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 AVMA can help

Webinar: Practical Tips for Stress Management

Webinar: Staying Afloat – Professional Stress and Wellbeing

How Understanding the Mind and Cultivating Mindsight Supports Your Wellbeing

Stress Management Checklist

 Podcast: 5 Strategies for Everyday Happiness

Meditation information and guides

Other relaxation techniques

Stress prevention and management

Additional reading

8 Immediate Stress-Busters

Stress Symptoms: Effects on Your Body & Behavior

Stress: What it Is and How to Manage It

Exercise & Stress: Get Moving to Manage Stress

Dealing with Stress

11 Tips for Healthy Self-Talk

Looking at Cute Animal Pictures at Work Can Make You More Productive

Research: The Effects of Aromatherapy in Relieving Symptoms Related to Job Stress Among Nurses

Book: The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living (Sood, A & Mayo Clinic, 2013)

How stressed are you?

Test yourself with these self-assessment tools: