Podcast: Coping with burnout as an animal ally

Each day, animal advocates encounter and stand up against suffering. This can take a major emotional toll.

In this month’s episode of The Informed Animal Ally, the Vancouver Humane Society’s Amy Morris and Chantelle Archambault are joined by Kimberly Carroll from Animal Justice. The episode will delve into strategies and tips for dealing with the compassion fatigue and burnout that many animal advocates experience.

Note: This written discussion has been edited for length.

Director, Animal Justice Academy

Kimberly Carroll is a coach for changemakers, campaigns strategist with Animal Justice, director of Animal Justice Academy, and a director with the Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank

With over 13 years as a coach and 18 years as an activist, Kimberly works with mission-driven leaders, social entrepreneurs, and activists on the inner shifts, high-performance habits, and strategies to make them unstoppable. She’s helped empower thousands of activists and counselled those in high-stress positions like undercover investigators. 

Becoming an animal advocate

Chantelle: Kimberly, you have such an impressive history speaking out for animals. I would love to hear more about how you became interested in animal advocacy.

Kimberly: My animal advocacy journey started when I was a kid. I was the one trying to save all the mice when my dad was burning the field, I’d be going in there and crying and trying to get them all out.

It had a little bit of a snag though, because as much as I was an animal lover, I was also a huge meat lover coming from the middle of the prairies. I was the one who loved the KFC and the steak and all that.

So the two loves kind of came head to head when I was a young adult with the help of some adorable twin calves. I became vegetarian 27 years ago.

That was before the days of internet, so it took me a few years later—ten to be exact; I wish it hadn’t taken me so long—to understand the damage that the dairy and the egg industry do.

And so in one week I watched the documentary Earthlings, which was narrated by Joaquin Phoenix. They called it the veganizer; I think there’s new veganizers these days. I also watched Peaceable Kingdom. It really hit home that I did not want to be responsible for dairy cows being torn away from their mothers.

I’d been dabbling a little bit in advocacy as a vegetarian. I was also a television host. So I’d been on some shows talking about why I was vegetarian. I’d been doing some gentle activism. But at that point 17 years ago, I was like straight ahead. This is it.

Because seeing those films, I was so struck by the vast numbers of beings this affected and the depth of the suffering. And so I decided at that point it wasn’t enough just to change my own habits, even though yes, I was going to, but I had to help change the world as all. And so that was the beginning of my animal advocacy journey in real earnest.

Why managing burnout is important

Amy: Thanks so much for sharing that, Kimberly. This month we’re talking about coping with burnout as an animal advocate, and this is a subject you’re very passionate about. Why does this topic speak to you? Why do you find it so important?

Kimberly: Well as well as being an animal advocate, as Chantelle mentioned, I’m also a coach for changemakers. So my job is to help activists, nonprofit leaders, and social entrepreneurs build those things into their lives that will make them resilient and effective in their important work.

I’ve been coaching for many years, but I sort of started to zero in on changemakers and activists about six or seven years ago. And the reason I moved to this particular form of coaching is because animal advocates and all sort of other social justice advocates, they’re the ones that are keeping us from tipping over into oblivion right now.

We are one step away, and they are this incredible line that is keeping us from going over the edge.

And I’m seeing too many people burn out. Changemakers are way too important to see them hit the ground. This is especially a huge problem in the animal advocacy movement.

The irony of it is that, as we just talked about, so many of us are drawn to animal advocacy because we care so much about animals. We have this sensitivity, this tuning in. But getting into animal advocacy then means that we get this front row seat 24/7 to all the suffering and the injustices, the worst things you could ever imagine animals going through.

And on top of that, we get pushback from 90 percent of the population, not even counting the other people that are in our movement that don’t necessarily align with us on our particular approaches.

And plus, because there’s so few of us, we’re dealing with overwhelm. We don’t know what to take on. And then inevitably we take on too much. Because we think, there’s just so few of us and there’s so many that are suffering. We need to take on all of this. This is the recipe for hitting the wall and burning out and for a lot of people dropping out.

It’s not as dramatic for everybody. Not everybody drops out, but they burn out in terms of patience or compassion or energy or creativity; and all of those we really need in order to be effective as advocates. Like I said, there’s so few of us; we need everybody firing on all cylinders. So that’s why this is such a place of passion for me.

