to animal welfare advocates in general?

The most important step is to acknowledge that you may be experiencing it. All of us have multiple demands and energy drains in our lives – some positive, some negative – which all require a great deal of emotional, spiritual and physical attention. There are, however, many hands-on things you can do to alleviate the feelings of compassion fatigue. For one, start refocusing on yourself. Before you can make the planet a better place, you have to take care of your own well-being.

This can be as simple as getting plenty of rest, eating well and exercising daily (even if that is giving the punching bag a good workout). Vacations are healthy, restorative interventions that can head off negative feelings so that they do not progress to a feeling of disillusionment.

Transferring to another task that is more mechanical and less animal service-oriented can sometimes give you just the respite you need to regain your balance and empathy. When I’m feeling disheartened and can’t seem to think straight, I often set aside my regular duties for the day and attend to the accounting; a task too tedious for my “highly motivated” days. Bookkeeping takes me away from feeling overwhelmed and heart broken; and at the same time I’m still getting my work done and I have a sense of accomplishment. I’m glad that I have gotten it out of the way and I’m keen to get back to something that makes a difference. Do whatever works for you.

Sometimes, just having lunch with a friend or doing something completely different works. Some days, you may just need to pack it in and start fresh again tomorrow. Every day is a new day and things always look different in the morning.

Preventing compassion fatigue is really the key. You have to maintain some sort of balance in your life. There has to be a portion of your routine in which you need to “take”, rather than give. Beyond practicing fundamental self-care skills, you need to put yourself in situations in which you see the positives in life, for example, taking a shelter dog for a walk; attending a field trip with your child where you’re truly enjoying the experience; or enjoying your hobby.

And finally, give yourself a break! This is bigger than you are. You are not responsible. Nor can you control all the elements. You can only do your best; you can do your part. Keep in mind, this is a societal issue. It requires participation at all levels of society; from the individual resident to the municipal and provincial governments, as well as related businesses like the local waste management company. It is your job to move the process forward, even if it is baby steps. You represent the voice of the bears. It is your job to ensure their best interest is represented; and to keep the issue alive in the hearts and minds of your community members.

Let yourself mourn the death of each bear; it is sad and more often than not, needless. But then use that energy to create positive change; let that be your inspiration – the impetus for change. Remember, you do what you do because you care; because you are a compassionate person. You can’t make those feelings go away completely, because you can’t be apathetic and caring at the same.

Your successes, however minor, should always be celebrated and remembered. These should be the focus, rather than what you haven’t yet accomplished. Keep your eye on progress and the big picture.

For more information on compassion fatigue, click here.