Sustainable Activism

Coping with Trauma for Animal Activists

By Stephanie Wiebe*, Ph.D., C.Psych

What is Trauma?

A traumatic event is… an experience involving actual or threatened death or serious injury or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others. A traumatic experience can involve one specific event, or can be a series of events. Because of the horrific treatment of animals and people in industries that exploit animals, animal advocates are often exposed to traumatic events in the course of their work.

"All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming." - Helen Keller

Common reactions to trauma:

  • Reliving the event through memories, or nightmares that may involve images, emotions, thoughts or physical sensations you experienced when the event took place. You may even feel like you are going through the trauma again.
  • These experiences may be triggered by reminders of the event. Reminders can be anything reminiscent of the trauma and involve all the 5 senses.
  • You may find yourself wanting to avoid situations that remind you of the event.
  • You may feel numb and find it hard to express your feelings or feel emotionally distant from other people.
  • Changes in the way you view other people or the world.
  • You may feel on edge, irritable, and have difficulty relaxing or falling asleep.

Most of these experiences usually fade as time passes. Past traumatic experiences can make subsequent trauma more difficult to cope with - current traumatic events can trigger memories such as images, feelings, physical sensations of past traumatic experiences as well. How you cope with these experiences can impact how long they last and how tolerable they are.

Coping with trauma:

Do not…

  •     Isolate yourself from other people
  •     Use problematic coping methods such as alcohol or drugs
  •     Do not blame yourself or loved ones - the reality is that the atrocities done to animals are a result of a flawed system, not any one person.


  • Talk to people who you trust.
  • Start informal or formal support groups for animal advocates.
  • Take care of yourself - remember what you always found pleasurable and deliberately schedule it into your life.
  • Learn your own reactions to trauma, notice it when it's happening.
  • When you are reliving the trauma, do what you can to stay present even as you are having the trauma memory. Use your 5 senses to notice the environment around you right now.
  • Learn mindfulness meditation to cope with distressing emotions.
  • Engage in exercise such as yoga.
  • Spend time with animals - visit a sanctuary or spend time with companion animals - give yourself experiences that directly counter the traumatic ones.

When Should I Seek Help?

A mental health professional can help you cope with trauma reactions. You should especially seek help from a mental health professional if…

  • Trauma reactions are very distressing or get in the way of living your life and having fulfilling relationships.
  • The trauma reactions last longer than 1 month

Where Can I Go For Help?

  • Talk to your family physician
  • Talk to a psychologist or psychotherapist
  • In Defense of Animals Animal Activists Helpline - Phone: (800) 705-0425 Email:
  • Ontario Psychological Association -
  • Toronto Psychotherapists -
  • Toronto Distress Centre - 24/7 crisis line: (416) 408- 4357



Post-Traumatic Stress:

  • Life After Trauma: A Workbook - Rosenbloom & Williams
  • Reclaiming Your Life from a Traumatic Experience - Rothbaum & Foa

Sustainable Activism: 

  • Strategic Action for Animals - Melanie Joy
  • Aftershock - pattrice jones
  • Trauma Stewardship - Laura van Dernoot Lipsky
  • The Lifelong Activist - Hilary Rettig

Mindfulness Resources

  • Meditation - Tara Brach
  • Guided Mindfulness Meditation - Jon Kabat-Zinn

Herbal Remedies:

  • Kava Root extract (Yogi stress relief Tea)
  • Bach Rescue remedy

Take good care of yourself!  - Tips and resources

By Roxanne Catlandia Kirtright - North Carolina Farmed Animal Save

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat right
  • Exercise
  • Meditate
  • Ask for help
  • Talk to a friend
  • Get yourself into nature
  • Journal
  • Check in with yourself often
  • Relax
  • Read something inspirational
  • Do a good deed
  • Use aromatherapy
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Do a guided visualization
  • Create a piece of art
  • Take a walk
  • Listen to music
  • Dance
  • Practice letting go of the past
  • Say no sometimes
  • Unplug from the internet
  • Write yourself a love letter

Resources for Activists on Self Care

  • Try this Facebook online support group: Animal Activist Online Support Group
  • Try reading a book:
    • Self-Care for Activists: A Guide to Clearing Yourself of Trauma While Working for a Better World  by Erik Marcus
    • Compassion Satisfaction: 50 Steps to Healthy Caregiving by Patricia Smith
  • Depression Toolkit
  • (especially the Walk page)
  • (great app for your phone)
  • (this is adorable and helps)
  • (interactive, work through things that have happened)
  • (interactive, work through your stress)
  • (nature sounds mixer...can also use app Atmosphere)
  • (you will cry, in a good way)
  • (lie that you are in Australia when you register for free classes on stress, anxiety, depression, and mindfulness)