Susan Carney is Suveto’s well-being manager. She is a seasoned human resources professional with a passion for supporting veterinary teams and their families.Read Articles Written by Susan Carney
While the average person might not realize that veterinary professionals experience high levels of stress, it’s no surprise to us. Research from Merck Animal Health shows that the risks of stress, anxiety and depression are higher within the veterinary field than in other occupations. Unfortunately, much of the pressure is out of our control, but you can manage and diminish it to help you and the people around you.
Here are four simple techniques to achieve a healthier state of mental wellness, create a satisfying work environment and get more enjoyment out of life.
1. Start With You
Beginning with you might sound strange to a caregiver, but nothing is more important. You can’t help others if you can’t help yourself. Not practicing self-care can lead to adverse health outcomes, including burnout and fatigue. Treat yourself like a patient and actively participate in your overall health. Take part in your preventive care (usually 100% covered under medical insurance plans), and stay on top of any underlying medical issues. You might say you’re too busy to see a doctor, but U.S. health care delivery has become more flexible, and you can generally access it in person, virtual-ly, or via text or chat.
Place yourself at the top of your list. Make time to connect with family and friends, and carve out moments to do the things you love. Set boundaries, and stick with them. Manage your personal time as you would your work time, and block both off on your calendar to prevent overlap. Your time off should be non-negotiable.
If you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, give your brain a rest by moving cellphones and technology away from your bed. In addition, incorporate self-care strategies into your daily routine, like staying hydrated, eating nutritious meals and exercising.
All those physical practices can lead to good health, but sometimes they’re not enough. Recognize that fact, and look for ways to manage stress in yourself and your colleagues. For example, you might consider cognitive behavior therapy, which can help you recognize negative thoughts and actions and respond in a healthier manner. I like to practice “anywhere, anytime stress busters,” like tuning into my favorite music, practicing 4-7-8 breathing or trying progressive muscle relaxation exercises. But make no mistake: There’s nothing better than exercise, even if it’s a walk around the block, though a daily routine will pay greater dividends.
2. Know Your Communication Style
Clear communication and transparency are essential to any relationship, whether in the office, community or home. We each have our ways of communicating but sometimes have no idea how our style impacts others. Even when you have the best of intentions, the way you naturally communicate can backfire.
Understanding your communication style and the styles of those around you can make a powerful difference in your work environment. The four primary types are:
- Passive: Quiet and lower energy. It can make sharing opinions uncomfortable.
- Aggressive: Domineering. It can mean talking over someone frequently and can become overbearing.
- Passive-aggressive: Passive on the surface and possibly more aggressive below. It can manipulate a situation.
- Assertive: Being respectful, speaking up and sharing opinions.
Most of us are a mix of the four styles, but one usually dominates. The assertive style is considered the best as it en-courages shared ideas, builds confidence and garners respect. Assertive communicators serve as positive role models, build consensus and bring out the best in others.
No doubt you are under pressure each day, but it doesn’t mean you have to be an aggressive or passive-aggressive communicator (even inadvertently). Talk about the different styles with your team members and get them thinking about how they communicate and how it’s working. The more you know about the types, the greater the opportunity to create a healthy, enjoyable and productive workplace.
3. Flex Your EQ Muscles
Veterinarians have a high IQ, but it isn’t always enough when dealing with pet owners and team members. That’s where emotional intelligence, or EQ, comes in. EQ is the ability to recognize emotions in yourself and others as the feelings occur and then manage them to improve interactions and relationships. EQ helps you become more resilient and effective when dealing with high levels of stress or uncertainty.
Veterinary professionals might not naturally lean toward using their EQ, but they can do simple things to develop that critical side of their brain. These include pausing before responding to emotional situations, being curious and asking questions instead of making assumptions.
Also remember to practice empathy. For example, if you notice passive types who might be struggling or seem down for an extended period, gently reach out and ask how they are doing.
Developing your EQ takes practice, but it’s critical for those working in veterinary practices where there’s a lot of good and bad emotions.
4. Hold Yourself Accountable
It’s human nature to set a goal and start on it, only to lose motivation and let other things get in the way. That might be OK in some situations, but not when trying to be a healthy role model in your veterinary practice. Everything you do has a ripple effect on your staff, colleagues, clients and their pets. And that’s just at work.
If you’re committed to taking a stand against mental illness, you need to achieve a healthy balance, including psycho-logical and physical well-being. Set your well-being goals, and invite others in the office to do the same.
I recommend creating group activities that don’t take much time but generate shared excitement and motivation. They could be as simple as exchanging healthy recipes or encouraging your team to step out of the office and enjoy the sunshine.
Practice, keep track and make it fun. Challenge yourself, and encourage your team to do the same. Embrace an open-door policy where everyone can share their ups and downs, because social well-being is equally important.
Be patient and give yourself and others the grace to allow healthier changes to happen. Encourage everyone to track their progress, provide constructive feedback and savor the wins, both big and small.
I love the quote, “If you can be anything in life, be kind.” It’s common knowledge that we should be kind to others, but being kind to ourselves is harder. If you don’t think you deserve it because too much is going on, think again. Remember you’re a role model to your colleagues, clients and community. You routinely help people make life-and-death decisions. As wrenching as those experiences are, you can ease the burden by bringing calm strength and positivity to the situation.
Be kind to yourself every day, and extend kindness and empathy to those around you.