I hope everyone survived the holiday season intact! I know the winter holidays can actually be a stressful time for a lot of people. The two or so months before Christmas are the busy season for my job, so my life always feels extra hectic leading up to the holidays. I just adore my two dogs, Kitsune and Fenrir, and I spend a lot of time playing with, training, exercising, and otherwise caring for them. I also volunteer in my local community to help animals in need. A lot of my time, money, and emotions get invested into my animal friends. I’ve never regretted doing this, but I’ve been known to sometimes invest so much into my pets that I neglect some aspects of my own self care.
What pet lover hasn’t spent sleepless nights caring for a sick, or senior, pet, chosen pet food over new sneakers, taken Fido for just one more walk because he’s excited to go, even though you’re basically asleep on your feet?
Pets are amazing. They become members of our families and can improve our lives in so many ways. But caring for animals can sometimes be draining. Much like life in general, as much as we want things to always go our way, owning pets isn’t always sunshine and butterflies. It’s puppy snuggles and proud moments, but it’s also puppy poop and frustrating moments.
Compassion fatigue, sometimes called secondary traumatic stress, is, basically, burnout caused by investing so much of yourself into caring for others. It’s a relatively common occurrence in people who work with people or animals, including veterinarians, paramedics, police officers, and animal welfare workers. It can also occur in people who act as caregivers, such as people caring for chronically ill human family members or pets. According to Banner Health, symptoms of compassion fatigue can include things like physical, phycological, and emotional exhaustion, feeling helpless, hopeless, powerless, irritable, angry, numb, or sad, and even physical symptoms such as appetite and sleep disturbances, nausea, or dizziness.
I think it’s common for animal lovers to put the needs of their pets above their own. Our animals didn’t ask to be our pets, after all. By taking them into our homes we make a commitment to provide for them. That, in most situations, wouldn’t be enough to completely drain someone. We find time to catch up on our sleep after staying up to care for a sick pet, and buy those sneakers with our next paycheck. But when we continuously make sacrifices for our pets, for our jobs, for human family members, then sacrifice even more to help animals in the shelter, all on limited sleep because we also have to work and just generally deal with everyday life, sometimes things can start to add up.
It’s important, especially for those of us who care so much for others, to take time to care for ourselves! It can be all too easy to overlook our own needs when we have so much other stuff on our plates. But doing so often leads to a cycle of stress and frustration. The more we ignore our own needs, the worse we feel, the harder/more stressful it can feel to devote ourselves to others. If we’re tired and run down from not sleeping/eating/etc. well, or stressed and frustrated from a lack of down time, then we’re most likely not on top of our game when it comes to caring for those we love. It’s not selfish to spend time taking care of your own needs, whatever they may be. You have to take care of yourself to be at your best when it comes to taking care of others!
I know my own stress for sure impacts my dogs and how we interact with each other. I suffer from anxiety so stress is a pretty regular part of my life. But lately I’ve been feeling worse than usual. We have a lot going on right now, and working so many extra hours means I haven’t had much time to myself. Before things got too bad I decided to take a step back, to try to figure out what I could do to eliminate some stress.
I’ve been trying to set aside a bit of time each day when I can forget about work, get a break from my partner and the dogs, and just relax. It’s been nice to focus more on some of my passions that don’t involve caring for others, like reading and crafting. I’ve been trying to cook healthier meals and set aside some time each day to exercise. Having some time to really focus on myself, even if it’s only for 30 minutes a day, really helps me stay on top of my game when it comes to caring for others, my pets included.
I’d love to hear from you! Comment below. Does caring or making sacrifices for your pets ever cause you stress? What are some things you enjoy doing for yourself to help combat the stress?
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