We know that there are high suicide rates amongst vets. In fact, people in the veterinary profession are four times more likely to commit suicide than those in the general population. However, we also know burnout is widespread.

Understanding what veterinary burnout is, the symptoms and what you can do to prevent it are key to your mental health and overall wellbeing.

Veterinary burnout explained

No matter what profession you work in, you can experience burnout. The World Health Organization describes burnout as ‘a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

‘It is characterised by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.’

While burnout is not considered a medical condition, it can have serious consequences on your physical and mental health. Experiencing veterinary burnout can impact those around you (family, friends and colleagues). It can also affect your business. After all, how might a client react if you all of a sudden get angry or highly critical of them? Certainly, it’s likely they’ll seek out a different vet.

Know the signs of veterinary burnout

In order to take good care of our mind and body, we need to check in with ourselves regularly. What I mean is we need to stop what we are doing to look inward and assess how we are feeling and our ability to cope with our day-to-day workload.

Sometimes it’s easy, especially when we are under pressure or focused on others around us, to overlook the need to self assess. However, it is during these times, in particular, that we must stop and take note of how we are feeling and whether we are coping.

Additionally, recognising the signs of veterinary burnout can help us take early action to overcome it. Here are some common symptoms of burnout.

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Becoming overly critical or cynical
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Feelings of dissatisfaction from our achievements
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Reliance on food, drugs or alcohol
  • Feelings of emptiness

Causes and consequences of veterinary burnout

Professional burnout can leave you feeling incredibly hopeless and lost and, if left untreated, can easily spill over into your home and social life. This can bring even more negative consequences, creating a vicious cycle of despair.

As such, it can be useful to understand the potential causes of veterinary burnout. Also, recognising the consequences may encourage you to take early action.

Some of the possible causes of burnout include:

  • Overburdened and, as a result, in a constant state of stress
  • Lack of social support, leading to feelings of isolation
  • Losing an animal, due to sickness, injury or euthanasia
  • Emotional exhaustion brought on by managing clients’ grief
  • Negative work culture
  • Lack of balance between work and home life, which can increase stress, anxiety and feelings of guilt

Not surprisingly, the physical, emotional and mental exhaustion brought about by burnout can have negative consequences on your health. Veterinary burnout can increase your risk of:

  • Insomnia
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Susceptibility to other illnesses

Preventing burnout

Veterinary burnout (or burnout brought on by any profession, for that matter) needs to be addressed. The following self-help practices will not only help you manage job burnout, but may also prevent it from occurring in the first place. Here are a few steps you can take to address and avoid veterinary burnout.

Nip issues in the bud

Fretting for a long period of time over specific concerns, whether it’s a run-in with your boss or a disagreement with a colleague, only serves to exacerbate the problem. Make a pledge to take action in a timely manner and iron out issues before they grow bigger and cause greater stress.

Seek out support

Don’t suffer in silence. There’s the saying, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved,’ so seek help and advice from others. Be it a friend, colleague or the HR department, take advantage of the support on offer around you.

Focus on optimizing your sleep

Sleep is a vital pillar of our health. Poor quality sleep or lack of sleep lead to many issues. Take steps to encourage the best night’s sleep possible. This might mean going for a walk in the evening, limiting caffeine or alcohol or using a sleep app. A good night’s sleep will help you see things in a much clearer light.

Get active

Exercise not only helps you sleep better, but it can help reduce stress and boost those happy endorphins. Find an exercise or activity you enjoy and factor it into your day.

Master the art of meditation

Mindfulness and meditation are a great way of clearing your mind and focusing your energies. These practices can help you understand your emotions and create feelings of openness and calmness. Again, there are some great apps to guide you and help keep you focused.

Indeed, burnout is not good for health, and ignoring the signs and symptoms can lead to bigger issues. Being aware of the effects of veterinary burnout, the causes and what you can do to prevent it is key to staying well.

If you need support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.

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Image source: Unsplash

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Liz has a passion for all things cat and dog, and was one of the first in Australia to bring Pet Insurance to the market. She has headed up Petsecure for the past 12 years, and is committed to promoting and supporting the amazing work done by rescue groups around Australia, and those who work to promote a better life for all animals.

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