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WELLNESS & SELF-CARE · October 20th, 2020

The ABCs of Preventing Compassion Fatigue

by Turpin Mott

CHIEF COMMUNITY OFFICER

All caregivers are prone to compassion fatigue. It affects those who care the most – the ones who frequently put others before themselves. Caring well requires a lot of empathy and the ability to understand the feelings of others consistently. And while being compassionate is honorable, it can be emotionally overwhelming and physically exhausting if not managed properly.

Given the nature of the work, the veterinary community is especially affected by compassion fatigue. I’ve seen it first-hand. It’s the only profession sanctioned to euthanize patients, and caregivers can sometimes take on the emotional burden of a client’s agony. This reality, coupled with the demands of running a business and leading a team of caregivers, can rapidly lead to compassion fatigue and eventually burnout.

Like other stress conditions, compassion fatigue can affect many dimensions of well-being and manifest in a wide range of symptoms that impact the whole person. These may include:

PHYSICALMENTALEMOTIONALSPIRITUAL
ExhaustionDecreased cognitive abilityAnxietyLoss of hope, meaning, identity
Sleep disturbanceImpaired judgement and decision-makingEmotional volatilityIsolation and loss of morale
Impaired behaviorTrouble concentratingQuick to anger, be irritableNegative worldview

It’s quite a list. The good news is, if recognized and managed early, compassion fatigue can be relieved.

Preventing Compassion Fatigue

The American Institute of Stress provides a memorable acronym (ABC) for three ways to prevent compassion fatigue—Awareness, Balance, Connection:

AWARENESS

Pay attention to alterations in your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. If you are experiencing any potential compassion fatigue symptoms at or outside work, look internally and externally to assess their causes.

  • Be mindful of events or situations that trigger an unusually strong reaction and often overpower your usual coping mechanisms.
  • Watch for losing empathy for some people and being overinvolved with others.
  • Look out for the feeling of working harder but accomplishing less,
  • Identify those moments where you are routinely irritated, bored, disgusted, or having, aches, pains, illnesses.

BALANCE

If you become aware that you may be heading toward or are experiencing compassion fatigue, take action to restore balance and strengthen your connections.

  • Assess whether your life/work balance has become distorted.
  • Add joyous activities and breaks to your schedule.
  • Find gratitude and meaning in your work (challenge the negative.)
  • Be open to the idea of a coach or consultant to get back on track.
  • Have quiet-time in a calm, safe place where you feel renewed.
  • Engage in restorative practices, such as deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness.
  • Take note of your physical health –  are you eating well, sleeping, getting enough exercise?

CONNECTIONS

Strengthen your relations with supportive people who are capable of really “being there” for you.

  • Assess your support network to see whether it adequately supports you.
  • Talk out your stress and process your thoughts/reactions with someone else (friend, family, coworker, therapist, clergy, etc.).
  • If you’ve let important relationships slide due to feeling overworked, reconnect.
  • Communicate with supportive friends and family members with whom you’ve been out-of-touch.

NVA Resources

Of course, combating compassion fatigue is easier said than done.  It takes real commitment and understanding of your own behaviors. But always know you are never alone. The Community Team continues to develop various self-care resources to support our caregivers and prevent compassion fatigue and burnout.

PawCasts

If you are looking for some more accessible support, our PawCasts videos provide self-care tips, tools, and exercises to handle difficult situations and maintain a positive and supportive attitude. These sessions address a different realm of the whole person—the four aspects of ourselves that must balance optimal well-being: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Each 15-minute video begins with an introduction to the specific practices you will experience.

  • PawCast #1  The Physical Realm: Finding peace through breathing
  • PawCast #2  The Mental Realm: Calming the restless mind
  • PawCast #3  The Emotional Realm: Coping with challenging feelings
  • PawCast #4  The Spiritual Realm: Connecting with your purpose 

Growth and Well-Being Retreats

The Community Team also hosts four-day retreats to support caregivers’ well-being. Each of the three retreat-style programs is designed to provide veterinarians, technicians, hospital managers, pet resort managers, and other caregivers with an opportunity for reflection and development.  

  • Health of Healers: For NVA Hospital Leaders
  • Care4 Caregivers: For Pet Resort Leaders
  • Connect: For Associate DMVs and Veterinary Technicians

 At these retreats, you will discover how to:

  • Move past compassion fatigue, burnout, exhaustion, and scattered attention to live with a clear focus and high energy
  • Use personal and organizational WHY to create focus and alignment
  • Identify and replace behaviors and beliefs that may be in the way of success
  • Transform life’s daily dramas from time-wasting hassles into opportunities for growth and development
  • Shift complaints and negative attitudes into positive commitments to change things for the better
  • Use improved awareness of self and others to communicate more effectively
  • Build a supportive network by creating strong, lasting relationships with your peers

We also offer virtual sessions to support you and your team. For more information, talk to your division’s leadership or email us at Community-Team@NVA.com.

Turpin Mott

CHIEF COMMUNITY OFFICER

Support Center | Boulder, CO

Turpin officially joined NVA in July 2015 after having worked as a consultant with the company for the previous eight years in a variety of organizational development roles. He has extensive experience in facilitating and guiding leaders and teams to increase efficiency, capacity, and collaboration. He helps create solid foundations for individuals and teams based on accountability, integrity, authenticity, and responsibility which directly impacts the success of the organization. Turpin is also a Combat Action Veteran, having served with the United States Marine Corps in Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. He attended Louisiana State University.

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