4 min read
Coping With Euthanasia During the Holiday Season
Published on Oct 9, 2023
For those of us who have been in the veterinary industry for a while, we all know that the holiday season usually means we will be seeing more loss. While there isn’t any hard data collected on pet loss seasonality, some practitioners believe that euthanasia procedures see a substantial increase during the holidays. Drivers for an increase in euthanasia can be attributed to environmental factors such as colder weather or family dynamics such as wanting to spend one last holiday with loved ones. While losing a pet can be devastating for a pet parent, it also affects the medical team who cares for them. Here are some tips to help you and your team better cope this winter.
Honor Your Emotions
There’s no denying that the procedure induces a lot of emotions. It’s important to remember that it’s okay to cry. In fact, studies have shown that crying can be good for you and holding it in, known as repressive coping, has been linked to depressed immune system, cardiovascular disease and a negative impact on mental health1,2. Crying can help dull the pain by releasing endorphins such as oxytocin and endogenous opioids3.
Take Personal Space
Sometimes it’s worth taking a 5-minute break to process your emotions. Getting outside and taking a short walk allows you the opportunity to do this without facing the pressures of the day. Many practitioners would say this is easier said than done with the high demand and full appointment books they are facing these days. However, you might find that investing in a few minutes to reboot throughout the day saves you time in the long run. We are often prone to making more mistakes and find it difficult to engage with what’s in front of us if we are still holding onto emotional stress. In addition, most clients will be supportive and understanding if you let them know you just had a euthanasia case and need to take a couple of minutes. This shows them you care and can provide comfort in knowing their pet is in caring hands.
Remember to Breathe
Deep breathing can quiet your parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for controlling your fight-or-flight response4.
Slow deep breaths can also help you control your heart rate, reduce anxiety and promote a sense of relaxation or calm. My personal favorite breathing technique is box breathing, which is used by US Navy SEALs5. Here is the process:
- Inhale for a count of 4
- Hold for a count of 4
- Exhale for a count of 4
- Hold for another count of 4
- Repeat as needed
Engage in Self Care
Ensuring you get proper sleep, exercise, time with loved ones, and time doing things you enjoy are all things considered to help build a higher level of resilience. Resilience is the ability to adapt to loss and adversity and continue to thrive despite these challenges6.
Create a Supportive Environment
It’s crucial to make the effort to create a supportive environment for the whole team. Whether you are an associate doctor or in management, you are a leader in the practice, and the team follows what you do more than what you say. Modeling these strategies in front of the team will encourage them to do the same. If you’re a practice leader, I recommend having a conversation with your team to discuss methods everyone can deploy to better support each other through these events. Some hospitals hold rituals or ceremonies for the patients they lose, such as lighting a candle and saying a few words or a moment of silence in their honor. While none of these tactics will take the pain away, they can help you and your team move through challenging times. Please take care of each other this season.
For additional resources:
Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Lifeline (988lifeline.org) / 988 CDC: Mental Health and Coping with Stress Resources | Suicide | CDC
- Is crying good for you? – Harvard Health
- 9 Benefits of Crying and Why It’s Good and When to Get Help (healthline.com)
- Deep Breathing Benefits and How-To | Right as Rain (uwmedicine.org)
- Box Breathing Benefits and Techniques – Cleveland Clinic
- What Is Resilience? Benefits, Limitations, How to Boost It (healthline.com)
-Written by Genevieve Borso, CEO