10 tips to beat compassion fatigue

10 tips to beat compassion fatigue

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Jan 01, 2011

Every day you take care of others—your patients, your clients, your family, and your friends. In some cases, you may even be taking on other team members’ workloads. And while helping others in need is why you became a veterinary team member in the first place, years of comforting and tending to others can wear anyone down. If you’re at risk for—or already suffering from—compassion fatigue it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities. Here are 10 tips to help get you started

1. Put yourself first—or at least on par

Go ahead and give yourself permission to make your needs as much of a priority as everyone else’s. It may feel strange initially, but it’s almost impossible to deal with compassion fatigue without changing the ancient and dangerous mindset of stoicism and avoidance that gets many of us into trouble.

2. Learn to breathe—better

It’s no coincidence that good breathing exercises are at the heart of most stress management techniques. Try this simple exercise: Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. For the next five minutes, count the number of breaths you take (both in and out). Note that number, let’s say 50. Then try to cut it in half to 25 breaths for the next five minutes. This will force you to slow down and take in oxygen until your lungs are completely full.

3. Take a daily time out

Find 30 minutes every day—before or after work, in between appointments, over lunch—to do something invigorating. It can be anything you find refreshing: reading, listening to music, working out, or practicing your new breathing exercise.

4. Set better boundaries

Being a healer doesn’t mean you’re on call 24/7 for the entire world. Protect your time to protect your sanity. For example, when a chronically late client wants to schedule another appointment 10 minutes before closing, let him or her know how this affects you. Try saying something like, “I know it can be difficult to get here, but I also have a tight schedule that I must follow. This allows me to take care of my other clients as well as fulfilling my family obligations.” You can do the same with co-workers who show up late to relieve your shift.

5. Forgive, then forget

Remind yourself that you’re a special human being who, like everyone else on the planet, will sometimes make mistakes. Try to accept this and stop being so hard on yourself. Of course, if you can learn something from a misstep or find a better way to perform a task, you should take that to heart.

6. Form a support group

Ask yourself, “Who in my life can help me take better care of myself? Who will hold me accountable to my resolutions and call me out if I don’t follow through?” Try teaming up with a co-worker and forming a self-care pact.

7. Check your vitals

Stress can manifest itself into physical symptoms, such as that headache, stomachache, or nagging pain in your neck. So pay attention to what you’re feeling physically and emotionally. And when you start to feel uncomfortable, ask yourself, “What emotions am I experiencing and how am I dealing with those feelings?”

8. Remove emotional roadblocks

If you’ve pinpointed your discomfort as unexpressed emotions, try asking yourself, “Why am I hanging on to these feelings, such as old grief, guilt, or regrets? What are the true benefits versus costs of hanging on to feelings that can haunt me year after year?” Then get with your support person to work out these difficult feelings.

9. Be consistent

If you implement better self-care at work, don’t sabotage your efforts by remaining in your old and unhealthy patterns in your personal life. If you feel taken advantage of by a friend or family member who asks too much of you, it’s important to learn how to say “no” and set healthy boundaries just like with clients and co-workers.

10. Pat yourself on the back

Trying new things is hard and can be overwhelming, so don’t push yourself to take on more than you can. Remember, that’s the whole point of these resolutions. Instead, record your everyday efforts and look back on them time to time. Be proud of the changes you’re making.

Dana Durrance is co-owner of and grief counselor at Mountain Shadows Pet Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colo.