Amy: Thank you so much for sharing that. I feel similarly. I actually come at it from a place of having experienced burnout.

I was working for many years in animal advocacy as my full time job, and I ended up having a breakdown. That was a really huge moment for me to realize I was pushed over the edge. I slowly realized, okay, there’s a lot behind this.

I’ve been working on recovering from it ever since. And I think it’s a permanent process. I don’t think you ever fully maybe recover from some specific things, but I’m really excited to talk about this today because I’ve been on the journey of healing.

How to stop feeling guilty about self care

Chantelle: It’s a really common thing for all of us to experience because like you said, we get into this because we care so much and then we have a front row seat to the worst suffering imaginable. So it’s absolutely so important to find healthy ways to process and cope with the emotions we’re feeling.

And at the same time, many people find it difficult to care for themselves when there are always more animals in need. Is there any advice you would give to people who feel guilty taking that time for themselves?

Kimberly: Yeah, this is a huge block, especially in the animal advocacy movement.

Because we’re not the direct victims, I think there is a real sense of, you know, We shouldn’t be hurting. We should be able to handle this. What are we complaining about? But the fact is, there are so many incidences of secondary PTSD or direct PTSD for those that are doing vigils or undercover investigations or walk ons or things like that.

But even for those that aren’t doing frontline work, we’re exposed to the kind of video and graphics that are worse than any horror movie you can imagine. And we’re seeing that on a regular basis.

And a lot of animal advocates don’t take it that seriously because they think, well, I should just buck up and I should just get stronger. So those that say, I feel too guilty. There’s too many. Every minute I take to myself is another minute there’s animals dying.

I like to say to people, as advocates, as compassionate people, we want all beings to experience freedom and safety and love. That’s what we truly want in our hearts. Why should that exclude the animal who is you? You know, the animals who are us as animal advocates, as human animals. Why should we be the only ones excluded from that freedom, safety, and love?

It’s like freeing a pig from a factory farm and then when the pig’s trying to play, saying, No playing for you. Get to work. You need to get to work and free all of your brethren. Go! You don’t get any freedom. You don’t get any love. You don’t get a break or a rest.

It’s ridiculous. Every being needs rest. They need some safety. They need some love. So I just remind them that as beings, we need the fuel that will keep us connecting and aware and give us energy.

And when I tell people this and they’re just like, I’m still not there with you, I say, okay, well let’s take it more strategically. If you are not feeling nurtured, inspired, and connected, you will not be as effective. Okay? You’re just not going to have the juice to do the good creative work you want to do. You’re not going to have the patience to represent well as an animal advocate, and you’re not going to be able to take care of yourself in a way that you’re a light, that you inspire others to want to follow you and what you’re doing.

So if not for yourself, start at least for the animals. Start taking care of yourself at least for your cause.

Chantelle: That’s really, really great advice.

Kimberly: This comes from the process I had to do on myself. I was the hardest nut to crack because I had so much guilt about taking time and not just like being a puddle of suffering all the time. Somebody had to set me straight around that. So I come by this honestly.

Tools for coping with strong emotions

Chantelle: That’s a really great point because we all have to do this work on ourselves before we can talk about it. So what’s your favorite tool for releasing that stress and tension and sadness that comes with advocacy work?

Pain processing tools

Kimberly: I feel very strongly about what I call pain processing tools, especially when you’re an animal advocate.

I mean, the figures are just astounding. 70 billion farmed animals are killed each year, and the ways that they’re tortured before they’re killed, how we treat animals that we’re raising for profit never stops shocking me. And then trillions of marine life a year. I mean, it’s, it’s just boggling to the mind.

So it makes sense that we’re going to feel rage. It makes sense that we’re going to feel incredible sorrow and hopelessness and frustration. But as I mentioned, if we stay stuck in that, if we let that drive our life, we will lose our ability to affect change.

Now, what some people try to do is they try to ignore pain and that’s not going to work either. So the trick is to find safe ways to feel the pain and to move through it. You can’t get rid of it. You can’t go above it, around it, over it. You have to go through it. I’ve tried every other way, believe me.

Pain processing can look like a lot of different things.

