Vegan self-care (resources)

They say ‘ ignorance is bliss’. And maybe you are one of the vegans to agree with it. I am. There is a price to pay for awareness that usually comes with conscious ethical veganism. Realizing how messed up of a world we live in and how much (nonhuman & human) suffering and pressing problems there are can cause emotional drainage, sorrow, anxiety, stress or depression. Sometimes it can also paralyse the ability to enjoy our daily lives…if you ever felt guilty having fun in the face of the horror happening to nonhuman animals…you know exactly what I mean.

I strongly believe that instead of focusing solely on self-care we should all be working towards a bigger picture: CARE. What I mean by that is the ethics of care that includes all – ourselves AND everyone around us. That way not only do we nourish ourselves but also stay connected, kind and caring towards others. If that sounds right to you, I would highly recommend digging further into the topic of ethics of care. You can start with those two:

That is NOT to say that self-care isn’t important or anyhow devalue it. It is. What’s vegan self-care, then? It’s practices meant to help find emotional balance in vegan advocates and activists’ lives. They should constitute an addition to one’s ‘regular’ self-care. Why? Because bearing witness to suffering is always part of one’s vegan journey, whether it’s watching documentaries, reading suffering-descriptive books or attending animal rescues, vigils and slaughterhouse disruption protests. And that is usually ON TOP of everything else one might be dealing with in their private life. The intensity of emotional exposure differs from person to person and so does their resilience and sensitivity to it. Protecting yourself and taking care of your mental wellbeing is thus CRUCIAL. After all, every rescuer needs a ‘rescue’ to be able to continue their activism and advocacy.

 

It seems like there’s an abundance of resources and discussion about self-care in general (just look at your IG or FB feed), but not enough in the vegan context and within vegan community. And that’s why I wrote this article. To share resources that EXPAND your self-care practice. Some of the issues discussed below are psychological conditions and might need professional help, but I do consider learning about them a necessary part of self-care. This knowledge can help us prevent those issues in the first place. 

1. Learn about burnout prevention

Burnout is most probably a term everyone is familiar with. And it is a real deal also in the vegan context. Emotional exhaustion (especially amongst ‘field activists’) can make us so drained (also physically) that we no longer feel like doing anything, including advocating for animal liberation. We all, sooner or later, might experience even a mild burnout, so it’s best to practice prevention right away. 

 

There are a number of things one can consider a burnout prevention. Exercising, meditation, drawing, leisure reading…whatever works for you! What’s important is to take a break from activities that strain your compassion and require a lot of emotional labour. It’s also essential to remember that we, as vegans, do not have to engage in everything vegan-related – new brutally graphic documentaries or videos are mostly produced to make people go vegan, so it might actually work in your favor not to watch it, as you will protect your sensitivity and avoid the horrible feeling you get after being exposed to such materials. Having a supporting community, being out in nature, spending time with animals – all this helps you feel joy, fill your heart with love and reconnect with what made you go vegan in the first place. Here are some articles about burnout prevention:

2. Understand Compassion Fatigue and STS

While empathy is an internal feeling, compassion is way more than that. It’s an outward looking drive to help others based on the empathy we feel towards them. It’s an ability that can be trained, like a muscle. And just like a muscle it can be pulled too much or exhausted, which is commonly known as Compassion Fatigue (CF)

Another issue we don’t talk about enough in the advocates/activist circle is (secondary) trauma. STS (Secondary Traumatic Stress) or Vicarious Trauma occurs when a person is indirectly exposed to difficult and disturbing stories (e.g. by brutal graphic imagery of suffering or abuse). Traumatized individuals are not direct victims  – they’re witnesses to others’ trauma, somehow becoming second-hand traumatized themselves. STS is a real issue that jeopardizes one’s mental stability and affects their daily life. 

 

I find it absolutely crucial for everyone to learn at least a bit about CF and STS not only for ourselves but for everyone around us. Equipped with knowledge, we will better understand our feelings, recognize potential syndromes or be more sensitive towards our fellow activists and friends that might be dealing with it. Here are some useful links to learn more:

3. Practice sustainable activism / advocacy 

Mental sustainability allows us to go a long way…and so does sustainable activism. From learning to forgive (ourselves and others), taking a break and letting go, to accepting that even vegans get sick – there’s a lot to come to terms with. And luckily there are great reads that provide some tools for sustainable advocacy:

  • Even vegans die (book) –  You will learn how to make the health care decisions that are right for you, how to ensure your efforts to help animals will not end after you die, and how to provide compassionate care for yourself and for others in the face of serious illness. (available in our cafe)

  • Beyond Beliefs (book) –  Being not only a great resource on carnism and effective vegan advocacy, the book explains the importance of sustainable activism, compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress as well as how to deal with them. (available in our cafe)

  • Millenial vegan (book) – Millennial Vegan offers support to this important group by providing tips for advocacy, strategies for communicating with unsupportive peers, dealing with bullying and managing anger, advice on issues related to dating, and information on maintaining personal well-being. (available in our cafe)

  • Self-Care Activist (book) – A lengthy essay by lifelong animal advocate Erik Marcus on how to overcome the various personal challenges that confront activists.

  • Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World: A Guide for Activists and Their Allies (book) – practical tips for individuals, organizations, and communities, as well as information about how traumatic events affect our bodies and abilities.

  • Transforming Compassion Fatigue into Compassion Satisfaction: Top 12 Self-Care Tips for Helpers (free PDF)

  • List of resources on sustainable vegan activism by Jessica Dolce (article)

I cannot stress it enough, that vegan self-care should go hand-in-hand with other, non-vegan-related self-care practises. I hope you learned at least a bit from this article and found the resources I shared with you interesting. Please reach out to us if you would like to add new links, methods or ideas – we would be happy to include your input.

About the author

Marika – vegan chef, animal advocate & educator. Professionally: creator of Plant Base & all its food creations, workshops & events, media & design. Privately: book worm, intersectional feminist, dog fanatic, Aquarius. Big on vegan food, even bigger on food for thought. Here to grow, open dialogues & share resources with those who also believe that veganism is only the beginning.

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