Picture this: you’ve hopped onto Facebook and are scrolling down your news feed, happily reading status updates, giggling at funny comments and peeping some of your friends’ freshly uploaded photos when you stumble upon a picture or video posted depicting some sort of heinous act of animal cruelty. It hits you in your heart, your gut and your head as you spend the rest of the day trying to shake what you just saw.
As long-time ethical vegans, we don’t need to see these images to understand that what is happening to our sweet animal friends on factory farms, behind closed doors and even in broad daylight is inhumane and criminal. Let’s face it, media like that is preaching to the choir on our news feeds, and while they are important images for the public to consume as agents of change, often they can leave us feeling shocked, sad and angry; emotions that can last long after the images have left our sights.
Sometimes it only takes one cruel image or a sarcastic remark about our vegan lifestyle to activate the stress response, and if those feelings are activated for too long and/or too often, you may be jeopardizing your health.
So what can we do as caring and concerned humans and sweetly sensitive ethical vegans to stay alert, aware and educated but also preserve our health, happiness and social vibrance at the same time? How do we avoid being overwhelmed with sadness, or deeply depressed when others around us seem to be oblivious to what we know?
You might also enjoy these related articles:
- 10 Reasons Why Vegans Should Be Happy
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- Get the Picture: Do Pictures Help Change the Minds of Our Facebook Friends?
Below are 6 ways to deal with negative feelings we might experience as vegans in a predominately non-vegan world:
1. Figure out what you have control over
Like any situation in life, the only aspect we have control over is ourselves. Despite tireless and noble activism, we may not be able to end all animal suffering immediately, but we can decide how we are going to act and react when we see, hear or read about abuse of any sentient being. The next five examples address ways to take control of your feelings so that you can stay happy and healthy while helping our animal friends.
2. Limit your exposure
Desensitizing may never work for us super sensitive ethical vegans. Over time, the more we are exposed to animal cruelty, the worse we feel. I know that is the case for me.
My goal is to stay educated while also limiting my exposure as much as possible. If I see a video on Facebook that is titled “Caught On Tape: Dog Beaten By Owner”, I will presume I can vaguely guess what the video entails, and I avoid clicking the play button. Figure out what triggers you and then limit your exposure to those triggering events.
3. Thought stopping and thought replacement
Ok, so you hit the play button on that video and you cannot stop replaying the gruesome images you saw and wishing you could change those involved. Now what?
Thought stopping and thought replacement are an effective cognitive behavioral technique that can help you manage intrusive negative thoughts. The basis of the technique is that, after identifying and becoming aware of your negative thought patterns, you consciously make the effort to change by replacing them with thoughts that are more productive. By interrupting the negative thought patterns, you divert your attention away from thoughts that are damaging to your health.
For example, when you notice a repetitive negative thought, use a phrase like “stop”, “go away” or “these thoughts are not welcome here” and choose a healthier and more productive thought or affirmation as a replacement.
4. Reframe your thinking
So let’s say you are a fervent ethical vegan, but your loved ones still consume animal products, and according to you, are participating in the commodification of animals and animal cruelty. You’ve educated them in a non-threatening, helpful way, but they are still choosing to consume what they deem palatable. This can leave any ethical vegan feeling helpless and hopeless, so what can we do to remedy the situation? This is where reframing comes into the picture.
Like thought stopping, cognitive reframing is meant to interrupt negative thought patterns, but with reframing, you are going a step further. The beauty of this is that you are not only changing your thought patterns, but you are consciously assigning new meanings to situations that may be triggering.
Original thought: “I can’t believe my husband still eats meat after everything he knows. He’s being so selfish and insensitive.”
Thought reframed: “There is a lesson in this situation, and it is here to teach me to be more patient and less judgmental. This is an opportunity for personal growth.”
Remember, thought replacement and reframing are not to be used to avoid your feelings, but rather, they are to be used when you are ruminating and thoughts become repetitive, damaging and possibly obsessive.
5. Productiveness over negativeness
Instead of focusing on the cruel images you’ve seen or stories you’ve heard and on the individuals involved, shift your focus toward something positive, like what you can do to remedy the situations that make you uncomfortable and unhappy.
Write to your senators, get involved in animal activism or share your knowledge on a blog, website or with friends. There are many ways to promote veganism – choose the ways that work for you.
6. Find an outlet
When feelings become overwhelming, sometimes the only prescription is a good ol’ fashioned healthy outlet. Exercising, meditating, finding support with like-minded individuals, writing in a journal, watching a funny movie and playing with your beloved pet are all great ways to release pent up frustrations and activate the relaxation response.