Among veterinarians who experience psychological stress, the most common conditions reported are burnout, anxiety, and depression. Unfortunately, you may not be able to eliminate all the causes, but learning how to better manage stress can help improve your work and personal life.
The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends taking time each day to relieve stress. That may mean during your lunch break, early in the morning, or after you’ve gone home for the day. Everyone is different, so try a few of these common stress reducing activities to see what works best for you.
Over a week’s time, write down what triggers your stress throughout each day. Maybe it’s giving bad news to a patient’s family about their beloved pet, tackling piles of paperwork, or dealing with personal issues at home. Once you identify what elevates your stress levels, it will be easier to find ways to manage it in the future.
Relaxation techniques, like deep breathing and meditation, can be great tools for managing stress. Whether it’s five minutes or 30 minutes, practicing relaxation techniques consistently is time well spent. In fact, these techniques may even protect you against the negative effects of stress on your body. If you don’t know where to start, try searching online for a guided meditation video or look for an app on your phone that can help you learn what relaxation technique works for you.
Aerobic exercise, like taking a brisk walk, jog, bike ride or swim, has been shown to release endorphins, which may help you maintain a positive attitude. This is a great way to relieve stress, clear your mind, and help you feel energized for the day. Try starting your morning with a spin class or take a short walk during your lunch break to reset. Or combine your exercise with time with friends or spouse at a dance class, like salsa or tap. The music can add fun and mood-lightening energy to your workout.
Spending your non-working hours doing something that brings you pleasure can help relieve stress brought on by work. Don’t have a hobby? Pick one up. Sometimes focusing on learning how to do something new can help you stop focusing on the things stressing you out during the day. Fill your time outside of work with a new or revisited interest – like baking, drawing, playing piano or gardening – and find something that brings you joy.
Avoid veterinary burnout by taking time to recharge. Plan for a vacation, long weekend, or even one day off work to help you decompress and lower stress levels. Getting consistently good sleep can also significantly impact your mood each day. Develop healthy sleep habits by limiting your caffeine intake late in the day, minimizing stimulating activities (like watching TV) at least an hour before bed, and trying to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. These simple steps can set you up for good-quality sleep and, in turn, help you better manage stress throughout the day.
Though we provided five ideas above to help you reduce stress, the most important tip we can provide is: ask for professional help when you need it. You have a lot of responsibilities and the stress may feel overwhelming. Just as you are a health resource for your patients, there are professionals available to help you. It’s ok to ask for help.
Managing and limiting veterinary stress levels is a key factor in job satisfaction and can even help veterinary practices retain employees. Learning to manage stress can not only help you be a better veterinarian and enjoy your job more, it can also positively impact the workplace for your coworkers and patients.