Rebecca MacMillan BVetMed BSAVA PGCertSAM MRCVS
*See the end of the blog to hear all about our Non-Clinical CPD & Mental Health Charity Fundraising event The Titanic Vet Show in Belfast in May 2024* *Early Bird tickets are only £185 until February 12th!*
What are your New Year’s resolutions this year? Most people make the same old ones, often lasting a few weeks at best. This year let’s move away from cliches like ‘get fit’ or ‘save more money’ and commit to something more all-encompassing. Mental health can seem like a buzzword but it is fundamental to how well you function at both work and at home, so it should be your priority.
As a profession, we understand that many vets and vet nurses struggle with their mental health, so what steps can we take to protect ourselves and improve our sense of well-being? We all know generally what is good for us, but it can be hard to fit some of these changes around a hectic work and home life.
Here are a few simple, practical suggestions that could improve your mental health this year.
Take your breaks
You must take a break during your working day. We all have those manic ones, that feel never-ending, but stepping away from the consult room is a legal right, as well as being important for our mental health.
If you are struggling to get out on time, discuss protected breaks with your employer. This means the last consult is scheduled to finish at least 15 minutes before your break is due to start, to allow time for overrunning or note typing. Also, make sure that your lunch break is clearly marked in the diary. There are very few true emergencies that can’t wait at least half an hour while you decompress and refuel.
If you are finding you are unable to get a break most days, then diary management needs to be addressed and you might need to discuss this problem with your practice manager and HR.
And while you are at it, you also need to set clear boundaries about being contacted outside of work. Try and leave work at work so you can properly switch off when you get home.
The benefits of seeing daylight and getting fresh air are not to be underestimated. Some vets and nurses work in in-store practices so don’t even have as much as a window.
On your break, step outside for a bit. Even if you just sit in your car to eat your lunch, you will still be in natural light, with a change of scenery. If you can manage it, a walk around the block or a wander to a nearby shop would be even better. I guarantee that you will come back feeling more refreshed than nibbling on your sandwich under the strip lighting of your cramped staff room (which is also at risk of constant interruption from well-meaning colleague requests!).
You are what you eat
Food is an important part of the day, not only giving us fuel but affecting our wellbeing too. When we’re tired and rushing around it can be easy to grab sugary snacks or fast food to keep us going. However, this leads to a sugar crash later, making us feel sluggish or leaving us reaching for the caffeine instead (another vet’s best friend!).
Think about a few simple changes you could make, like bringing some fruit or nuts into work to snack on and preparing a packed lunch the night before. This doesn’t need to be anything fancy – a homemade sandwich, some porridge or some soup you can reheat in the microwave will all be better than a burger grabbed from the drive-thru next door or a handful of biscuits hastily grabbed from the staff room!
When we’re stressed it’s easy to slip back into old comforting habits. This could include indulging in a cigarette or two, consoling ourselves with chocolate or switching off with a glass of wine in the evening. While innocent enough as an occasional treat, these behaviours can become problematic if they become a regular occurrence. Why not have a look at some other, healthier, stress-relieving techniques?
Exercise is a big one and can encompass many activities including walking, swimming, a trip to the gym, a team sport or a bike ride. Find an activity that fits in with your lifestyle. For me, since the loss of our family dog and the walks this entailed, the exercise bike has become a revelation. I can hop on this without having to leave the house, which is tricky with a young family at home. I can still get those endorphins going and have started making a spin class part of my routine.
Other coping mechanisms could include writing a journal, making lists to organise your thoughts or meditating. Sticking on a feel-good film, phoning a friend for a chat or having a hot bath are also good ways to unwind.
Speak to colleagues, friends, and family or get confidential support
Talking to others is extremely important for your well-being. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, then start with the small stuff. Chat with your colleagues about their weekend plans or bounce ideas off each other about a recent case. If you can openly talk to your colleagues about the day-to-day things this will make it easier when those bigger problems arise. Try and build a culture where you check in on each other regularly.
If you aren’t comfortable chatting things through with colleagues, then make sure you reach out to friends and family. A problem shared is usually a problem halved, and your wellbeing will suffer if you bottle things up.
Make time for you
This is easier said than done between work and home life, but it is important not to lose sight of what you enjoy doing. Try and make time for your hobbies, even if you only manage this occasionally it is better than not at all. Seeing friends, a trip to the theatre, doing some painting, playing sports or going for a beauty treatment will also all improve your mood and give you things to look forward to.
The Titanic Vet Show 2024: Connect & Thrive
And while you’re at it, why not also invest in some personal development with non-clinical CPD?
The Vet Service are hosting The Titanic Vet Show 2024. The Non Clinical CPD and Mental Health Charity Fundraiser will take place on the 24th-25th May 2024. All proceeds from the event go to ‘VetSupport’ a volunteer-run mental health support service for vets across UK and Ireland.
The show will take place at the iconic Titanic Belfast in Northern Ireland. Over the 1.5 days, seven expert speakers will cover topics relating to connecting and thriving individually and with your clients and team (Worth 6.5 hours CPD, including Q+A’s and three interactive sessions!)
The event will include a wide range of exhibitors from the Veterinary Industry, excellent networking opportunities, a Black Tie Gala Dinner on Friday evening and a chance to visit the famed Titanic Experience over the weekend.
Early Bird tickets are only £185 until February 12th! Get yours and more info here
Mental health and wellbeing can get forgotten in amongst the hectic pace of work and/or family life. Making some small changes to your day can make a real difference, and hopefully, you’ll take a few tips away with you today. Above all, don’t be afraid to speak out if you are struggling.