Compassion fatigue (Proceedings)


Compassion fatigue is a common and expected result of stress.

Compassion fatigue is a common and expected result of stress. As veterinarians, we are under tremendous amounts of stress everyday. We are trying to be business people, caregivers, counselors, and family members constantly. By nature we are caring, given people, often putting other people and/or their pets before ourselves or our own families. We deal with serious diseases and death on a daily basis. We have to continually show compassion in a real way to our clients and patients. We euthanize pets.

However, compassion fatigue is more than just everyday stress and can be more than burnout. It is a state of complete mental and physical exhaustion that can seem overwhelming. The emotional aspect of compassion fatigue can be complicated by physical issues such as depression or hormonal imbalances.

This state of compassion fatigue can be overcome. Being aware that it is present is an extremely important first step. We can't rely on others to get us out of our "funk," we have to take responsibility for our own healing and well-being.

Preventing compassion fatigue

Veterinarians by nature are compassionate people. We give of ourselves, and people have expectations of us that they may not have of other medical professionals. Consequently, we are not always recognized for what we do give. Much like hospice workers, we are expected to go on to the next patient or client and be as supportive and caring as we were the last several hundred times.

Keeping a balanced life and balanced perspective can help prevent the overwhelming experience of complete compassion fatigue. Maintaining this balance can be a daily challenge.

Simple ways to fight compassion fatigue


• Learn something new everyday

• Breathe

• Identify with the client/patient

• Take personal time

• Embrace something different

• Have realistic expectations

• Take care of yourself first

Treating compassion fatigue

Symptoms of compassion fatigue include excessive complaining, isolation, compulsive behaviors (spending, eating, other addictions), poor sleep habits, poor hygiene, apathy, difficulty concentrating, chronic physical ailments (recurrent infections, aches and pains). Once the signs have been noticed, one should take serious steps to change things. Sometimes you'll need professional help, as sometimes things have progressed to the point where a temporary course of counseling or antidepressant medication may be in order. It is good to remember that seeking help is nothing to be embarrassed about. Everyone needs help sometimes.

You can take steps to change the way you feel and the outlook you have on your life. It starts from within, and taking care of yourself is the best and only first step. Each individual will have different needs and different responses to things. Possible self-care activities that can help break the cycle of compassion fatigue include:

• Regular exercise

• Healthy eating habits

• Saying NO!

• Surround yourself with people with healthy outlooks

• Be positive – attitude is a choice!

• Drink more water

• Take time for you

• Have realistic expectations for yourself, organize your life so you can succeed.

• Get over yourself

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