Compassion Fatigue and Burnout


Are you suffering from Compassion Fatigue or burnout?

Compassion fatigue is an occupational hazard of being an animal rights activist. It has been described as the display of symptoms that are “a natural consequence of stress resulting from caring and helping traumatized or suffering people or animals” (Charles Figley, traumatologist). It is closely related to Secondary Traumatic Stress, experienced by witnesses to atrocities and traumatic events.

Some symptoms of compassion fatigue include:

  • Neglecting one’s own self care and wellbeing
  • Emotional dysregulation including depression, anxiety, crippling guilt, irritability or even rage, numbness, emotional disconnection, contempt for self and others – all of which can  lead to difficulties with interpersonal relationships
  • Physical symptoms such as exhaustion, disrupted sleep, headaches, or stomach upset
  • Compassion fatigue can even degrade cognitive and ethical functioning

Watch: Juliette Watt’s TED Talk “Compassion Fatigue: What is it and do you have it?

It’s important to recognize when we are suffering from compassion fatigue as it will not only destroy our quality of life but will  inevitably impact our ability to advocate effectively for the animals. If you suspect you are suffering from burnout or compassion fatigue, please reach out for help. 

Check out our activist support resource list for resources to help.

On top of the stress of animal rights activism, the global Covid pandemic and political/social unrest have pushed many of us closer to the brink. Animal activists who are also members of marginalized and oppressed groups are disproportionately impacted, as they are experiencing direct as well as secondary traumatic stressors. For these activists, a leading cause of burnout is actually other activists – so let’s commit to taking better care of each other.

Watch: An interview with the authors of a research study on animal activist burnout

Self compassion is something we can all use more of too, watch this video for five steps toward self compassion. 

Our NARN monthly support group call is a place where animal activists can be in community with each other, to feel heard and emotionally supported. Support group calls are facilitated by our Board member, Lorrin Maughan, who is a certified Gestalt coach. Join our private Facebook group for updates and to register for our monthly calls.

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