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Issue: 60 - Dec 16, 2013
How Will You Celebrate New Year’s Eve?
By: Dana L Durrance, MA
Dana Durrance, M.A.

It happens every year…the holidays, the celebrations, gift giving and New Year’s Eve parties. This is also the time when we take stock, and look at our lives through a more realistic lens. For many of us, it’s also when we make that list of dreaded resolutions. I’ll bet that many of you make a list like mine: losing weight, exercising more, eating less chocolate, etc. (well, let’s not be too hasty about the chocolate one but you get the idea).  However this year I’ve got a new radical one for you to try…taking better care of yourself. You’ve probably not seen that one before and even worry that it sounds very selfish.

While it may sound foreign and even selfish, self-care is the key to maintaining good mental health. In the veterinary profession, proper self-care is essential in addressing one of the biggest threats ever to your profession…compassion fatigue. In the past few years, more and more veterinary professionals are realizing the personal and professional dangers of compassion fatigue (the stress they feel as a result of constantly supporting the emotions of others). While the causes, problems, and treatment of compassion fatigue are vast and complicated, there are some practical ways to address it in your life and in your practices,

So…when the ball drops at midnight and you take a sip of champagne, try to remember the following (you may want to write them down BEFORE you drink anymore champagne).

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Better Self-care:

  1. Give yourself permission to make your needs as much of a priority as everyone else. It may feel strange at first, but it’s almost impossible to deal with compassion fatigue without changing the ancient and dangerous mindset of stoicism and avoidance that gets many of us into trouble.
  2. Oxygenate your body, brain, and learn to breathe better. While it sounds so simple, it’s no coincidence that good breathing exercises are at the heart of most stress management techniques.
  3. Make a good but realistic self-care plan. Open up one appointment slot every day (maybe 30 minutes) for yourself and do something you find invigorating and refreshing (reading, listening to music, exercising, etc).
  4. Set better boundaries with friends, family, co-workers, and especially clients. Being a healer does not mean you’re on call 24/7 for the entire world. Protect your time and your life to protect your sanity.
  5. Develop better self-care skills. Remind yourself that you’re a special human being who-like everyone else on the planet- will sometimes make mistakes. Try to accept this and stop being so hard on yourself. Establish new and creative rituals to make your life easier.
  6. Find good support to make these changes. Ask yourself, “who in my life can help me to take better care of myself and be supportive?” “Who will hold me accountable to this resolution and call me on it if I don’t follow through?”
  7. Be more open to your emotions. Regularly ask yourself “what emotions am I experiencing and how am I dealing with those feelings? Are those feelings in my stomach, my head, or are they causing that nagging pain in my neck?” More and more research is revealing how much compassion fatigue can be traced back to unexpressed grief and pain.
  8. Remove roadblocks that stifle your emotions. Try asking yourself, “am I hanging on to old grief, guilt, or regrets? If so, why am I holding on to that grief?  What are the true benefits versus costs of hanging on to feelings that can haunt me year after year?”
  9. Be consistent in your personal and professional life. If you start implementing better self-care at work, you don’t want to sabotage your efforts by remaining in your old and unhealthy patterns in your personal life.
  10. Take small, baby steps every day. Remind yourself how hard it is to try new things and don’t overwhelm yourself. Be proud of the changes you are making!