How To Manage Veterinary Compassion Fatigue
Those that don’t take care of themselves may reach the point of being unable to care for others…
You probably don’t get told this enough but we are deeply grateful that as a Vet or Vet Nurse or Veterinary Team Member you care for our pets and animals. You are generous, empathetic and your many years of study, as well as you practical experience, means you are an expert that we trust.
Caregivers are rewarded in your work in special ways. The ability to heal and help is virtuous and important. Those that dedicate their lives to this work know the magnitude of your efforts are genuinely fulfilling. And you also know that it comes with great internal costs, namely: vulnerability, occasional helplessness and a small but significant share of failures, often out of your control.
Whether you’re a Veterinary student, graduate, Nurse or experienced Veterinarian within the field, there’s a balance to be found between the practice of your skills and the practice of dealing with difficult situations that can be personally affecting.
We all know that there will be consultations with little to no hope of success and bad news to deliver. There are moments of hand (or paw) holding as patients deal with loss or animals endure pain. There’s that mirror that you didn’t expect to look into, in the eyes of a client that is stressed by the Vet bill. It is all to easy for you take on the hopelessness of circumstances and frustrations of others, often unexpectedly. Everyone deals with these inevitabilities in their own way and there’s no predicting when the stress will come home with you, haunt you or begin to take a toll on your own well-being.
The term for the difficulty of caring for others at the expense of oneself is known as “compassion fatigue.” Veterinary practitioners, nurses, doctors and responders to emergency situations are especially susceptible to its corollaries.
The lesson for those that suffer from compassion fatigue or a general sense of burnout is this: those that don’t take care of themselves may reach the point of being unable to care for others.
So how can veterinary caregivers manage the stress?
Maintaining a solid network of family, friends and colleagues is a good foundation. Recognizing that your own health is at risk is a huge first step. The following recommendations are easy to adopt and encourage Veterinarians and Veterinary caregivers to take action for your own sake so that you can perform optimally in the service of others.
Voice Your Feelings
There are bad days in every occupation. But when the bad days outnumber the good days it’s time to air your concerns. Especially when concerns become physical setbacks such as forgetfulness, anxiety or the inability to focus, to name a few, it’s necessary that you tell someone. Whether you seek a professional ear or that of a friend – the benefit of having someone on your side can effect an enormous release of pressure. On another level, it’s important to voice your feelings as a sort of assurance policy. It could be that you’re undervaluing the severity of a situation and taking it upon yourself. Discussing problems might discourage the escalation of something that only another person is able to discern as serious.
Take Quality Time Out
There’s a bold line between being busy and being productive. No matter how busy you are it’s fundamental for well-being to take breaks. Schedule time on your calendar to do so and honor it as you would any other appointment. Even if you’re confident about your work-life balance it’s still worth taking a closer look at the quality of your free time.
Do you feel energetic and rejuvenated when you return to the clinic or hospital? If you don’t feel fully charged, switch things up. Go to a different coffee shop on your break or have that second cup and stay longer. Indulge in something that makes you happy. Redeem air miles and plan a weekend away (even if you think you’re too busy!) Buy yourself flowers or new gardening tools and spend time reviving your garden. Open old cookbooks and refuel your body with wholesome meals. Creating quality experiences for yourself is a fantastic antidote to stress and a worthy endeavor for your well-being.
Shift Your Perspective
Caregivers are often empathetic by nature. Growing weary of the work is one thing but pervasive apathy is another. Rekindle your true calling to the service of others by taking a lateral approach. Offer your time to the community. Volunteering with children is a rewarding way to give back and extend that generous heart of yours. Nurturing your natural assets in new ways can brighten your outlook. Shifting your approach results in shifting your attitude. Ultimately, you’ll be able to take that attitude with you back to your Veterinary work and overcome any dispiritedness.
Sip, Sleep and Smile
Dehydration and sleep deficiency can lead to a host of ailments. The long hours and tireless tasks of a veterinary job demand a lot of sacrifices. Drinking water and proper rest should never be among them. It’s easy to overlook what your body needs. Play it safe and set standard goals for yourself. Eight hours of sleep and eight glasses of water a day are good targets. The good news is that these are simple rules to follow and offer a lot in the long run in terms of your wellness.
Smiling is pretty simple too. When we’re battling fatigue or burnout we find ourselves forcing smiles or altogether smiling less. But it’s urgent that we offer a genuine smile, even if it takes practice. Those around you depend upon it more than you may realize. Make a conscious effort to get reacquainted with a winning smile and don’t be surprised how great it makes you feel to flash it more often…and how many more smiles you will receive back too.
Compassion is what motivates pet owners to trust Veterinarians with their animals. Managing stress and fatigue is an indispensable part of the caregiving role. So, one of the most important things we can remember is that taking care of others starts with taking care of ourselves.
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