It can be as simple as breath work. When you’re feeling, that emotion well up, don’t just shelve it. Don’t just ignore it. Or don’t act out on it immediately. Just try to find where it is in your body. Is it in your heart? Is it in your throat? Has it grabbed your gut? And just to work on breathing into it, really feeling the pain, giving it space and then letting go.

That’s a really simple way to start dealing with pain in very small amounts, in the moment. And that is reflected in a meditation practice, a yoga practice, both of which I do.

Another really simple one is talking it out with a being who isn’t going to chide you for being negative, or isn’t going to say, well, just stop doing it. Or, you know, I don’t understand why you’re doing it that way. Somebody who’s actually going to hold space for you and hold you so you can feel that pain.

Another tool I really love, I call the mind dump. It’s just grabbing a pen and just writing everything you’re feeling and thinking in a stream of consciousness, no censoring, no worrying about grammar or spelling, no worrying about being nasty or weak, but just writing it out and getting everything out of you and onto that piece of paper. And at the end of it, you can even rip it up and get rid of it.

But my favourite tools for processing pain involve movement. Emotions take up residence in the body. They create physiological changes. So it’s not enough to think it out. Sometimes we need to shake up the chemistry of the body.

Sometimes when I don’t have a lot of time, maybe I’m at an event, I just scurry away to the washroom for a second and I breathe into whatever’s come up in me and on the exhale I just do a great big old shake out of the body. Just shaking out the whole body as much as possible. Feeling where it is in your body and then letting it express itself.

If you’ve been collecting some pain for a while, I love turning on some music that actually amplifies it. So if you’re feeling ragey, you know, you might grab some punk music, some Rage Against the Machine, something like that. Find yourself a safe space, close the door, tell people you might be loud for a minute if you live with them.

And for just three minutes, you just let yourself express that rage. You stomp, you punch, you, you scream, whatever you need to do in order to be able to feel it.

And you can do the same with something that feels sad or grief stricken music that amplifies it. It’s just this idea of giving a safe space for that emotion to work itself out naturally; for honouring it in a safe way that’s not going to hurt you or others.

I have lots of different tools and I love them and I could go on forever about this, but that gives a little brief outline.

Amy: I’ll share one of the tools that I learned from you. You did a webinar on going into the picture in your brain.

I’m a very visual person. I cannot let go of images. And so what Kimberly shared in that webinar is go into that picture and then change it. Go in and do the thing that you want to do. Whatever that is, whether it’s saving the animal, feeding the animal, or putting the person in handcuffs who’s hurting the animal.

I find that really healing. Because otherwise I just get these like flashes of images and it just hurts. And so it’s like, okay, that image came back again. What are we going to do about that? We’re going to go in there with a whole team of people and, in your head, if we were going to just make the world better.

I find that a really amazing technique for all sorts of things, but particularly for the animals that you couldn’t do anything for.

Kimberly: I love that, Amy. That animal’s suffering is probably gone; that animal’s probably out of this place, gone from this world.

If they’re not, then you’re actively working for them, so that’s a little bit of a different thing. But it’s about changing this traumatic thought pattern that you have by introducing a different energy to it, by disrupting it.

Because that cycling, it’s absolutely not helping you. And it’s something that so many animal advocates have.

This moment is gone. The energy is still with you. So change that energy so that you can be a force for good and it doesn’t destroy you. It doesn’t take you down. So that it cultivates more love, more connection.

Amy: Yeah, so thank you so much for highlighting that before because it’s made a huge difference for me.

Chantelle: Those are all so helpful and I really appreciate both of you sharing your strategies and your personal experiences.

Speaking with friends and family

Chantelle: We’ve mentioned. stress, anger, hopelessness, a lot of really strong emotions that come up and I’d like to talk about some specific examples of scenarios that can come up from having those strong emotions.

Those feelings can come up when advocates see or hear about or discuss animals being harmed. It’s natural to have a strong reaction. But at the same time, practically speaking, we know the most effective ways to encourage people to make those compassionate choices involve making those people feel at ease and included in the conversation.

What are some ways that advocates can manage their own strong emotions about animal harm when speaking with friends or family?

Kimberly: Yeah, this is a good one because December is the time that there are a lot of family and friends gatherings. And sometimes you just want to scream, Don’t you understand? When friends and family can seem so unaware or sometimes purposely combative.

