Stress management for veterinarians

Stress is normal in the day-to-day life of a veterinarian. From juggling the competing demands of work and family, to diagnosing and treating critically ill patients, to dealing with difficult co-workers or employees, to making ends meet financially while paying off a mountain of student debt and trying to save for the future, we face stressful situations every day. But it is well known that too much stress can have negative effects on health.

The Mayo Clinic suggests four strategies for coping with stress:

  • Avoid
  • Alter
  • Accept
  • Adapt

In some instances, you may be able to avoid stress altogether; in others, you might be able to alter your situation. But there may be other times when you simply need to accept things the way they are, or alter your own thinking or behavior..

Stress relief and relaxation

Taking time every day to relieve stress also is vital. How you do that is up to you, and there are a wide range of possibilities. A good starting point is this stress checklist of basic stress-relief measures that anyone can utilize.

AVMA's director of member wellness and diversity initiatives, Dr. Jennifer Brandt, offers actionable tips to help veterinarians manage stress in this webinar, developed from a presentation made at AVMA Convention.

Stress management can include meditation, yoga, expressive writing, mindfulness, or affirmations. Dr. Daniel J. Siegel demonstrated this simple breathing exercise proven to increase both physical and mental well-being during a keynote address at the 2016 AVMA Convention. Stress reduction also can come from physical exercise, playing games with your family, spending time with friends, or finding 15 minutes of quiet time to be alone. Since most of us got into the veterinary profession because we love animals, it can mean taking 15 minutes extra each day to spend quality time with your pets. (We all know the value of the Human-Animal Bond; you can leverage it to help relieve stress during your day!) It doesn’t matter what approach you choose – as long as it works for you.

One approach that can help throughout the day is to try to become mindful of moments when you start to feel stressed, and take immediate action to manage that stress. Breathe deeply, take a five-minute break from what you’re doing, or take a quick walk to give yourself a change of scenery. If you’re about to have a difficult conversation with a client or co-worker, take 15 seconds before you walk into the room, and just breathe deeply and prepare yourself mentally. If a situation or someone’s comment has made you angry, try to use positive thinking or the power of humor to reshape your attitude. Learn to recognize the symptoms of stress, and take immediate action when you find yourself becoming tense.

Watch video: Relaxation Forum

How stressed are you?

Test yourself with these self-assessment tools:


 

Meditation and relaxation exercises

Mindfulness and relaxation exercises can help release tension, reduce stress, and improve overall wellbeing. These exercises are good for every day practice, and likely provide more benefit when someone has a consistent practice with them. They include a general relaxation exercise for adults, plus one exercise for older children/teens and two for younger children.

Adults: Mindfulness body scan

(07:18 minutes)
Body scan meditation is a good way to release tension we might not even realize we're experiencing. Body scanning involves paying attention to parts of the body and bodily sensations in a gradual sequence from feet to head.

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Teens/Older children: Big white house

(04:48 minutes)
This guided imagery exercise helps older children and teens gain perspective and deal with everyday stress. (From Guided Imagery For Healing Children and Teens by Ellen Curran)

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Younger children: Happy heart

(03:10 minutes)
Helping your child cultivate happiness and gratitude is one of the greatest gifts you can give. Not only does it set them up for a more content life; it can physically be good for the heart. This guided relaxation replaces worries and sadness with a gentle light, centered in our hearts. (Written by Mellisa Dormoy of ShambalaKids)

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Younger children: Magic Bubble blower

(02:33 minutes)
This peaceful, guided relaxation exercise helps children and teens relieve stress and anxiety, improve self-esteem, feel great (mind, body, and spirit), and develop a positive mental attitude. (Written by Mellisa Dormoy of ShambalaKids)

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