Compassion fatigue is overexposure to pain and suffering, leading to stress and a decreased ability to show empathy. Some suggest a more suitable term is ‘Empathy Fatigue’. Compassion triggers the release of positive neurotransmitters and leaves you revitalized whilst empathy triggers areas of the brain that sense pain and stress, decreasing positive neurotransmitters. Feeling too much empathy will bring you down.
Whatever the title, the devastating effect is the same. In the COVID-induced mayhem of contemporary veterinary practice, burnout is almost inevitable. So how can we remain compassionate, and empathetic, without fatigue?
Look After You
Psychotherapist and compassion fatigue specialist Dr. Elizabeth Strand refers to an ethical responsibility to keep yourself well. Whilst this feels for all the world like something else to burden the moral compass, it is vital to surviving in the profession. Perhaps the only way to persuade a population of chronic over-carers to look after themselves is to say it will affect their ability to look after others if they don’t!
In current times, client complaints are frustratingly common.
Where do you start with self-care?
The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration encourages the building of resilience by ensuring good sleep, exercise, nutrition, and relaxation. Supporting these basics with a good personal hygiene routine helps too. Other important criteria include alone-time, engaging with colleagues, practicing spiritual beliefs, and putting stressful thoughts down on paper to clear the head.
Never take a client’s annoyance personally or participate in an argument. Neither will help control the situation.
Why is it important to find time for self-care?
If we are practicing compassion without self-care, we can slide from overworking willingly, to cynicism and bitterness, and then to physical ailments like tiredness and colds, before entering an extreme apathy described as the ‘zombie phase’. In this phase, negative coping strategies like alcohol misuse can arise. The earlier the slide is interrupted the more readily it is reversed. Finding time for self-care is difficult, but it may be the only way to get compassion without fatigue.
Becky has worked as a vet in the South West of England since graduating in 2011. Having worked with farm animals and horses in the past, Becky now works solely with pet animals. She particularly enjoys caring for elderly patients and those with long-term health conditions.