First of all, it’s really important to remember, we’re talking about people you really care about and people that really care about you. Ideally, you want to be able to be genuine with those you’re closest to about how much hurt animal harm causes you.

This will be much better absorbed if it’s not brought up at a time when they’re directly complicit in the animal harm. So for example, at the dinner table, when shame is triggered.

And that’s why it’s so important to try to be more skillful in the way we talk to those that we’re trying to get to understand our way of feeling and being. It’s really important to talk to them when they don’t have the shame wall erected.

And it’s super easy to get that shame. Sometimes just saying you’re vegan, it’s going to get that shame wall up, right? It’s really hard to do anything if that happens, but hopefully they’ve heard it enough times that you’re vegan or you’re an animal advocate that that shame wall isn’t necessarily going to be triggered just by that.

Shame is the feeling that almost none of us can deal with. It’s a message that you are bad. When you feel shame, the feeling is I am bad. And it’s not true. Nobody’s bad. Sometimes people do harmful things. And so it’s really important to try to keep shame out of the equation.

And a really important way to do that is choose to talk when they don’t have something to be ashamed of right in front of them.

It’s also about the way you talk, that it’s from your heart as opposed to a place of judgement or blame. And again, I totally understand that judgement and blame. It seems so easy to understand why this feels harmful and toxic, but I think these are some of the things that I’ve tried that have really helped.

When I’m going into this judging or blaming place, I ask myself, what ways have I exhibited similar behaviour or limits, or still do, as this person?

It’s very likely you’ve stood in similar shoes to the person you’re judging right now, that you’ve at some point in your life been resistant to a hard truth, or maybe you were seduced by convenience or security. Like I said, I was a voracious meat eater at one point. I had a hard time giving up my favourite mascara because it wasn’t cruelty free.

Or maybe you have been vegan since you were born, or an animal advocate since you were born, but maybe there’s still ways in different parts of your life where you might be doing some harm, even though you know you’re doing harm.

When I start to feel a little self righteous, I remind myself that I still fly, even though I know how bad it is for the environment and low income countries. I’m working on it, but I still go home to see my family, things like that. And I don’t remind myself of this to beat myself up, but just to get some perspective that none of us are perfect. It’s really hard to be perfect in this world.

I also remind myself, there’s an avalanche of problems with this world and my number one issue might not be their number one issue.

And the last thing I just want to say is that I really try to keep in mind when I’m talking to my close people, or people are less close, is that people are doing the best they can from what they know and are capable of right now.

Most bad behaviour comes from pain, from fear or lack of access to knowledge or the inability to get it. So for example, if somebody can’t show compassion towards animals, it was probably because they were never modeled that in a way that they could understand. Or they might not even be psychologically capable of compassion in that area, and that’s really sad.

It doesn’t mean not standing up strongly and consistently, and sometimes boldly, for what’s important to you, and sharing what your genuine feelings are, but letting it all come from a place of understanding and compassion as opposed to fear and anger. That’s how bridges are built. So just think of it as a bridge building exercise with your family and friends.

Amy: Kimberly, that’s such an amazing answer. I want to echo everything that Kimberly said.

And I think speaking from a place where the other person is curious is always going to get the best outcome. So being able to identify when someone is curious versus when they’re challenging you, I think is a really useful tool because when someone is challenging, you can kind of put a pause or say, This isn’t the time for this conversation, I’d love to have it at another point.

When someone’s curious, that’s when there’s a space for growth. And that’s when I try very much to speak from my own experience. I don’t speak to what people should do or what’s good for people or anything like that. I speak to what I’ve experienced, what I’ve witnessed, why I made the decisions that I’ve made, and I do storytelling.

Almost every time, I have at least one story to share. And what I find is there might be a moment of quiet, and then they might ask another question 20 minutes later. It shows that it’s something that stuck in their brain.

I don’t try to say, here’s everything. I try to give one little story and then give it some time. If another question comes up, another little story and pace it that way.

If there’s no curiosity, I don’t think there’s space for change. And so it’s not necessarily worth it, to put your energy out there when you’re going to be hit with a battery of blowback, ego, or whatever it is.

Kimberly: Something else I just want to add around this is that maybe you can even take your advocate hat off with close family and friends.

