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This is a short list of resources and tools that have been helpful in maintaining my mental health. This is focused on animal advocacy, but many of the tools are general to EA / activism more broadly.

 

I've struggled in the past with compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress. I've put a large amount of thought and energy into looking after myself while I do this work. I'm fortunate to have had the privilege to take care of myself in this way (which not everyone has), and I'm fortunate to have a manager who really cares about looking after ourselves too (which not everyone has).

1. Understanding compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress

Many animal advocates find "compassion fatigue" and/or "secondary traumatic stress" to be pretty serious challenges. I'd say that ~60% of my self-care focuses on addressing these challenges.

There are some short articles to help you understand these concepts here:

  • "Tips for Animal Advocates: Treating Secondary Trauma" by Dawn D’Amico (online on PETA's website)
  • "Veterinarians And Compassion Fatigue, AKA Secondary Traumatic Stress" (online on Faunalytics, which summarises a longer article)

2. Sustaining yourself

There are some books on how to sustain yourself as an animal advocate (or social justice advocate). With these books, your mileage may vary, but they may have some useful tidbits.

  • To Save a Starfish: A Compassion Fatigue Workbook for the Animal Welfare Warrior - Jennifer A. Blough (Goodreads)
  • Taking a Break from Saving the World: A Conservation Activist’s Journey from Burnout to Balance -Stephen Legault (Goodreads)
  • The Idealist's Survival Kit: 75 Simple Ways to Prevent Burnout  - Alessandra Pigni (Goodreads)
  • Sustaining Spirit: Self-care for Social Justice - Naomi Ortiz (Goodreads)

3. Resisting overcommitment

"The Comprehensive Guide to Resisting Overcommitment" by  Katrina Spenver (online here) is a total banger. This is a really thoughtful and empowering article that has helped me stay within my limits. I particularly like this table, which I keep bookmarked:

That article will probably have the most value for you if you already have a decent grasp of what your "theory of change" is, i.e. the broad strokes of how you intend to have impact (or, if you're in the student or career-capital stage of your life, how you intend to figure that out!).

4. Intersectional animal advocacy

I think "intersectional animal advocacy" brings a really cool mindset, as long as one maintains a focus on impact. Much of the writing from this perspective brings a focus on self-care etc. 

Sanctuary Publishers has a number of books, and I highly recommend them all. And I dig the trans/queer content!

5. Therapy, antidepressants, etc

EA Mental Health Program at MentNav: In late 2022 / early 2023, I had regular, remote therapy sessions with Kristýna Šťastná (whose details are listed on that page). This really helped with both the animal suffering side + some of the AI-related anxiety (+ also the invasion of Ukraine which was around that time). I've had therapists before, but it was really useful being able to talk to a therapist who was already familiar with the key concepts of the EA movement. Would strongly recommend. 

If your mental health gives you trouble, I'd also strongly recommend giving antidepressants / anti-anxiety meds a go. This isn't always a complete solution, but (especially when combined with therapy and a lifestyle where your other needs are met) it can really help take the edge off and put you in the best position to thrive. I spoke to my GP and he put me on Zoloft, which has been a big help. We also recently added a small dose of mirtazapine, which is usually prescribed for people with sleep issues. Since then, I've been sleeping so well, and that has had a positive impact on my work.

Lastly, I've had regular blood tests. This let my doctor identify random problems I may not have otherwise caught, e.g. low vitamin D. Easy fix and really helpful.

6. Finding community

I've also found a lot of value in meditation + being part of a spiritual community. There are lots of spiritual communities online, and they've all been very welcoming. I've enjoyed being parts of both Christian and Buddhist communities that emphasise social engagement and activism.

I'm quite inspired by the work that Thich Nhat Hanh, Sister Chan Khong, and their community did during the Vietnam War; the work by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his community when the Nazis were in power; the work by Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr, and their community during the American civil rights movement; and the work by Václav Havel and his community during the Communist and post-Communist era in Czechoslovakia. Those folk are 100% honest badasses - they really did walk the walk and put their spiritual and/or social beliefs into action, even despite the occasional personal shortcoming. I often read their autobiographies/memoirs when I'm feeling in need of inspiration!

Lastly, I've recently started playing soccer, and this has been a huge improvement - this is because soccer has brought me regular exercise, a totally unimportant but enjoyable task to engage with, and a great bunch of friends.

7. Recommended EA Forum articles

As I've been working in an EA-aligned org for a few years now, it has occurred to me that my plan for impact is: do solid work, and keep doing it for another ~50 years (or however long you expect your productive lifespan to be).

To that end, I've been finding myself returning to these two EA Forum articles quite often:

  • Trade Heroism For Grit
    • "Think through the big decisions carefully, but get things done. Speed the process up where you can, but accept that it'll take many years to achieve the skills, understanding, and position you need to make a big impact. Pivot when necessary, but keep going."
    • "Planting that seed and letting the tree grow so that, one day, the world can enjoy the fruits of your labor, requires the attitude not of a superhero but of a farmer."
  • Aiming for the minimum of self-care is dangerous

 

(Credits: Preview image by Kate Stone Matheson on Unsplash)

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Executive summary: The post provides resources and strategies for animal advocates to practice self-care and avoid compassion fatigue.

Key points:

  1. Understanding compassion fatigue and secondary trauma is important for animal advocates.
  2. Books on sustaining oneself as an advocate can provide useful advice.
  3. Avoiding overcommitment helps advocates stay within their limits.
  4. Intersectional advocacy brings a self-care mindset.
  5. Therapy, medication, blood tests, and spiritual community can help mental health.
  6. Developing a long-term perspective and grit can sustain advocacy over decades.

 

 

This comment was auto-generated by the EA Forum Team. Feel free to point out issues with this summary by replying to the comment, and contact us if you have feedback.

Some great resources here, thanks for sharing. I've recently launched a new community on reddit for anyone involved with reducing suffering in a healthy and effective way, which might also be useful.

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