A Final Plea to Prevent Burnout:Self-care for Advocates Series End

Recently a woman I know and have gotten a cat from (Ginger Rose who is currently living with my mom in Colorado) is closing her doors to her phenomenal cat rescue and TNR (trap-neuter-return) services because why? She’s burned the eff out. Her heart has in her own words “hardened”, she has no more tears to shed and she cannot take another day of the pain and madness that comes with hard-core rescue work. What’s the average life span of a home rescue? I’ve heard 18 months to 3 years. Same as the lifespan of a child protective services caseworker. Same as some emergency medical services workers (I lasted 2.5 years). Life and death day after day and the heavy responsibility of decision-making leaves you in burnout unless you really make the commitment to manage it before it happens and sometimes it happens anyway due to personalities and life changes.

My dear friend Bev used to joke about holding a workshop: How to Lower Your Standards in 8 Easy Steps. To quote her directly, “The thing about being a social worker or a helper is, you have to lower your standards and learn to live by two separate levels of standards. Yours, and everyone else’s.”

Working with the vulnerable no matter what your arena is hard people. Let me say that again – It. Is. HARD!

You absolutely must take responsibility for your self-care if you want to outlast the demons of exhaustion and heartbreak  to see more successes and lives saved. There is not enough money to stop burnout once it’s there, there is only time to be taken far away from the work but you can take care of yourself before you think you need it.

I hear this all the time, “But I feel ok!” “I’m doing fine, I ride my bike now and then. It’s all good.” “I don’t have time to stop for meditation!” “Self-care what self-care?” and my favorite: “Stop chasing me with that bottle of Stress Away essential oil, freak!”

Start self-care before it’s needed. Once you think you need it you’re halfway to burnout baby. Tweet it out!

If you know a snowstorm or hurricane is sweeping into your part of the world do you decide you just don’t have time to get water and food laid in for your pets? Of course not, because you can go days on Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop popcorn and those bottles of stale water stored during your short lived burst of preparedness after watching too many episodes of Doomsday Preppers but not them. If your children are popping out in spots that hint the word “chicken” do you put off going to the doctor? Of course not, because it’s your kids.

Do this for yourself. Think of all the ways that you blow off all this self-care BS (I’m not sure why this topic makes me want to cuss so much!). Now think of all the ways you can knock that off and plan for it.

Get it on your calendar: Twice a day I will turn off my cell phone for 1 hour and I will not do anything online. That’s right, I said it, TWICE A DAY. Every Thursday at noon I will X or Y or Z.  Once a month I will book a coaching or therapy session purely to vent or talk about more options for self-care so I can rescue more cats and dogs and hamsters (yes I offer coaching check the tab on the main page). Four times a year I will leave all of it behind and go stay at a motel just for the night so I can throw my towels on the floor, read a whole chapter in a book and eat popcorn in bed. I really like popcorn. I will get or give Reiki. I will stand outside under the full moon and remember why I do this work to begin with. I will find a group of like minded friends to meet up with (not for me that one I’m an introvert!).

This applies to everyone who is an advocate for people or animals, pet bloggers, rescuers, a caseworker, a nurse, a cop, a paramedic, etc. Anyone who is regularly required to set their own needs aside to change the world for someone else.

I’m talking to you. No more excuses. I don’t want to hear about another rescue closing its doors because of burnout. I don’t want to see another advocate leave the field. I don’t want to hear about another office suicide. I do not want to know that so many people in these fields are getting by on pharmaceuticals both legal and illegal.

Get out your calendar. Write down 1 thing you will do this week to decompress. Do it now and every week from now on.


19 comments on “A Final Plea to Prevent Burnout:Self-care for Advocates Series End

  1. I had no idea how many people got burned out in these very taxing fields. I hope everyone will take your advice and take care of themselves. Hopefully if they take care of themselves, they will be able to continue doing their good work!

  2. WONDERFUL article. Poppy and I (Kim Kiernan) work to help unwanted dogs and it does get incredibly stressful. I’m partially burnt out now, so thank you for the tips. I am going to implement them today!

  3. Thanks for writing about this. Not enough is said about maintaining mental health and equilibrium. It’s really important to find professional help to keep yourself safe from depression and worse.

    I did a podcast with Dr. Apryl Steele and Dr Jane Shaw about compassion fatigue in the animal care community a few months after the internationally renowned behaviorist and veterinarian Dr Sophia Yin committed suicide. It offers some practical, helpful tools that identify depression, burnout and suicidal behavior as well as outlining coping skills to help prevent depression and burnout in the first place. There are even online groups formed to help those without the benefit of working with colleagues. Dr Shaw recommends one or two in the podcast. They also provide you with the tools to form your own for a specific area of rescue/shelter workers.

    If you don’t mind, I’ll share it here: http://www.dancingdogblog.com/2014/10/compassion-fatigue-managing-risk-in-animal-care/

    • Yes share away and I agree on photographs they undid me frequently in child protection and I hate it when they show up in my newsfeed with animals. I quickly unfollow pages that post a lot of those images. I’m dedicated to doing whatever I can to help address what I see is fast becoming an epidemic.

  4. This is so true! Burnout (no matter why it happened) sneaks up on you quickly. I don’t run a rescue, but I am a person suffering with bipolar depression. I have to do self-care just so I don’t end up in a hospital. One thing I’ve learned in the last few months is that since I have to juggle my disorder, my marriage, and running a business, I have to be bold and tell people no a lot. I have to turn off my phone when I go to sleep, take naps, have a meal, or want to spend time with my husband. That means no calls, emails, texts or instant messages during those times no matter how I feel about someone. I need to care for myself first.

    • Robin I have family with bi-polar and it sounds like you are doing a wonderful job managing it! I wanted to say you bring up an EXCELLENT point that I devoted a whole chapter to in my book which hopefully will be done by Dec 1. Saying NO is critical so critical to protecting oneself emotional reserves and time. A few years ago I started putting my cell phone on silent at night and I was shocked at how hard it was! Being bold, great word choice, and making the commitment to yourself has to come first and I’m glad you shared the details of how you’re accomplishing the task!

Comments are closed.