And a lot of people go, What? But it all depends. If you are getting a lot of pushback and it’s just not going anywhere, you need to remember that there’s millions of people out there that are ready to hear your message and putting constant energy into changing the minds of one or a handful of people is not very strategic.

I have some really close friends in my life who aren’t vegan. Do I wish they were? Sure. Do I drop some stories here and there? Sure. But I don’t push it too hard because these are friends that love me well, and they’re really good people in other ways. And a long time ago I just decided to drop the preaching or the guilt of not preaching and just soak in some of the love and fun and rest of being with them.

Some would say I’m selfish to not always be speaking up for my cause with my close family and friends. But I think one of the ways that we have longevity is if we let ourselves relax with people who care for us and help recharge our batteries. If we don’t have that, we burn out and that will really hurt our cause.

So I do think in some situations sometimes it’s just better to let it go with your close people.

Handling conflict from advocacy

Chantelle: Those are all really amazing points. I mean, I’ve been both of those people. You said that there are some people who have been vegan and animal advocates for their entire lives, but I think most of us have been at some point, the person who was friends with people who were in those circles or been the people who were curious about those things. Most of us at some point have been future animal advocates.

But then there’s also the people who are very adamantly opposed to any form of animal advocacy, or any moving away from activities that cause animal suffering. We post plant-based recipes online, and we’ll see people who get offended even by just us sharing plant-based recipes.

How would you advise that advocates respond to conflicts that can arise from that sort of difference in beliefs?

Kimberly: This is a good continuation really, because some of the same things apply, but we’re dealing with people that you’re not invested in as much, and people who are maybe even more adamant.

The first thing I say is choose your battles wisely. I have seen so many people waste their time arguing with a troll for a week when they could have been writing 20 letters to the editor, and probably gotten a couple published. And so if somebody is just trying to stir up trouble, you’ve got to learn to spot that and you’ve got to honour yourself and your precious time and energy and just go past it.

But if it seems to be somebody, either online or in person, that you’re like, You know what? This is an opportunity. They’re very adamant right now, but I like to think of everyone as a potential ally. That’s one of my mantras. So I assume that it may not be in this conversation, but if given enough of those sort of like little seeds planted that, that they could bloom.

And I think the problem that people have as animal advocates is we want to convert people right there and then. Very early in my advocacy work, I heard the figure, I’m not sure about the number, but I think it was, it takes a person hearing a message 21 times. Sometimes you’re not going to be the number 21. You might be number 14 or you might be a message number three or God forbid your message number one. You’re really going to get it.

But you’re one of those; you’re a building block and that’s all you have to be. You don’t have to change somebody’s mind on the spot.

I think it’s super important when you are dealing with somebody who’s digging in their heels to just stop and invoke the power of curiosity and of listening. So what if instead of trying to explain your point in 20 different ways, you ask clarifying questions to this person to truly understand where they’re coming from and what’s blocking them.

There’s probably nobody you’re going to meet that’s going to say, I hate animals, I wish they were all dead, and I’d like to torture them before that point. There are hopefully very few of those in the world.

And so, we have a common ground. And if you actually listen, you can respond in a way that could actually reach them, that could actually move the needle on things. Or at the very least, you might learn something useful for your approach in the future.

So listening and then finding common ground. Instead of making it your goal to prove how wrong someone is, look for where your values or experiences intersect.

You might have your coworker who’s always making bacon jokes, but he loves his dog. And so, you could say, Hey, Joel, I saw the sweetest video the other day. There was this rescue pig from a factory farm and the dog at the sanctuary and they bonded and they both came when their name was called and they played fetch and they both dreamed and twitched when they slept. You know, that’s the kind of thing you bring to the table, right?

You find the common ground. He loves dogs. This pig is just like a dog.

It’s not about banging somebody over the head when they’re not listening already. It’s about easing into relationship with somebody. Not looking at them as a target, something to conquer, but as a being to connect with, to find some common ground with.

Coping with overwhelm

Chantelle: That’s really great advice. It’s about conserving your energy and using it strategically. I really love that. Thank you.

We all have a certain amount of energy to use to make as much impact as possible. But energy is a finite resource. And there’s a huge range of ways that animals suffer from human activities, habitat destruction that harms wildlife, and systemic issues with factory farming, and individual cruelty cases.

