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5 Ways to Overcome Compassion Fatigue


Supporting a friend Around this time of year, we all feel like we’re being pulled in a thousand directions. There are so many things that we feel like we should be doing – volunteering; giving to charity; going to see our families, old friends, lonely neighbors, etc. But, can caring too much actually hurt us? The answer might surprise you.

There is a not-so-new but newly termed condition being discussed called “Compassion Fatigue.” Whether you’re a caregiver to your kids, your pets, your family or in your career, when you focus on others too much without practicing self-care, you can actually develop self-destructive behaviors. Apathy, isolation, bottled-up emotions and substance abuse head a long list of symptoms associated with this disorder.

As a veterinarian, I have certainly experienced this in my career. There are days in this job where it seems like every pet I see is in critical condition, and every owner has a sad story that they want to tell me. It’s almost all I can do on those days to stay compassionate, caring and empathetic to my clients’ and patients’ needs. Veterinarians are always listed in the top ten most caring jobs; the level of doting that we deliver to our clients tends to define my profession. However, perhaps due in part to this intense pressure, we also are one of the professions with the highest rate of suicide.

It feels good, though, when someone pays attention to our concerns and our feelings, doesn’t it? An article 2011 article in Scientific American reported that patients whose doctors show empathy actually recover from colds faster than those who see doctors who focus just on the facts. its-ok-tshirt

According to the researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, the doctors’ empathy level also had a direct impact on the patient’s level of IL-8, a chemical associated with the body’s anti-microbial defense system.

Obviously, caring for the needs of others is extremely important. Not only does it make us feel like we’re making a difference, but now we have proof that it actually benefits the health of those to whom we are lending a hand. So, how do we balance it all? As with any condition, prevention of emotional, physical and spiritual burn-out is key. Here are my tips for surviving the holiday season and beyond.

5 Ways to Overcome Compassion Fatigue

1. Carve out time for you. I know, easier said than done; but as a multi-career working mother, wife, entrepreneur, volunteer, daughter, friend, etc, let me assure you that it can be done. Make it happen. Make yourself as much a priority as you do everyone else.

2. Get some rest. It’s critical you not be exhausted when you’re trying to relate and connect with someone. When you’re tired, even the things and activities you enjoy can seem burdensome.

3. Regulate your dependency on “feel good items.” It’s okay to have that yummy Gingerbread Latte occasionally, but “having” to have one can become a problem. Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can all serve to make you feel better temporarily, but can all become dangerous addictions in someone who is suffering from burn-out.

4. Get some exercise. Even if it’s just a 10-minute walk around the neighborhood with your furry friend, exercise releases endorphins which are natural “feel good” hormones. In my first article on Live in the Now, we discussed the health benefits of having pets, read more here:

5. Seek help from those who care for you. It’s not a sign of weakness to tell those you love that you need some help. Delegate a few of your responsibilities, take a break from the sadness of the television news for a few days. Essentially, indulge in a little escapism from the dreariness of every day life however you can.

By taking a little time for yourself, you strengthen your own ability to give to others by making yourself a stronger and happier person. And you may even get back to the time when doing all that you do brought you joy. And always, always, count your blessings. You may even realize just how blessed you truly are.

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MZX_6893-Edit (2) Dr. Katy Nelson is the mother of five – two human and three animal – kids, an avid nutrition and fitness enthusiast, and an admittedly rabid Louisiana sports fan. She is an associate veterinarian at the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, VA., as well as the host and executive producer of “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy” on Washington DC’s News Channel 8. A Certified Veterinary Journalist (CVJ) accredited by the American Society of Veterinary Journalists (ASVJ), Dr. Katy is the Animal Health Reporter for ABC7 News, and serves as “Dr. Pawz” on WTOP Radio. Dr. Katy is also a founding partner of, a national health and fitness initiative aimed at getting people healthy alongside their dogs, and serves as a media and marketing consultant for numerous pet-related companies and media outlets.

A lover of all animals, Dr. Katy carves out time for many charitable organizations in the DC area and beyond. She is also the co-executive producer on “Tell Them I Am Kind,” a documentary set to air on the PBS Broadcasting network in 2015. The documentary tells the story of the family of Catherine Violet Hubbard, one of the 20 children killed in December of 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and their mission to build an animal sanctuary in her honor.

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