Identifying and managing compassion fatigue and/or burnout

Introduction

Managing animal and clients in distress can lead to secondary traumatic stress in the caregivers. This can be magnified in veterinary medicine with budgetary and care restrictions. Even if help is possible, it may not be feasible.

Signs and Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue and Burnout

  • Excessive blaming and/or complaining
  • Bottled up emotions
  • Social isolation
  • Poor client care and/or client complaints
  • Substance abuse
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Poor self care
  • Nightmares and flashbacks
  • Physical ailments (recurrent colds, GI upset)
  • Signs of depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Physical and mental exhaustion
  • Loss of joy in normally enjoyable activities

What to do

Compassion fatigue can affect programs as well as people. Time off may be needed; counseling is generally helpful.

  • Grieve when you are able to (depending on the urgency of the situation) and when you feel that you need to. Some prefer to grieve with the patient’s family and friends while others usually chose to express such emotions in privacy.
  • Take time to renew yourself, such as watching a funny movie, spending time with a loved one or going to the beach.
  • If religion or spirituality is important to you, pray for your patients.
  • Particular scenarios that especially trouble you may be due to your own experiences with family members or friends who have been in similar situations. You may have unresolved grief that you need to deal with.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek professional help if needed, especially if you become depressed (see Recognizing Depression).

People I Can Talk to:

Final Thoughts

Compassion fatigue and/or burnout is a treatable condition. If you feel you may be at risk, seek help. If a colleague is at risk, care enough to guide them to therapy or speak to a faculty member or school official who can offer assistance in this matter.

 

License

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Well-being Handbook by Erin Malone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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