Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
12 January 2000 Issue

How To Avoid (or At Least Cope With) Burnout
Welcome to Vegan Street,

It follows our every move, breathing its hot breath down our necks. It surfaces in dreams, warning us of its presence. It pounces on us when we are most weary, suffocating us with its weight. What is this insatiable beast, and what does it want from us? Simply put, its name is Burnout and its mission is to render us too apathetic to fight it. At Vegan Street, we have been observing this noisome creature for years, sometimes while in its clutches, other times while charting its course from a safe distance. We have compiled empirical data from our field studies in order to bring you, the online activist community, the latest in Burnout research, with the hope that if we understand its nature, we can work with it.

"Work with it?!?", repeats the well-intentioned activist incredulously, "Why would we want to work with such a sinister fiend?" To answer that we simply state that to understand the nature of the beast is to realize that those who think they are immune to Burnout are most vulnerable to it. Let us begin our exposition (best we should proceed with caution so as to not to draw its unwanted, hungry attention.)

The habitat: Having no natural home of its own, Burnout has to invade other territories, and it is almost invariably drawn to busy, frenetic host environments. It lurks behind cluttered desks; it hides under beds that are rarely used. Any home of hectic activity is where this impudent creature will likely dwell; once it has firmly taken root, though, it starts to warp the environment to suit its needs. The change is drastic and severe, for while Burnout is drawn to active places, it truly thrives in the sleepy, subdued conditions that it creates.

How it operates: Victims may feel slightly fatigued, perhaps a bit peckish after their first contact with Burnout, but in a very short time it will make its presence known in much bolder terms. The nature of the disease is so invasive, so demanding, that those afflicted with deeper levels of Burnout exposure will soon long for days of mere sluggishness as the full weight of apathy comes crashing down, rendering them nearly immobilized. Mere shadows of their former selves, the classic Burnout victims display obvious indifference to the passions that once propelled them.

How to combat it: A general rule is that it's easier to prevent Burnout than it is to rid oneself of it once it has taken root. Potential victims can often stave off Burnout by developing myriad interests, relaxing when they need to, and knowing when to say no to new projects. We have found, through both personal experience and observation, that this disease strikes those who are over-extended, frazzled and tense. What to do? It's pretty simple: we advise that people keep active in pursuing their interests, but balance intensity and focus with a little play time. Go see a movie, meet a friend for coffee or read a book. Additionally, starting a hobby, like pottery making or yoga, helps to enhance and diversify your life, making you less vulnerable to Burnout. And don't wait until you feel it creeping up behind you, ready to pounce; if you make it a habit to add balance to your life, not only is Burnout less likely to strike to begin with, but we have found it to be an all-around positive thing to do anyway. Here are a few more specific pointers:

Get a larger view: A colleague of ours once metaphorically referred to her work environment as "swimming around in a dirty fishbowl". In this state of muddiness, we become so singly focused that we fail to see the edges of things, and forget that there is a huge world beyond our daily existence. While we certainly would never wish to subject a fish to such a condition, it is unfortunately all to common for many an activist (not to mention, a great many other people) to live in this environment. Often the best remedy is to simply crawl out of the bowl for a little while and take a breather.

On a recent Sunday, your Vegan Street researchers were feeling kind of rundown and uninspired, but we still wanted to get out of the house. We narrowed our options down to either hearing a lecture about factory farming or seeing a new exhibit at the museum. We read, hear and think about factory farming a lot and it takes an emotional toll on us; we don't often take advantage of our city's wonderful museums though. Balancing out the two, we chose the latter. It ended up being a wise decision, because looking at and talking about the paintings and sculptures gave us a fresh perspective and rejuvenation. If we had gone to the lecture, it's unlikely we would have been able to clear our minds like we were able to after a visit to the museum. The next day, we were refreshed and renewed in a way we may not been otherwise. Burnout, which had been imminent, retreated like a vampire at the first ray of light.

The creativity we can use in our activism is enhanced by life experiences, and in order to have life experiences, we need to try as many new and diverse things as possible.

Get in touch with what you're trying to protect. A couple of summers ago, we spent some time at a workshop with Rae Sikora and Zoe Weil from the Center for Compassionate Living in Maine. After years of working with activists, Zoe and Rae discovered that highly compassionate people often get so caught up in their work that they fail to sit back and simply stand in awe of Nature and all her beauty. For two days, we frolicked in tide pools, walked blindfolded (but guided) through the woods, and experienced a prairie simply by our sense of smell. It was a wonderful retreat and we met some amazing activists (who were all, of course, fighting the same Burnout as we were).

Another highly invigorating experience for an animal-rights activist is to visit an animal sanctuary. Our visit to Farm Sanctuary in California served as a reminder of why we do what we do. We nuzzled cows, played with turkeys, cuddled lambs. The experience was at once relaxing and invigorating, because it helped us get back to earth and sharpen our minds. If we know what motivates us only in an abstract, theoretical sort of way, Burnout has much more opportunity to nudge it's way into our lives. But if we're really touching the animals, looking into their eyes and communicating wordlessly, we know exactly who we are working for and why it's so important.

So there you have it! The intrepid researchers at Vegan Street have once again risked their well-being to bring you, the online activist community, the latest information about the perils that lie in wait for unsuspecting vegans. Remember, Burnout cannot infiltrate if we don't allow it! Contribute your thoughts about how you've chased Burnout from your doorstep at by sending an e-mail to Marla at [email protected]

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