Part of the problem is the fact that we often don’t talk about how we feel. Certainly, it’s understandable that a pet professional might believe that it is his or her job to care. Feelings of grief and loss can get brushed under the carpet in a bid to maintain composure and look professional at all times.
Caring for injured animals, witnessing pets in pain and dealing with the aftermath of euthanasia can all be hugely detrimental to our own wellness.
Exhaustion, stress and compassion fatigue amongst pet professionals is widespread, but unfortunately it’s rarely discussed or addressed.
Compassion fatigue is the physical and mental exhaustion and emotional stress caused from absorbing the trauma and emotional distress of others.
It has been described as “an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped; to the degree that it can cause secondary traumatic stress for the helper.”
While you might think that compassion fatigue is a condition that affects vets and those working in animal rescue shelters, it extends beyond these roles.
Without a doubt, vets and people who work in animal shelters see their fair share of animal suffering, abuse and neglect — but other pet industry professionals are not immune to compassion fatigue.
Pet sitters, animal behaviour consultants and dog trainers are also at risk. In fact, any role where animals are stressed, frightened, aggressive or where there are obvious signs of animal suffering and neglect can place you at risk of compassion fatigue.
Signs to watch out for
Firstly, it’s a step in the right direction to accept that compassion fatigue is not only very real, but it’s widespread.
The next step is to be aware of the signs to look out for. Common signs of compassion fatigue include:
Feelings of isolation from others
Loss of morale
Irritability/change in moods
Lack of concentration / lethargy
Lack of self-care
These symptoms can be very disruptive and can have a significant negative impact on your work and personal life.
Undeniably, the feelings you experience when living with compassion fatigue can create additional stress, conflict amongst colleagues, absenteeism from work, general unhappiness and feelings of emptiness.
So it’s important to take steps to address the symptoms and regain control of your physical and emotional wellbeing.
Of course, we all know prevention is better than cure. While being mindful of the signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue is paramount, it’s also important to adopt preventative measures.
Thankfully, there are many things you can do to take care of your mental and physical health.
The following actions might help reduce the likelihood of developing compassion fatigue. What’s more, they are all positive ways to take care of yourself. Therefore, these actions can be used by anyone as a means of self-care.
Be aware of changes to the way you are feeling
Talk about your experiences with colleagues, a close friend or relative
Try using meditation as a way of relaxing and to bring stress relief
Set boundaries to help limit your emotional involvement
Adopt active coping measures such as social get-togethers and use of humour
Maintain a positive work-life balance to refuel your physical and emotional health.
Anyone who works in a role that involves caring for others – be it human or animal – can find themselves running on empty. It’s really important to accept the emotional toll and mental impact of constantly feeling empathy for others.
Be kind to yourself, as this will assist you to continue to keep an open heart and to love the work that you do.
Have you suffered from compassion fatigue? We’d love to hear from you.
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