Compassion fatigue and self-care are two subjects constantly discussed between the staff, board of directors, and volunteers at The Fur-Bearers. Also sometimes referred to as burnout (a more general term), compassion fatigue is a serious threat to anyone working in social or non-human animal related fields.
Defining Compassion Fatigue
"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
Feelings of apathy, physical and/or emotional exhaustion, depression, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, and many other symptoms (here’s a good list from a Psychology Today article) can all be felt by someone experiencing compassion fatigue. Those who have worked in social services, directly with chronically ill or injured persons or non-human animals, and those who advocate on behalf of others can experience any one of these, or all of them in endless combinations.
Preventing and Treating Compassion Fatigue
Much like any other health issue, there isn’t always a single preventative action or treatment. However, self-care can play a major role – and it’s something everyone can do. Self-care is taking care of ourselves, specifically our mental, emotional, and physical health. It can be a wide range of things, and can make all the difference in the world. As it’s a bit of a subjective concept, The Fur-Bearers decided to open up and share what some of our staff do for their own self-care.
The Fur-Bearers’ Self-Care
Lesley Fox, Executive Director: spend time with animals, have lots of naps, massages, chiropractic adjustments, talking to my friends and family, reading, long walks, movies and all things Taylor Swift.
Marcy Potter, Director of Operations: square breathing, massages or pedicures, naps, read books (not work/serious/animal related), walk in nature (prefer beach then woods), go on walks with her dog, and play with pets.
Michael Howie, Director of Advocacy and Communications: go for runs, listen to music, spend quality time with his dog, play video games, consume as much comedy content as possible (including Netflix and live shows), talk with friends and family, take part in improvised comedy, and cross stitch.
There is no one thing, as you can see, that makes self-care work; rather it is making sure that you’re making time to do the things that make you feel good and fill you up.
The Fur-Bearers also strongly recommends speaking with a professional – a counsellor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist can help you develop tools to manage compassion fatigue and the related symptoms, or really anything else in life. In fact, all our staff members work with counsellors or mental health practitioners regularly. If you need help finding someone, speak to your family doctor, healthcare providers, or community groups.
Self-care is a serious matter, and it’s a topic we hope that you will take time to consider in your life. We’d also love to hear about what you do for self-care, just tag us in a social media post and use the hashtag #selfcare!