It can be overwhelming deciding how to manage your time and energy as an animal advocate to make the most impact that you can on those issues. What advice would you give to someone who’s feeling overwhelmed about seeing all this happening?

Kimberly: Overwhelm is probably the number one complaint of the change makers I work with.

We’re all advocates cause we want to make a difference. We’re all advocates cause we care so deeply, but we’re all advocates too because there’s just so much that needs fixing. And so one of the first things that I’d like for folks to really hear is you don’t need to change the whole world. You just need to change your little corner of it.

Now that sometimes takes a little bit of weight off of one’s shoulders. Because again, I understand it. Sometimes we feel so alone in this. We feel like we’re just one animal advocate in a sea of apathetic people. But it’s not true.

First of all, by my last count, there’s hundreds of thousands of animal advocates out there in the world. Still not a lot compared to the, you know, 8 billion, but that’s hundreds of thousands. And if we all just pick a little corner and do it really well, we’re going to make huge change.

Find your niche

Kimberly: And if you’re wondering, okay, well, what’s my corner? Well, I like to use a little formula. My recommendation would be to do just a little exercise where you just take a paper and pen.

First of all, you write down your passions in animal advocacy. What are the issues you’re most passionate about? Who are the animals you’re most passionate about? What are the mediums you’re most passionate to work with, most drawn to work with?

I care about all animals and I don’t want to see any of them suffer. But a long time ago, I decided farmed animals is where I would really focus on because of the number and the degree of suffering. And then I particularly decided, you know, I really love working with people to become more effective. So that narrowed my corner a little bit.

So your list of passions. It might be, I love working around captivity; I really like working at sanctuaries or helping sanctuaries. It might be, I really like to teach or I really like to lobby, things like that. So really all of the areas that you’re interested in. I like to cook vegan food to bring to people. That is an incredible form of animal advocacy, bringing vegan food to friends, events, all of that sort of thing.

You don’t need to be standing with a sign all the time to be an animal advocate. I think that’s something everybody needs to understand. Yes, we need street protests, we need street activism, but there are a thousand other things we need.

The second thing that I would want you to make a list about is assets. What do you have to offer? What are the specific skills that you could bring to this movement? What are the talents? What’s some of the education or training you have? What are some of the best qualities you bring to the table help to touch or influence others? Or what are some valuable life experiences or circumstances or viewpoints? What are resources you have access to?

That’s going to really affect it. If you’re an accountant and you’re out there leafleting, I’m going to say, get in there and do some accounting work for some of these organizations. We really need it. Or if you’re a graphic designer, don’t you dare, you know, be licking envelopes.

And then the last piece that I think is really important. The questions to ask here, are there any areas or projects that could use more attention? Are there more high impact things? Are there potential projects that are currently underserved? Are there any connections that I have that could create a special opportunity and fulfill a need? What’s our cause missing? What does our cause need more of? Things like that.

And if you do those three lists, you’re going to start to find some places where your corners lie.

And I’d say get really inventive. And if you’re not part of Animal Justice Academy’s free course, our whole second week is about how, wherever you are, whoever you are, in whatever background you are, different ways you can become an animal advocate and practice animal advocacy.

Personal strategies

Amy: Kimberly, that is another great couple pieces of advice there that I think we can all take something away from. Certainly I’ve struggled with this and it’s amazing to hear that it’s possible to feel less overwhelmed and to kind of narrow the scope. You know, we do get into these places of overwhelm and burnout, even when we try not to.

So what are some of the ways that you find you care for your own wellbeing so that you can carry on doing this work?

Kimberly: I would really like to hit home, it’s not that I don’t feel overwhelmed. I feel it on a regular basis, but I have a lot of practices to reel me back in and calm me down and I owe a lot to my daily practices.

I do a morning practice. It’s almost every day. If I’ve missed my morning practice, you know something has gone majorly wrong with that day.

My morning practice consists of, I like to either read a book for a bit or I’ll have a particular talk or podcast that is just about nurturing me. It’s usually like Tara Brach is one of my favorite teachers. She’s a Buddhist teacher. She’s also vegan! Pema Chödrön is one of my favorite authors. And so I’ll just give 15 minutes for me to get inspired, to feel nourished.

