Compassion fatigue can hurt animal welfare workers and volunteers.

Animal rescue and animal welfare can be an all-consuming responsibility, whether you’re doing hands-on rescue work or supporting rescues work from a distance.

That puts you at risk for compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue can be a side effect of caring about animal welfare. It causes physical and emotional exhaustion and reduces the ability to empathize.

It’s common in doctors, nurses, health professionals and animal welfare workers and is called secondary traumatic stress. You basically get stressed from continually helping or wanting to help animals who are suffering.

If it’s not managed, compassion fatigue significantly worsens your health and well-being.

It also reduces your ability to care for your self or your animals, family and friends. You can’t be engaged, warm, and caring because you just don’t have it in you anymore.

To protect yourself, it’s essential to learn good self-care strategies and coping techniques.

We explain how it’s different from caregiver burnout, share the symptoms to watch for, and give 8 tips for how to cope with compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue vs burnout

Compassion fatigue and burnout have similar symptoms, but there are some key differences.

Burnout usually develops over time. Top signs of burnout include emotional and physical exhaustion, feelings of negativity and indifference, and feeling like you’re not getting the job done.

Compassion fatigue happens when you become traumatized by animal suffering. It can come on more quickly than burnout.

You may still feel empathy and the desire to help, but you might feel overwhelmed by the symptoms. It can also lead to burnout.

Common signs of compassion fatigue

Compassion fatigue is basically a chronic, low level cloud over the care and concern you have for animals.

When you overuse your compassion without taking time to regularly recharge, the ability to feel and care for animals becomes worn down.

Common symptoms of compassion fatigue include:

  • Physical or emotional exhaustion (or both)
  • Reduced feelings of sympathy or empathy
  • Dreading taking care of things and feeling guilty about it
  • Feeling irritable, angry, or anxious
  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Isolating yourself
  • Feeling disconnected
  • Reduced sense of accomplishment or meaning in your animal welfare work
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Problems in personal relationships

How to cope with compassion fatigue: 6 tips

1. Make self-care a priority
Taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury. Self-care is essential for long term survival in doing animal welfare work. It keeps you mentally and physically healthy and protects against compassion fatigue.

It might feel selfish to take time for yourself, but if you’re run-down, overwhelmed, and have a short temper, that will definitely come through when you’re caring for animals. When you’re feeling healthy, you’re able to be a better animal support worker.

Each person has a different way of taking care of themselves, but in general, you’d probably want to:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Have a good sleep routine and get as high-quality sleep as possible
  • Take time for yourself each day – even if it’s only 10 minutes
  • Get help with your animal work or household tasks
  • Find ways to take breaks from your animal work

2. Spend time with friends
An important part of maintaining balance while working in animal welfare is to keep up your social connections. This helps prevent loneliness, isolation, and depression.

Spending time with friends chatting, sharing a meal, or taking a walk together are great ways to de-stress and take your mind away from animal welfare worries.

3. Write in a journal
An effective stress reduction technique that’s perfect for caregivers is journaling. Writing in a journal is free, takes as much or as little time as you’ve got, and can be done anywhere.

Getting your thoughts and feelings down on paper and out of your head has been found to be very therapeutic. Journaling helps you process thoughts and emotions and can even help you find solutions to challenges or make tough decisions.

4. Use positive ways to cope with stress
After a tough day, it’s tempting to plop down in front of the TV with a bag of chips or cookies and a bottle of wine, but those aren’t positive coping techniques.

Instead, put together a list of go-to coping strategies that are positive and healthy. The idea is to do things that will make you feel better in the short term and improve your health and well-being in the long term.

Suggestions for healthy coping strategies:

  • Take a walk
  • Meditate
  • Do a short workout
  • Practice some deep breathing
  • Call, text, or visit with a friend
  • Watch some funny video clips or comedy programs
  • Take a hot bath or shower

5. Spend time on hobbies
Before you were an animal support worker or volunteer , there were hobbies and activities that you enjoyed. Regularly taking time for those activities is a great way to take a break from caring for animals.

This improves quality of life and reduces the risk of compassion fatigue because it’s something fun and creative that you do just for yourself – and isn’t related to your animal work, or household  chores.

6. Speak with a counselor or therapist
If your compassion fatigue levels are increasing, talking with a counselor or therapist can bring relief.

They help people deal with negative thinking, stress, depression, anxiety, major life changes, and more.

A therapist can guide you toward effective ways to reduce compassion fatigue and manage the tough emotions that come with being an animal welfare worker/volunteer.


Sources: Daily Caring