We all know using alcohol to settle down at the end of a workday or soldiering on and pretending that everything is okay when actually you are a tangle of emotions and stress, are unhelpful in managing workplace stress. And most of us now also know it can actually amplify it. So, how can we as veterinary workers, manage the emotion and stress that our work creates as we deal with suffering and loss, unrealistic clients, ethical dilemmas, workload, financial pressures etc.?

How can we counter the high levels of mental distress that our profession is dealing with?

As more becomes known, the answer will surely be multifactorial. However, one thing we do know is that seeking support from colleagues is a super effective and readily accessible coping strategy.

Numerous studies in veterinary and non-veterinary workplaces, highlight the role of co-worker support in increasing well-being and job satisfaction while buffering the potentially negative effects of workplace stress. (eg Wallace and Lemaire 2007, 2013, Wallace 2014, 2017, BVA Voices 2018)

And, unlike alcohol and avoidance, talking with people that listen, understand and empathise with our work-related problems, and offer support and encouragement, helps us to feel better BOTH in the short term and the long term.

“A problem shared is a problem halved” – as the old saying goes.

Talking with our colleagues can help to;

Normalise the challenges we face. We are not alone in both loving and loathing veterinary work at times. It helps to know that other people are challenged too, and often by similar things to you.

– Structure our thoughts – the simple process of taking the thoughts that are swirling around in your head and arranging them into a coherent “story” to impart to another person helps to structure and make sense of what has happened.

– Understand and label how we are feeling – reducing the intensity of the emotions experienced and giving us insight into our actions

– Get another perspective on what happened from somebody who will have experienced something similar in the past. They may help to widen your view and see other factors that contributed to the events, increasing your tolerance and compassion.

– Brainstorm solutions to the problem

Informal, on the fly conversations are great and these are ideally supplemented by regular, more structured debriefing sessions. Maybe, you could set aside a part of your staff meeting to talk about a challenging ethical dilemma or client communication around finances? This helps to get everybody on the same page and reduces uncertainty when faced with a similar situation in the future. Maybe, you could buddy up with a safe person in the workplace and spend 15 minutes after work once a week talking through your work-related challenges and successes? Maybe, you feel safer or more comfortable sharing with a prior work colleague or friend from uni/TAFE?

Could scheduling a regular time to debrief work situations be the one thing you 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