5 Powerful Tips for Improved Mental Health in Animal Welfare

October 14th, 2021

By Sara Miller

Compassion fatigue and burnout are among the mental health concerns familiar to animal welfare professionals. They are very common in this industry, which is why it is critical to be mindful of your mental health. We've gathered five powerful tips to help.

1. Use your paid time off (PTO).

If you have PTO available, take time off from work, and truly unplug. Sometimes, especially when a shelter is short staffed, or intake is high, it can feel overwhelming to take time off—like the animals need you and there’s no one else to help.

We get it. We've been there. But taking breaks for yourself makes you better for the animals, your team, and the community you serve.

You work hard. Rest is necessary to your longevity in this field. Take it.

2. Set healthy boundaries.

Give yourself a healthy work-life balance. Only you can set boundaries for yourself and setting those boundaries will teach your coworkers and supervisor what your limits are.

If you’re able in your role, do not check email after a certain time of day. This can be hard because checking email becomes habitual, like checking social media. A great way to set that boundary with yourself is not logging into your work account on your phone and putting your work computer away when you’re done for the day.

Another aspect of setting healthy boundaries is making it clear when you’ve got too much on your plate. Manage up with your boss when you need help prioritizing your to-do list. If you don’t have help, are there parts of your job that could be done with volunteer support?

Think about what you need to be the most successful, balanced, and happy in your role—and take steps every week to get there. If you’d like to learn more about setting boundaries, we like the book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life

3. Practice self care regularly.

Self care means taking care of yourself, for the sake of your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Self care isn’t selfish, it allows you to show up in your life (and therefore your work!) as the best version of yourself. Practicing self care, while not a cure, can be a helpful preventative or coping skill for those that are feeling overwhelmed.

What does self care look like? It can be a lot of different things. The most important is selecting self care that is effective for you. This could look like meditating in the morning when you wake up, walking in the evening with your family or your dog, or reading a book. It could also look like a dance party alone in your living room, a hot shower, or a “just because” drive.

Some of the tips we’ve shared could also be considered self care, such as setting healthy boundaries and taking time off. Ultimately, self care is about taking care of yourself so you can show up as the best version of yourself.

4. Leaders! Create a mental health-friendly environment.

As a leader, you must set your employees up for success at your organization by creating an open and mental health-friendly environment.

Destigmatizing mental health is key to opening up the floor for important conversations, such as when an employee is struggling with their mental health. This article from the Harvard Business Review is a great place to start.

5. Check in with your coworkers.

This line of work is hard! Check in on your team and support each other. If you’re overwhelmed, others probably are too. Ask people how they’re doing and listen to them. Be vulnerable with people and others will share too.

One great way to get started with this is creating a shoutout spot in your organization to celebrate specific moments of hard work and commit to acknowledging a specific number of people every week. Give people the benefit of the doubt that they’re doing their best and try to think from their perspective.

Everyone has a different sized plate. Give your coworkers space to be human.

On that note, don’t forget to give yourself space to be human. Take care of your mental health. Lean into practicing self care regularly, and building a healthy work environment. Don't be afraid to seek out professional help, either—whether in person, or using a teletherapist, or via an app.

And don’t forget, you are not alone in this work.

Sara Miller is the Digital Marketing Specialist for American Pets Alive! and Human Animal Support Services. She is the queen of puns behind the Collaborate and Learn newsletter. Outside of her work with AmPA! and HASS, Sara teaches about self care and shares about her own experiences with mental health on her podcast, The Self Care Lifestyle.

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