If this past year in veterinary practice wore you out, you might need a fresh start. And while we can’t say how long it will take for life to slowly return to normal in 2021, it is time to take up old hobbies, defend your personal time and give yourself a special treat at the end of a long day.
Here are five tried-and-true ways to help lower stress, get your tired brain back into shape, and help to maintain your calm and composure when work is hard and the monotony of daily life is getting you down:
1. TAKE A BREAK FROM THE PEOPLE & REMEMBER THE PETS
In a year of pandemic stress, many people around you were reacting emotionally and not managing themselves properly. That might have made normal work with people even more stressful for those who (typically) like working with pets more than people.
“You deserve, every day, to decompress without people, if that’s what helps,” says Melissa Detweiler, DVM.
“Our family lives out in the country, with two neighbors within three miles, so I can get a little isolation,” Detweiler says. “The stress of practice is from the people, not the pets.”
Her husband and kids know to give her time if she comes home from work, puts on her shoes and heads out on a three-mile country route to walk when she gets home.
“I have to be disconnected from everything for a bit,” she says. “My dog is running through the creek, covered in weeds, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. It reminds me why I do this.”
2. Get in touch with your senses
The work of a veterinarian can be relentlessly cerebral and high-stakes. Sometimes you need to get back to the basics and stop and think about what would sound nice, smell nice and feel nice.
“I am addicted to salt baths,” Sarah Wooten, DVM says. “I spend an embarrassing amount of time bathing.”
Wooten also quiets down the world at least twice a day with meditation and escapes the noise and pollution of the city life by getting back into nature.
What sights do you miss? What smells bring you joy? What would feel good on your skin? You need to love on your body the way you love on your mind.
“Self-care is not a luxury,” Wooten says. “It’s a survival skill.”
3. Honor your inner child & play
Some veterinarians play video games. Some veterinarians dance or sing or play guitar. Some veterinarians jump on trampolines or ride their bikes. What used to make you happy when you were young?
“Sometimes at night if the family is home and we’re watching TV, I like to color in coloring books,” Detweiler says. “It helps me disconnect, be creative, and look at all the pretty colors.”
Coloring is so different from her job, she says. She indulges herself with fun office supplies and new pens and daydreams about what she’d be doing if she weren’t a veterinarian.
“I would open up an arts & crafts supply store,” Detweiler says. “No stress, nobody dying.”
Your responsibilities are real and your work is important, and that’s why it might be time to reach back, a little bit each day or each week, to a time when the world wasn’t weighing on your shoulders.
4. Cut down on social media and connect with close friends
Participating in groups for veterinary professionals on social media where sympathizing with each other’s struggles is good, but sometimes veterinarians’ tendencies to stay in problem-solving mode turn sessions of sharing into sessions of correction.
“I don’t post about too many cases,” Detweiler says. “I guess because somebody will comment and say, ‘Well, why didn’t you do it this way?’ But I just wanted to vent.”
Instead, when she needs to talk about work but in a more personal, less professional way, she has particular colleagues and friends who hit the right tone.
“You need to talk to people within the profession who get it, but they know I don’t need them to solve my problems,” she shares.
Ask yourself how you feel when you talk to certain people online and when you participate in certain groups online. Can you find the right coworker, mentor, colleague or close friend who gets you? Try connecting with them instead, one-on-one, rather than consulting a group who doesn’t understand your whole situation.
5. Get creative
Aside from child-like fun, are there other ways you used to be creative that you haven’t tapped into lately? Or maybe there is a new activity or hobby you have thought about trying out but have yet to find the time?
Writing is something creative that Dr. Detweiler enjoys. Sometimes that means articles or content to be read by others, but sometimes her art is just for her.
“I’m just purging; getting the words out, and that’s sometimes something I need,” she says.
She also combines her creativity with time with friends on her podcast, DVM Divas (dvmdivas.com), which gives her the chance to mix comforting and challenging conversations in with her joy of making audio.
What did you used to do that got your creative juices flowing? What have you always thought about trying out? Don’t overwhelm yourself by dreaming up some new, creative side hustle for money or fame (unless that’s thrilling). Find a small way to try it out and bring that creativity back into your life.
Stop what you’re doing right now, take a deep breath and think about what you’d like to do when you get home. Enjoy a moment of peace and quiet away from people or a cuddle with your cat? Maybe play a video game, strum on the old guitar or dance to a song? Relax in a bath with a sweet-smelling candle or take a walk in the park?
Last year was a rough year. You need a break, doc. +