Tayana Simons from Viva! discovers that in order to look after the animals, first you have to look after yourself. Here she shares her top tips on self-care for vegans
I was once told a wonderful analogy for self-care that has stuck with me throughout my life — ‘fit your own mask first’. On an aeroplane, the flight attendant will tell you that if there is a drastic drop in cabin pressure, you should “fit your own mask before you help others”, even your own children.
Although this may seem to go against all of your natural instincts, it stands to reason that you are no help to anyone if you’re unconscious. This can be applied to most areas of your life. If you’re not looking after yourself, then you’re not going to be able to effectively help others in the long term.
To use another analogy, if you’re not putting enough fuel into your vehicle then, eventually, it’s going to grind to a halt.
We all probably know how it feels to be burnt out, particularly since lockdown — you keep going and going until you’ve got nothing left to give. If you’re not giving yourself the nourishment you need — whether that’s time to yourself, a healthy diet, or enough sleep —then eventually it’s going to catch up with you.
Burnout is all too common, especially among those fighting for social justice causes such as animal rights. As vegans, we can feel a constant pressure or responsibility to fight for the animals by raising awareness.
This can extend to becoming a part of our everyday lives — in our conversations with non-vegans in person or online, or in constantly viewing and sharing videos or social media posts.
Although we do these things with the best intentions, we can often end up feeling frustrated, isolated or that we’re not doing enough. Repeatedly viewing disturbing footage can cause emotional trauma that can affect all areas of our lives.
The feeling of having to save the world and billions of animals with every conversation is a heavy burden to carry, especially when you are surrounded by non-vegan friends and family who don’t understand.
All of this added up can lead to a state called ‘compassion fatigue’, where we’re tired of caring so much, in a world that doesn’t seem to care at all. If this sounds familiar, you’re far from alone.
Knowing When to Give Yourself a Break
This is why it’s vitally important to know when to take a step back and look after ourselves. If you are getting to the point of feeling frustrated, angry or stressed with every online conversation, then maybe you need to have a break from social media for a while.
If you are doing so much activism that you are not sleeping or eating well, then it’s time to cut down and give yourself some time off. Although you may feel guilty for not speaking up for the animals all of the time, burning out does no good to you, the people around you, or the animals, in the long run. It’s important to give yourself permission not to advocate sometimes.
It’s easy to let activism slip into every part of your life and to feel like you have to be ready to give the life-changing vegan pitch any time the subject is approached.
If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or just need some time off, then sometimes it’s okay not to talk about animal rights, especially if all that conversation is going to achieve is frustration and hostility. Being a voice for animals can feel all encompassing at times, so it’s important to attend to your own needs.
To come back to the plane analogy — look after yourself and make sure that you can breathe before helping others. Simply by leading a fulfilling, healthy and happy life as a vegan, you are influencing others’ opinions of veganism.
You can do more for the cause by being the best version of yourself than you can by running yourself into the ground.
Tips to avoid burnout
Give yourself ‘downtime’ — and enforce it!
It is so important to make time for yourself, and that means not helping others, not working, and not doing activism. This can be as little as 30 minutes a day doing an activity you enjoy, such as going for a walk, going to an exercise class, having a bath or meditating.
Make this a priority, it’s easy to let ‘me time’ slide when there are other seemingly more important things to do.
Make vegan friends
It can be hugely stressful and isolating to feel like you’re the only salmon swimming upstream.
Not having your morals understood by friends and family can have a negative impact on mental wellbeing and can be incredibly demotivating. Having vegan friends can make a big difference in feeling that you are supported and understood.
Search for a local vegan group online and, if there isn’t one, then start your own! If you’d rather chat with people online, there are plenty of vegan Facebook groups where you can make friends and chat in a supportive environment.
Spend time with animals.
Compassion fatigue can leave us feeling demotivated and pessimistic about our impact on the suffering of billions of farmed animals.
Spending time at farm animal sanctuaries and watching the residents thriving is a good antidote to watching harrowing factory farm footage — it helps remind us what we’re fighting for.
Outside of lockdowns, many farm sanctuaries have open days, but when you can’t physically spend time with the animals, most of them upload adorable videos for their supporters to enjoy.
Focus on the positives The truth is, you’re probably having a far bigger impact than you think you are.
Even outcomes you might consider small, like your friend asking you questions about vegan nutrition, or your aunt liking the vegan cupcakes you made, are all seeds planted. Keep a gratitude diary and write down every time something like this happens to remind yourself — I bet it happens more than you think!
Viva! is positively vegan and since 1994 has been campaigning to end the suffering of farmed animals. Viva! helps people reduce their meat, fish, dairy and egg intake and move towards a compassionate diet. It believes that every step towards being vegan is a positive one.