On putting your Own Well-Being First
As a veterinary professional, you deal with all the same joys and issues that most of our society faces – great travel adventures, tender family moments and the sense of satisfaction when exploring new horizons and succeeding…and then there’s the office politics, scheduling conflicts and the disparity between your private and professional worlds; life can be challenging for us all.
But when you add to the mix patients who can’t communicate their symptoms or pain thresholds, your challenges with mysterious illnesses, and having to deal with occasional pet owners who are ignorant, irresponsible or absolutely distraught with grief or concern for their beloved pet, the pressure on you can build even higher than most of us non-veterinary people can understand.
And let’s not forget long nights brushing up on new procedures and medications, or cancelling a weekend away with your partner to fill in for a co-worker.
How do you cope when you are being pulled in so many directions, mentally as well as physically? Here are some essential first steps…
Your Own Well-being Must Come First
Do you feel like throwing in the towel and switching careers? Is the thought of working in a hotel laundry more appealing than spending another day in your role at the clinic? When you begin to recognise the following symptoms, it’s time to make some serious changes:
- You’re snappy with your colleagues, friends, and family
- You find it difficult to concentrate
- You’re simply not motivated—or you’re too exhausted—to emotionally invest in your personal or professional relationships
- You can’t seem to find the physical or mental wherewithal to perform basic functions at work
- You’ve simply lost interest in your passions
When you’ve reached the point of burnout, it can feel like you’ve had the life sucked out of you. You no longer feel capable of caring about what’s important to you, to making any effort, or staying motivated — ReachOut
According to the experts, the symptoms of stress differ from those of burnout. Do any of these sound like you?
- You are often angry or peeved for no particular reason
- You feel that you’re always anxious
- You’d rather be alone than interacting with your favourite people
- You’re a raw nerve; things that you’d normally take in stride now set you off, either into tears or a rant
- You feel worthless or incompetent, regardless of your achievements
So. Are you stressed, or are you burned out? Who cares! It all adds up to the same thing – you are no longer your happy self, and things need to change.
How to Look After Yourself
It’s not as easy as taking a week-long holiday at a health spa, or simply getting more exercise and improving your diet. Though all of these are important to Veterinary Wellbeing (and we’d like to justify our own annual spa retreats too), stress management and mental health care require fundamental changes to our daily lives.
The following are the four most important steps toward recovering your Wellbeing.
See your GP, Now
Your physician can rule out underlying illnesses and offer advice on stress or burn out management. More importantly, if there is a genuine concern she can really help, or refer you to mental wellbeing resources or a specialist. A mental health specialist has the skills to properly diagnose mental illnesses, and while unfortunately there are still social stigmas associated with mental health issues and “seeing a shrink”, finding solace in the bottom of a Gin and Tonic is not an answer.
Eat Better and Get More Exercise
If you aren’t taking care of yourself, your body and brain loses its ability to cope. Do you ever tell your patients’ owners that their pets will benefit mentally (and behaviourally) with more physical exercise and higher quality food? Take your own advice. Don’t forget to get plenty of rest—including brain rest—and give yourself permission to take time out to pursue your personal interests.
Try Mindfulness Meditation Techniques
One of the most important goals of mindfulness is shutting down self-doubt, and teaching you that thoughts and feelings are separate things. Mindfulness is a tool that’s embraced in cognitive behavioural therapy, and Fortune 500 companies are encouraging their employees to learn more about it.
Learn to Set Boundaries
Do you ever feel pressure to say “yes” when you really feel you need to say “no”? Setting and respecting your personal and professional boundaries is probably the best thing you can do to preserve your well-being in the high-pressure world of veterinary medicine. Plus, you’re doing your co-workers and patients a disservice if you spread yourself too thin or become resentful. There’s a difference between being a team player and being an overtaxed prospect for the loony bin.
Learn more about helpful techniques for creating Veterinary Wellbeing boundaries in the workplace in this article from the Harvard Business Review, which contains links to fantastic books on the subject. Chances are, you have boundary issues in your personal life, too, so learn to respect your limits and make careful choices about your commitments.
Things Will Get Better
Most days are still pretty good in your Veterinary world – there are indeed lots of lovable pets, grateful clients and remarkable fellow team members that make it all worthwhile, and these things well and truly offset those challenging times. And there are plenty of family, friends and resources available to help you overcome the Wellbeing flat spot that you may be experiencing – remember that you deserve to nurture yourself to the same degree you look after your patients.
But when the challenging times start to seem more frequent, when some of the symptoms mentioned earlier become the norm rather than the exception, it’s time to reach out. “I need your help.” is not easy to say out loud, but your real friends and your family will be there for you, and they always will.
And if you start to see some of the above signs in your fellow team members, rather than react, be mindful and reach out too…and ask “Are you OK?”
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