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“I’m a naturally empathic person so I don’t think I’ll get compassion fatigue”

I cringed as a co-worker was confessing this. Truth is, empathy likely leaves you more vulnerable to compassion fatigue – a condition that can manifest itself as feeling teary, anxious, quick to anger or simply numb.

Compassion fatigue leaves you feeling a shell of your usual self, and veterinary healthcare workers are at increased risk for developing this.

We are dealing with companion animals that have been hurt or injured in some way, or with distraught owners, farmers, terminal illnesses and death.

That’s not to say you should stop being empathic, quite the opposite, as empathy is a very powerful tool when it comes to communicating with others. It lets the person know that you have heard them and are trying to understand what they are going through.

What I do recommend though is to show yourself the same level of empathy that you’re giving to others.

Self awareness helps in terms of recognising your susceptibility to compassion fatigue, especially if you’re having a particularly tough day, week or month. You may have had to euthanase a particularly close patient, might not be getting along with a co-worker and your car has broken down this morning. These ‘little’ things add up to a greater whole and take it’s toll on your emotional resilience.

So what can you do for yourself?

You need to take some time out for yourself, to reset yourself, so that you can come back and be helpful to others again.

Identify things you love doing – they don’t need to be big (holiday in Hawaii for example, most of us would love that!) – it can be as simple as going for a walk, taking a bath, reading a book or magazine.

Personally, I find getting a coffee every morning from the café next door to work brings me pleasure and makes me feel ‘normal’. A co-worker loves watching the Bachelor/Bachelorette, whichever is on at the moment (I try not to judge, but it’s hard :).

Making sure you take your annual leave is important as well, but finding simple things that you can do daily can help prevent you from fatiguing and breaking.

You can also help spot compassion fatigue in others and make like an otter – grab onto them and stop them from drifting away.

Yours in conversation,

Sandra XX

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