There are some days in practice that are amazing – you see patients making progress, the team works well together, the clients love you and you even get time to have lunch and a bathroom break before you leave on time. You head home to enjoy your time with family, friends, pets and/or hobbies. Amazing!

There are other days though, that don’t feel so good and others again that can be downright emotionally demanding.

1.Maybe you are having a run of Doctor Death and you feel like it would be better for that nice owner with their nice pet to see another vet – one that deals in life rather than death.

2.Or maybe your schedule looked OK until you had those couple of emergencies which, whilst fun and satisfying, threw everything else into disarray.

3.Or maybe you had just one too many of those clients that want everything done for their pet and money is no object (red flag, red flag) or want you to provide treatments that you feel are not in the best interests of their animal or were just plain difficult to deal with.

What do you do at the end of those days? Days where you feel sucked dry and have nothing left to give.

Do you withdraw – sitting on the couch distracting yourself with Facebook or Netflix in an effort to turn your brain off? Or do you head straight to pour yourself a glass (or two) of your tipple of choice?

Avoidance and alcohol consumption are examples of coping strategies that we can use to reduce the discomfort we feel after a stressful day in the clinic. And using strategies such as these makes sense, as they can make us feel better in the short term and they take little effort and energy.

The problem is that whilst these coping strategies provide an escape and can make us feel better in the short-term, they don’t go to the source of the stress and therefore are not helpful in the long term.

The stress and emotion is still sitting there, it is just masked – dulled by the effects of the alcohol or perhaps nicely compartmentalized into a little box – but there all the same. Ignoring it does not make it go away! It builds up inside us and eventually will escape the boxes we are trying to contain it in.

But unfortunately, the problems don’t stop there. A recent study1 in veterinarians has shown that frequent use of avoidance and alcohol as coping strategies to manage workplace stress can actually amplify the harmful effects of some job demands and increase levels of emotional exhaustion, burnout and suicidal thinking.  

Avoidance and alcohol don’t just not help, they actually hinder our response to workplace stress.

The good news is that we can all learn to use more helpful coping strategies. Having supportive relationships with your work colleagues and talking about work stresses, challenges and successes with people that understand what you are going through is a good place to start and we will pick up on this theme in subsequent blogs.

So as we move into another year, now may be the time to take stock of the coping strategies that you are using to recover from tough days in the clinic.

If you are frequently using alcohol to cope with the stress of the day and/or internalizing the stress  – what is one thing you could do differently in 2019 to actively manage your stress and increase your work satisfaction and longevity?

Why don’t you join Dr Cathy Warburton at Makeheadway for the Veterinary Balint Group held monthly across 6 sessions between May 6th – October 6th 2019? The Veterinary Balint Group Program is for all members of veterinary health care teams who want a better way to process and understand difficult clinical or communication experiences.  For more info, check out the brochure. Register HERE.

Written by Dr Cathy Warburton

1.Wallace (2017) Burnout, coping and suicidal ideation: An application and extension of the job demand-control-support model, Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health,32:2, 99-118
DOI: 10.1080/15555240.2017.1329628