I then do meditation. It took me many years to finally make meditation a daily practice, but I’m happy to say for the last few years it has, and it’s been nice. It doesn’t have to be long. You can do a guided meditation, you can do just a silent meditation, but I recommend a guided meditation if you’re just getting started. I actually have a bunch of meditations on my website, just so you can go through and for free at

And I also then do a mind dump, like I talked about. I basically do a mind dump every day, and I end with an appreciation list. So I connect to the things that are good, that feel good, that are beautiful, that are loving, that are delightful, because when we’re facing this barrage of what is wrong with the world, it’s really important to have something to offset that, to remind us of what we’re fighting for. This world wouldn’t be worth fighting for if there wasn’t a lot of love and beauty and connection and possibility.

So that’s my morning practice.

I also make sure I’m working out on a regular basis. And part of that is that cathartic, moving my system, changing the chemistry in my system.

I make sure I have lots of community.

And one little tip is I do something I call my sacred Sundays. So many of us are, are plugged in all the time and we’re kind of working half working a lot. And I know I could because I work from home, as many of us do. And so on Sundays I endeavor to not pick up an ounce of work, to not look at my computer, to not be on my computer. I generally try to be unplugged as well.

You don’t have to go that far, but I don’t do anything on Sundays that is a duty. I only do things that I want to do. So I try not to set an alarm. I try to follow the rhythms of my own body. I try not to do anything that I have to do. And for one day I allow myself to do the things I want to do. Just some space.

I worked up to a full day. It took me a while. You can start with a morning or an afternoon and then you can expand from there. But just to have a day where you aren’t whipped around by the forces of the world outside of you is really important. A day for you to feel safe, a day of sanctuary is really important.

Chantelle: That’s such good advice. I love that you have a daily routine and a weekly routine to handle this.

I feel like we’re all in different places in our journey on dealing with burnout, but I’ve absolutely gotten into places where I’m just thinking about the work all the time. And it’s not productive for me to be in that state because A, my brain doesn’t have a chance to recharge; and B, I can start to lose perspective of all the progress that’s being made and I can only see the negative.

So I’ve found it really helpful to make sure that I’m not only stepping away, but when I’m stepping away doing things that really replenish my energy so I can come back refreshed and motivated and hopeful.

So for me, that’s getting outdoors and going for hikes, moving my body and really connecting with nature, listening to the birds.

Getting in touch with my support network really helps me. Talking with my friends and family is really replenishing.

And I have my little one next to me right now. I share my home with a cat named Callie and spending time with her is really helpful, of course.

Kimberly: That’s so important. Having moments with animals that aren’t in pain and suffering is huge for animal advocates.

And if it’s not about having a family member who is an animal, it could be making regular trips to the farm sanctuary, things like that.

Amy: Thanks so much for sharing that, both of you. I know I very easily get overstimulated. I’m quite a sensitive person. And so I’ve come up with a lot of body techniques, maybe on top of some of the things that you mentioned.

So I do a lot of self soothing; hand on the chest, wrapping myself in blankets really tight, turning up the heat really high for a minute. I just find it’s very easy for me to get tense.

I’m resilient, but my body holds on to that. So I’m trying to soothe more often to try to be more conscious of soothing. We all do it naturally. Watch people who are nervous. They’ve got their hands near their face. They’re tapping things, they’re moving, right? But trying to be more conscious about those things.

I also try to dance at least once a week, like really dance, jump around and shake my body. Some mornings I put on like drum and bass and I start the day just jumping around the kitchen at seven in the morning because that’s what I need to reset. So yeah, I would say on top of all the mind things, do those body resets.

Kimberly: I love that. And I love that you said, I’m resilient. I know that you and most people that are listening could go for a long time. They could have knock after knock after knock, but does that mean you should? That’s the thing. You can until you can’t. That’s what happens with burnout is like, okay, no, I can handle it. I can handle it. And then one day, without warning, you can no longer handle it.

My advice is don’t be pushing yourself beyond the limits constantly. Even if you feel like you can, don’t do it. It is not the recipe for an enduring animal advocate. And we need you in this for as long as possible.

Amy: Absolutely.

Healing from burnout

Chantelle: That was all such good advice. I am really glad we had this discussion. It’s been really helpful to talk about dealing with and preventing overwhelm and burnout.

