It can be difficult to stop wondering, Why does such a large proportion of the population continue to eat meat and animal products knowing how they were produced? It’s perfectly reasonable to have that thought, even perpetually, but it can become harmful to one’s mental health. This may partly explain why rates of mental illness, including anxiety and depression, are disproportionately high in vegans.
Here are some tips for caring for your mental health while remaining an effective, reasonable advocate for animals:
Remember that you were once like them
If you often have thoughts like: They deserve it, they eat meat! or So what? I’m vegan! this one pertains to you.
Like myself, you probably haven’t been vegan your whole life. Unlike me, you may not have been vegan for a very long time. Try to think back to how you were before you made the switch. Were you a nice person? Did you care about animals even though you ate them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? What made you “see the light” and realize that veganism was the right thing to do?
You certainly regret not going vegan sooner, as most of us do. But you probably don’t think you were a bad person before you went vegan; that person is the same person that eventually went vegan.
So partitioning the world into “good” and “bad” people based on whether or not they are vegan is not a great idea, for reasons that include your mental health. To hold such a view is to believe that we are constantly surrounded by malevolent, sadistic people. But many people are philanthropists who donate lots of money to saving lives. Some people volunteer to help the homeless or to foster pets. And numerous people are future vegans. People are not your enemy; bad reasons are. Have compassion for those who haven’t come around yet, and be patient.
You are more than “a vegan”
If you cannot stop thinking about the plight of livestock or the fact that most people don’t seem to care about it, this one’s for you.
Especially if you are a newbie vegan, like in your first year, it’s tempting to make your lifestyle choice the center of your identity. Maybe you are constantly consuming vegan-friendly content, going to vegan-only restaurants, or going to veggie meetups. You may think it’s the only thing anyone should really care about — and you might be right. But you’d be wrong to think such a frame of mind is psychologically healthy.
Similar to the first tip, this one is meant to warn against isolating yourself from non-vegans. It’s important to maintain contact with people who consume meat and animal products, not only because they may come around to see things the way you do, but also because living in an echo chamber where you only encounter others who share your views makes it immensely distressing when you have to face those that don’t. To set up such a situation would likely mean cutting your family ties, effectively eliminating what is to many people an extremely important support system during tough times.
The more you are around a diverse set of people, the more of a healthy conception of others you will have. Remember: most people are somewhat nice in most circumstances, and genuinely may not feel that what they are doing is wrong when they sit down for a meal. If you see the world through a vegan lens, you’ll be tempted to view otherwise good people as “evil.” Your identity is more than “a vegan,” and those with a different lifestyle’s is more than “a non-vegan.”
Check yourself first
If you often engage in “conversations,” inasmuch as vitriolic arguments online can be called such a thing, and it frequently ends up in ad hominem attacks, bans, or blocks, please read on.
Before jumping in on an argument — such as a social media thread — try a little self-reflection. Is it possible that you are taking things out of context? Might the individual you are about to confront be making a very narrow point that is, in and of itself, accurate? Do you have a sense of how this will play out, and it doesn’t look good? If the answer to any of this is “yes,” then it may be better to let it go (something I frequently struggle with, I’ll admit).
Another question to ask yourself is how you’re feeling. Are you having a particularly rough day? Have you had a hard time of giving others the benefit of the doubt as of late? If so, you may have a tougher time engaging in an effective, evidence-based, reasoned argument in favor of veganism, and it may end up doing more harm than good, both to your mental health and to others’ conception of veganism and its ethical imperative.
All of these have a common theme: take care of yourself first, so that you can remain an effective advocate for animals. Give others the benefit of the doubt, but only when they deserve it. Make sure you are understanding what others are claiming, including by asking clarifying questions. Have compassion for those who are not making the connection that you are between animals, suffering, and food. Don’t view the world as black-and-white, good versus evil, vegan versus everyone else.
This advice is easier said than done, and I don’t claim to be good at it myself. Much of this advice is very similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, and you might want to think about finding a therapist who can provide such services if you’re really struggling.
One thing you can do — and perhaps all of us should be doing — is meditation. It’s been proven to help with anxiety, depression, emotion regulation, mindfulness, compassion, and more. Even just five minutes a day can do wonders. It’s something I’ve been meaning to implement for years, but just haven’t gotten around to it. If the fact that the vegan revolution hasn’t come yet stresses you out, try making it a goal to hone your meditation skills by doing it for just five to ten minutes a day.
Maintaining a solid state of mental health is important not only for you, but ultimately for the animals who will benefit from the propagation of a reasoned veganism. Happy, healthy, and realistic vegans are what we need to push veganism into a new era.
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