This is part four of a multiple part series on compassion fatigue in the veterinary field.
The last article introduced Elan,* who was struggling to balance both his work responsibilities and a new medical diagnosis. He was ultimately able to make some changes to his way of thinking about work, and he learned how to ask for the help he needed. A key ingredient to Elan’s success in overcoming his symptoms of compassion fatigue and improving his life satisfaction lies in his ability to remain mindful of how his body is feeling. This awareness of self in the present moment allows him to understand his own needs and enact beneficial life changes. In doing so, Elan has improved his resilience, or the ability to “bounce back” from difficulties.
The Link Between Mindfulness, Resilience, and Compassion Fatigue
Though there is a lack of data focusing specifically on veterinary professionals, a substantial body of research shows that mindfulness improves resilience and protects against the development of compassion fatigue in healthcare workers. A variety of mindfulness practices have been found to be useful interventions for compassion fatigue. Meditation, yoga, and journaling are some of the more commonly prescribed mindfulness practices. While a full review of the literature supporting the link between mindfulness, resilience, and decreased compassion fatigue is not within the scope of this article, let’s briefly review some of the key evidence:
Mindfulness predicts wellbeing in healthcare providers and protects against compassion fatigue.1
Mindfulness and self-compassion increase resilience and protect against burnout in medical residents.2
Mindfulness results in less emotional exhaustion in ICU nurses.3
Mindfulness improves empathy and work engagement while decreasing burnout, compassion fatigue, and emotional exhaustion in genetic counselors.4
Mindfulness interventions including various styles of meditation and reflective writing decrease compassion fatigue, burnout, and stress in oncology nurses.5 These mindfulness practices also increase life satisfaction and self-compassion.5
Participation in a yoga and mindfulness program prevents the decreases in compassion satisfaction that are associated with compassion fatigue in social workers.7 This intervention also improves practitioner perception of difficult clients.7
Mindfulness interventions, especially those which include a loving-kindness component, increase self-compassion in healthcare workers.8 These interventions also reduce perceived stress and increase the effectiveness of clinical care.8
Mindfulness Practices: Beyond Yoga and Meditation
It’s clear that there is a consistent link between mindfulness practices and improved practitioner wellbeing in the research. However, traditional mindfulness practices aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. The idea of taking a yoga class may be intimidating. Meditation may be difficult for people with a trauma history, PTSD, ADHD, or anxiety. Additionally, meditation practices can sometimes result in negative outcomes.9
For those who don’t enjoy meditation or yoga, never fear! Many alternatives to these traditional mindfulness practices have been investigated:
Social action art therapy, in which practitioners create artwork to promote a charitable cause, reduces caregiver stress in social workers.10
Task-Oriented Self-Care (TOSC), which focuses on the sensory experiences of the Holland Inventory’s Realistic Tasks list, improves wellness in therapists.11
Horticultural therapy, which includes garden cultivation or management, improves self-care and awareness of emotion in grief counselors.12
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), in which an audiovisual stimulus is used to trigger tingling sensations and a calm state, improves mindfulness in the individuals who experience this phenomenon.13
Loving-kindness coloring exercises increase mindfulness and self-compassion while decreasing anxiety as effectively as loving-kindness meditation 15
Mindful walking reduces psychological stress and improves quality of life.16
Adding Mindfulness to Your Self-Care Plan
Regardless of the mindfulness practices you choose, finding ways to consistently incorporate them into your routine is essential. Your personalized self-care plan will ideally include multiple methods for maintaining and improving your own quality of life. The next part of this series will focus on the use of brainstorming techniques to identify the best self-care strategies for you.
Dr. Grider is passionate about promoting mental health in the veterinary field. She is a Certified Compassion Fatigue Professional and is currently completing a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Dr. Grider is the co-host of IntroVETS, a veterinary podcast by introverts with high-functioning anxiety. Following graduation from Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008, she practiced as an Associate Veterinarian for eleven years before starting her own veterinary relief business.