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Burnout in a Pandemic

When we think of burnout we think of work. Veterinary medicine is a labor-intensive and emotionally charged profession. Veterinary employees help clients, pets, and their coworkers. When it comes to helping themselves, they are terrible. Every day veterinary professionals give of themselves until they go home crispy, friend and burned out.

Veterinary Medicine is Very Stressful, But It’s Not The Only Cause of Your Burnout

Burnout is a cumulative process in which the individual slowly lacks empathy for a situation. They just stop caring. While this has usually been associated with a workplace environment, now individuals are finding themselves burned out at home. In the past an individual could go home and rejuvenate before going back to the stressful workplace environment.

But now in 2021, a year into the pandemic countless individuals are going home to stress. Kids are not going back to school, loved ones are getting sick, spouses are losing jobs, bills are piling up, the fear and unknown associated with the pandemic and the major world events are weighing on everyone’s minds. Most individuals are in a constant state of stress.

Veterinary professionals take their home stress and go to work with it. They experience increase caseloads, argumentative clients and long hours. They become more stressed. They go home with their work stress and have to focus on family stress. Right now it seems so overwhelming with no end in sight. The increase in workload and home stress is combined with a feeling of a lack of support or appreciation resulting in a no f-bleeps given attitude by many right now.

We think, “No one appreciates my hard work. This stress will never end!”

We see it manifest in a variety of ways in our hospitals. It is the veterinarian who starts yelling at her team when she never did before. It is the client service representative who just snapped at a client. It is the practice manager who no longer has a set schedule and rarely comes into the hospital. It is the veterinary technician who is screaming at the barking dog to please, “Just stop! You are so annoying!”

Recognition is the First Step in Helping Yourself

You may have a friend or colleague point out that you are edgy, more angry or just not yourself lately and they are concerned. However, only YOU can help yourself and the only way that will happen is when you recognize you are burned to a fiery crisp. Too often individuals are so angry they place the blame on everyone else rather than looking internally and realizing, “I’m the one who needs help.”

Advocate for Yourself

You are the best person to advocate for you. Investing in yourself, your health and well-being has never been more crucial than it is now. We used to get a reprieve from work stress by going home and unwinding. That is no longer the case. Try to find an activity that refreshes you at least once a day. Sometimes it may only be 15 minutes, but give that 15 minutes to yourself. Be fully present in enjoying the moment, not worrying about the next thing you have to go. Selfcare is not selfish! Stop thinking that by telling your family you are going to read a book for 30 minutes are you are bad parent. Taking care of yourself makes you the best version of yourself. Trust me, all kids want the best version you can be as a parent and employees want co-workers who show up being the best they can be.

Slow Down

Stop and smell the dog poop. Okay, not the best analogy, but I have been so busy working a shift before that I stopped actually smelling dog poop. I was on auto-pilot just cleaning it up when I realized I could not smell the dog poop (and it did smell). Sounds ridiculous, but that also means I forgot to say hello to my animal patients, pet the kitten, look at a coworker directly while they were speaking and truly engage with them, scratch a dog’s neck and take the time to laugh over a pet’s antics. We need to slow down in this time of chaos and enjoy all the small things that are passing us by.

It can be hard. Trust me, I know. Working in emergency medicine you feel like you are in a sprint every day, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that slowing down results in less burnout and increases your happiness. Take the time to smell the poop, or better yet, the roses. We have a million thoughts racing in our head at any one time. Stop, recognize what you are doing in the moment and try to think only about that ONE thing. It’s hard to do when you try it at first, but becomes easier with time. Life is a marathon and so is this pandemic. Slow down, enjoy the moments and breathe more instead of gasping for air.

Write Down What Works

Figure out what works for you in terms of relaxation. For me, I love running on trails in the woods with my dogs. It’s not everyone’s jam, but it sure is mine. Pounding my feet on dirt (or right now snow thanks to the winter) is my active meditation. Some people enjoy silence, yoga, meditation and breathing exercises. Others enjoy video games, cooking, reading books, poetry, watching movies or television. Whatever your go-to thing is make sure it makes you truly happy and adds value to your life.

Write it down and post it somewhere you see every day like your fridge, toilet, bathroom mirror, etc. When you are burned out look at that reminder and then do that thing. No excuses. No feeling guilty for taking “you” time. You time means you get to heal, find yourself, your why and your meaning. It’s some of the most important time of the day. Do the thing that truly makes you happy. For each one of us it may be very different, but regardless it takes your mind completely off the stress and gives you energy.

Take care of yourself because only you can do that. Make a commitment to you so that your friends, family, pet patients, clients and coworkers get to keep seeing you smile. Above all else, keep on being the unicorn that you are.

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