One last topic I’d like to touch on before we leave is for people who may already feel burnt out, well past the point of overwhelm.

Do you think it’s possible to truly heal from burnout, or do you think you just shift what you work on?

Kimberly: Well, one definitely needs to change the situation that led to the burnout. I do absolutely feel like you can heal from burnout, but it requires a total break, it requires rest. It requires some very deliberate nurturing and building back up again.

There’s a woman named Tricia Hersey. She runs something called The Nap Ministry and it’s aimed at folks in racial injustice, especially black women, but it’s something we can all learn from. And it’s an organization that promotes the liberating power of rest.

The motto is, rest is resistance. It’s the resistance to the damaging hustle culture framework. So rest has to happen; and not half rest, but full, permission-given rest.

And that’s the problem. Sometimes we have time off, but we haven’t given ourself permission. We’re not allowing it. So it doesn’t have that deeply restorative feeling.

That’s why I have my sacred Sundays. I have given myself full permission to rest. Not that kind of guilty, I’ll watch a show and then I feel guilty about it. That doesn’t restore you.

It’s very important if you’re dealing with burnout to get support, you need to have a counsellor or a peer healing community, you know, more time with friends and family. It can make you feel more held.

It’s important when you have burnout to feel held, but I think it is really important to work with some skilled help as far as that goes, not only in helping you to heal the burnout, but to help heal the patterns and the wounds that lead to burnout.

It’s not just that there’s so much to do. It’s also this place that we come from, in some of our society, but also that a lot of activists especially come from, that we need to earn our keep at every turn.

We’re not good enough. We’re not enough. We need to do more. We need to do more. We need to do more. We need to make ourselves worthy of being here. It’s the sort of limiting pattern that really needs to be healed in order for you to not completely dishonour yourself to do the work that we need to do.

And having a regular practice of processing pain, finding some space and stillness, getting more deliberate about moving through your life as an advocate.

Those should be non negotiables for every animal advocate.

Amy: Yeah. Thanks for sharing that. This is one that I puzzle over still. And personally, I know that the amount that it would take for me to, let’s say, work a full time advocacy specific job is maybe more healing time than I have in a lifetime.

But I still work in the movement. I’m still guiding strategy. What I’m doing now is I’m coaching an amazing team of animal advocates and I love that and I’m inspired by it and I’m excited every day to go to work.

And so I think that is also part of it is really letting go sometimes of the identities we have for ourselves and shaping something new ahead.

I struggled a lot with burnout this year, not from animal advocacy necessarily, although that was one piece, but from lots of personal life things.

And some of what I found is that burnout is almost like grieving where it’s not linear in any way. There’s no sense of time. It can take you years. You have to go through a process of acceptance that that’s the state you’re in, and then charting out a path and having acceptance for yourself each time you get off that path; and you get back on your path.

It’s just this wild adventure, but certainly finding rest is essential. And that can be through doing activities, that can be through being active, but a rest from outside pressure. Because I find it’s the pressure that puts me back into a state of burnout.

And so having friends who you can be like, Hey, I might cancel on you. I’d love to do something with you, but I might cancel. Those kinds of relationships are important where there is a freedom to be yourself as much as you can.

And I think the other piece that I want to mention is genuinely considering medication. I think there’s a lot of taboo around medication. And I see it in others, I see it in myself, you know, some challenges of like, what does this mean? What does it look to onboard this and that?

But speaking personally, I have had a lot of success in being consistently better because of medication. I think it plays a big role in not burning out and healing from burnout.

Kimberly: Yeah. Once you have burnt out, your system is all out of whack, your chemical levels. If getting on some medication is going to give you just a leg up for all of these other things that we’re talking about to take hold, because sometimes you’re so dysregulated that all of these tools, they can’t take hold.

I am absolutely 100 percent behind if taking medication is going to give you that boost that you need to be able to get regulated enough for all the other tools and all the other possibilities to take root. I’m all for it. Absolutely.

Learn more about coping with burnout and compassion fatigue

1. Watch the Animal Justice Academy lunchtime live with Kimberly Carroll:

2. Take the Vancouver Humane Society’s free training program:

3. Check out these resources from

Next episode

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