It seems inevitable that once our eyes are opened to animal exploitation, we become more aware of the injustices that happen across the globe – human trafficking, poverty, child exploitation, food inaccessibility, and racial injustice, to name a few. 

We may feel overwhelmed with sorrow at the extent of suffering caused to others, which can cause us to feel helpless, hopeless, and powerless, giving rise to depression and anxiety. Worse, still, may be the additional feelings of guilt in realising just how long we ignored, or were complicit in, this suffering. Any sort of change can be accompanied by feelings of loss, grief, and sadness. In the case of veganism, this sorrow is for the trillions of animals each year who are needlessly destroyed, for the animal harm that we ourselves contributed to, or simply for the blissful ignorance that we once enjoyed, but which we realise doesn’t actually stop the injustice from happening.

Being positive doesn’t equate to feeling happy and upbeat all the time. In fact, rather ironically, true happiness mean experiencing all of our emotions (even the unpleasant ones) and working through them so that they can dissipate naturally. This requires us to have the emotional literacy to recognise our emotions, to experience them fully, to process them and understand the message behind them, and then to heed that message, and act.

  1. Awareness. Being aware of what we’re feeling requires some self-insight into how we experience different emotions. For example, anger might feel like a warm flush or an electric sensation. Sadness may feel like heaviness or fatigue. Worry may feel like tightness in the chest or jaw.
  1. Experience. This is where we acknowledge our feelings to ourselves, such as “I am feeling angry right now. I can feel that my teeth are clenched and my whole body feels warm. I am going to take 10 deep and forceful breaths to relieve some of this tension”.
  1. Understand. Once the initial intensity of the emotion starts to diminish, we can examine our situation more objectively and understand why we’re feeling the way we do. For example, anger is a natural response to injustice, so we may have become angered after a conversation about veganism where the other person didn’t seem to care (and we believe that they should).
  1. Act. With our new understanding and insight, we can channel our emotions in a productive way. Anger at animal exploitation and the apathy of others can be channeled into a stronger desire to advocate for animals – perhaps by joining fellow animal activists at events or strengthening our communication skills to be more effective in conversations with others.

When we’re able to experience our full spectrum of emotions, we become better able to focus and channel our energy – in all areas, without constantly repeating cycles of unreleased emotion like anger, guilt, and sadness. This also allows us to be more objective about our world and our role in it. We may find ourselves focusing more on our activism, exploring ways we can be more effective, efficient, and collaborative, focusing on the many ways that various people around the world advocate for animals. 

In the apt words of Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Dr. Ash Nayate

Dr Ash Nayate is a vegan neuropsychologist, activist, writer, speaker, and mum. She made the shift from meat-eater to vegan overnight after watching the documentary Earthlings in 2008. Ash helps vegans, activists, and young people to improve their mental health and wellbeing. For over a decade she has been working in private practice as well as in major hospitals across Melbourne. Ash initially became vegan for ethical reasons, and quickly became immersed in the mental health benefits of a vegan lifestyle, and she is a strong advocate for brain health. In 2018 she released her first book on mental health for activists and change agents , titled "Staying Positive in a F*cked Up World".

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