I keep fish. They are my pets. They stare at me when it's their dinner time. They like low light and hiding places. I change their water regularly and they are fed fish flakes. The fish like hiding around this cute little plant. They also like being able to dig in the sand. People tell me I'm a good pet fish owner. I just tell them I pick fish that are hard to kill.
There are several things that make it easy to get burned out when you're in the mental health field. Lengthy education (My Master's program requires 60 credit hours, which of course is a drop in the bucket compared to doctoral programs or medical school/residency), long hours, more education (CEU's and trainings on specific therapies), business expenses, funding cuts from The Powers That Be, managed care, and well, people. Working with people is tough, especially if you like them.
What makes mental health work especially rough is that it's hard to escape. The media is filled with frequently inaccurate portrayals of interventions and people with x, y, and z issues. Read The New York Times, and there will be some criticism of the DSM or something about a newly approved medication or the latest person who fell through the mental health system cracks and killed someone as the result. You might have a friend who wants you to diagnose their ex with something because "He clearly is a sociopath." Flip through a magazine while waiting to get your hair cut and voilà, there is an ad for Pristiq.
I've heard mental health workers say, "What do I do about burnout?" Well, you make time to do something that has nothing to do with mental health (other than your own). I've experienced The Burnout, both in work and in school. It made me an extremely unpleasant person and ineffective worker. I had to learn that time set aside wasn't just the movie I watched or going to a yoga class. It was a mental space, and it's not a space that is easily maintained.
Part of my mental space is taken up by those fish I mentioned. The fish were purchased from a breeder in Oregon, who sent them to me by second day UPS Air - my daughter likes to talk about "the fish we got in the mail." Their "grandparents" were (legally) caught out of Africa's Lake Malawi by the breeder. They can live up to 10 years, and they were three months old when they joined the household. The little plant is supposed to flower underwater when it gets bigger. So yes, I make it a point to keep my fish alive and no, not all aquarium fish come from Petco.
It seems to work. I guess some of my mental space needs to be occupied by something that isn't human.