Burn out – are you suffering in silence?

Anyone working in a caring profession will at some stage experience stress, tension and tiredness from helping and caring too much. For vets, veterinary nurses and receptionists, this often goes unnoticed, and if left to grow or persist for too long, can cause all sorts of health problems.

Posted: 12 November 2019

Burn out – are you suffering in silence?


Caring too much can really hurt, and if you fail to take care of yourself, you’ll eventually find all sorts of demons and destructive behaviours emerging. The worry for all of us working in the veterinary world is that only compassionate, empathic, loving and caring people suffer from this form of compassion burn-out, so we are all at risk.

We’re constantly exposed to trauma, illness, death and grief and have to listen and respond to our patients and clients every working day.  We face frightened and angry people looking to us for help, support and solutions, without ever acknowledging the effect it has on us.

With burn-out we eventually reach a point where we are overcome with emotion and irrational fears together with a multitude of other symptoms.

Do you recognise any of these signs in yourself or a colleague?

  • Apathy
  • Isolation
  • Feeling emotionally trapped
  • Drinking too much
  • Smoking
  • Anger with everyone
  • Waking in the night
  • Restless sleep
  • Always feeling tired
  • Irrational feelings
  • Blaming others
  • Complaints from clients or colleagues
  • Lack of personal care and appearance

If the answer is yes to some of the above, it may be time to act and take care of yourself.

The signs of burn-out and compassion fatigue are often referred to as examples of chronic stress or secondary trauma. The key to managing the problem is learning to recognise the symptoms, which then allows you to take the first step toward recovery. 

Beating “burn-out” – ten positives

  1. Be aware - the first step to dealing with compassion fatigue is to be aware that is may exist. It is an occupational hazard of the veterinary professional, so look for the signs. If you recognise them in yourself or others, make the decision to change or help.
  2. Take time out – find hobbies and activities outside of work which will allow you to enjoy some free time, such as cooking, photography, climbing, sailing or bird watching. There is so much choice out there, you’re bound to find something that interests you.
  3. Join clubs – in the early years as a vet or nurse you may be working away from your family home, but by joining a local group, you’ll meet new friends and share some fun.
  4. Throw away excuses – if you’re one of those who’s always saying you’re too busy to change, you must try to stop. Even 5 minutes of space for meditation a day can help.
  5. Develop an exercise habit – make a decision to go for a walk or run every day. Sometimes, just 10 or 20 minutes of exercise is enough to transform the way you feel.
  6. Eat sensibly – cut down on fatty foods, alcohol, salt, carbohydrates and fast food. We all know that a Mediterranean diet is good for you.
  7. Share the problem – have open discussions at work about the pressures in your life. By talking to someone who will listen, you’ll share the stress and find solutions together.
  8. Take regular breaks – find time during a busy day at work to walk away. By getting out of the building, prep room or kennels, you’ll find a little inner peace. If you find it difficult to get the time, it’s time to talk to the Practice Manager for help.
  9. Go to bed early – we all need our sleep, and too little for too long will make life hard. Treat yourself several times a week by going to bed before 10pm. You’ll be amazed how different you will feel in the morning.
  10. Be Mindful – have you tried the concepts behind Mindfulness? It can transform your life. There are some excellent Webinars supported by The WebinarVet, featuring all sorts of relaxation techniques. Take a look here.

Beating “burn-out” – ten negatives

Whilst we’ve listed some positive ways to tackle compassion fatigue, there are also some important tips on what NOT to do. Whatever you do, don’t;

  1. Blame others – the problem doesn’t always lie with someone else.
  2. Look for a new job – you’ve spent far too long wanting to be a vet or veterinary nurse. Jumping ship and changing career may not solve the problem. You’ve far better trying to find solutions to your burn out.
  3. Buy unnecessary luxuries – looking for toys and hoping it’s going to solve all your problems isn’t the solution. Beat the stress first by understanding what is going on and take action to control the fatigue.
  4. Get divorced – it so common for us to take out our feelings of frustration on the people who are closest to us. If you are struggling with your home life because of the pressures of work, work on the solutions rather than leaving the person who means the most.
  5. Have an affair – this is a common escape, but certainly not a solution.
  6. Complain with your colleagues – we all like to have a moan, but daily criticisms of work and your working environment will just compound the problem. If there needs to be change, speak to someone and find solutions.
  7. Work harder and longer – it just doesn’t help. The recommendations are to work smarter. Look for ways to improve the drain on your compassion and emotions.
  8. Self-medicate – this is a very slippery slope, so stop before it begins.
  9. Neglect your own needs – you must look after yourself. Look in the mirror and find time for yourself.
  10. Watch too much television – relying too much on the big black screen in the corner of the room to entertain you and switch off your mind may help in the short term, but daily use of the TV as a substitute for exercise, relaxation and support will always fail.