During a normal, non-COVID holiday season, we can look forward to many highs, such as college students and military personnel heading home, and out-of-state family members visiting. Although the chaos can create a mix of amazing fun and incredible stress, the togetherness brings excitement that outweighs the tension. This year is definitely different, and many would say it’s worse, despite things to be thankful for, such as good health.
What does this season mean for those of us in the veterinary field? Both clients and employees are facing the strain of COVID fatigue, on top of normal holiday stress. And, without typical holiday pick-me-ups, the burden may seem heavier than ever. Adding to the strain is the fact that veterinary professionals see significantly more euthanasias during the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas. Euthanasia cases can increase 20% to 50%, according to Dr. Andy Roark, as people realize their dream of enjoying one more holiday with their furry family member is unrealistic.
Identify coping mechanisms
How do you handle the euthanasia increase? We all have individual coping methods for handling the occasional euthanasia but they do not always work when we are faced with multiple back-to-back euthanasias. Last Thanksgiving, four euthanasia cases arrived in an hour of each other in our practice.
I don’t claim to have the best way to handle these moments, but my coping mechanism is to focus on the tasks at hand. What needs to be done? Is the invoice together? Are the medications ordered and drawn up? Does the family know what to expect? Have aftercare arrangements been made? I sympathize with the family, while trying to keep the water works at bay by closing my feelings in a mental box. I love knowing that the veterinarian at my practice will not perform a euthanasia unless the pet will benefit, so I focus on the fact that we are offering the pet and their family a gift of peace.
After the euthanasia is over, however, those boxed-up feelings do not dissipate. If we let them build up too much for too long, we run into the infamous compassion fatigue. So, this holiday season, I am asking you to consider how you can combat this difficult aspect of our profession. Therapists highly recommend practicing self-care, which includes eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep, as well as maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family outside of work. We should also perhaps consider a professional therapist to help us work through our daily stress.
Participate in activities you enjoy
But, after a particularly stressful day, we likely need more immediate relief. Here are a few recommendations to help alleviate some of the pressure:
- Writing in a journal to help release emotions
- Finding a stress-relieving activity, such as hiking, horseback riding, running, or dancing
- Reading a book
- Watching a movie
The point is to find something you are passionate about that lets you heal in between shifts and then move forward, recharged, ready to support families through one of the hardest decisions of their lives.
Good Therapy Staff. (2016, February 9). GoodTherapy. Retrieved from The Cost of Caring: 10 Ways to Prevent Compassion Fatigue: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/the-cost-of-caring-10-ways-to-prevent-compassion-fatigue-0209167
Roark, D. A. (2016, December 14). Dr. Andy Roark. Retrieved from The Surprising Truth About Why Pet Euthanasia Increases During the Holidays: https://drandyroark.com/the-surprising-truth-about-why-pet-euthanasia-increases-during-the-holidays/