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January 15, 2021

Mental health tools for stressful times

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Self-care isn’t negotiable, especially during times like these, said Jen Brandt, PhD, the director of well-being, diversity, and inclusion initiatives at the AVMA, referring to the pandemic and more.

“We are in unprecedented times. We are also in the midst of a call for racial justice, to prevent police brutality, and to end systemic racism,” she said. “One of the challenges, when we are in the midst of such difficult times, is that sometimes we don’t alter our expectations. We expect we should be able to operate at previous levels, and that’s not reality.”

Upset woman on cellphone
Consuming metered doses of news is one tip for mitigating personal stress and prioritizing mental health.

Dr. Brandt spoke during “Veterinary Mental Health Primer: Essential Tools for Challenging Times” at the AVMA Virtual Convention 2020 this past August. She said there are several signs of stress to look for, including changes in sleeping or eating, difficulty concentrating, and increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. Racism-induced trauma also has a cumulative effect on an individual’s mental and physical health, and a racial empathy gap perpetuates racial disparities.

Some people may see mental health and racial justice as not veterinary concerns, she said, but issues that impact humanity are relevant to all veterinary professionals.

Dr. Brandt said: “COVID-19 is a public health issue. Mental health is a public health issue. Racism is a public health issue. Veterinarians take an oath to promote public health.”

She suggested that if team members are experiencing stress to not try to fix the problem or advise them unless explicitly asked to do so. Just listen.

“Ask questions like, ‘How can I be most helpful to you right now?’” Dr. Brandt said.

She said the following are also helpful tips for mitigating personal stress and prioritizing mental health:

  • Set boundaries and standards for what you find acceptable in the clinic.
  • Consume metered doses of news.
  • Reset expectations.
  • Celebrate small steps.
  • Acknowledge your happiness depends on you and your daily decisions, not others.
  • Accept what other adults do is their responsibility, not yours.

“If you have to choose between disappointing yourself or disappointing someone else, disappoint someone else,” Dr. Brandt said. “If you find yourself between a rock and a hard place, choose to care for yourself. Self-care is your responsibility.”