Compassion Fatigue and Anger: How to Tame your Dragon

cartoon angry cat Several years ago, while working at the local animal shelter, a co-worker of mine came bursting through the door screaming, “I can’t fucking take this anymore!” I suggested we go outside and get some air. As he lit up a cigarette, he began to sob. “If one more person surrenders an animal today, I’m going to reach across the counter and strangle them. I just can’t do this anymore,” he told me, as tears streamed down his face. If you are involved in animal welfare in any capacity, you can probably relate to this pain and frustration all too well. Dealing with an often ignorant public can make your blood boil to the point of exhaustion and emotional breakdown. Anger is a very common symptom of compassion fatigue. But anger is also a normal emotion, often associated with other feelings, such as fear, sadness, guilt, shame, loneliness, or hurt. In fact, anger often inspires and motivates us to fight for positive change – such as saving homeless animals. But when our emotions get the best of us, we can end up causing harm to others as well as ourselves. Studies have suggested that excessive, extreme, or chronic anger can increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. So what is one to do when pissed off at the world? To get a grip on your anger, it’s helpful to understand what sets you off in the first place. In other words, see if you can identify some of your early warning signs:
  • Increase in heart rate
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • Clenched fists or jaw
  • Tight muscles
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Headaches
  • Stomach problems
  • Trembling in body or hands
  • Sweating
  • Feeling sad or anxious
  • Begin pacing
  • Face feels hot
  • Become aggressive
  • Throw or hit things
  • Become emotionally or physically abusive toward others
  • Yell or scream
  • Cry
  • Become quiet
  • Use sarcasm
  • Frown
  • Lose sense of humor
Chances are, you first learned how to deal with anger as a child. Were you allowed to express your anger or were you forced to stuff it down? Did you witness or experience verbal, physical, or sexual abuse and now find yourself blowing up? It has been suggested some common ways of dealing with anger, such as keeping it inside, venting, or engaging in really intense exercise can actually harm us in the long run. The best way to handle anger? Let it go. Try some of these healthier techniques to help tame your temper:
  • Count to 10…or more
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Take a time-out
  • Use humor and laughter
  • Go outside for a walk
  • Draw or paint your anger
  • Practice deep breathing
  • Journal your thoughts
  • Use assertive communication
  • Limit your exposure to violence in the media (TV, movies, video games, Internet, etc.)
  • Write a letter expressing your anger and then destroy it. Tear it up, shred it, burn it, bury it!
  • Join a support group
  • Talk it out with a mental health professional
What are some ways that help you deal with your anger in animal welfare?