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Black and White headshot of IndeVets Employee Amelia
Words by:
Amelia Knight — Integrative Health + Life Coach

In Life Boost with Dr. Amelia, Associate IndeVet and health coach Dr. Amelia Knight shares tips to lead a happier and healthier life as a veterinarian.

This is the second in a series of posts on how to apply Fear Free techniques in your own life to minimize stress and make a healthy lifestyle a more enjoyable, less intimidating experience. Missed the first post? Read up on tips for Fear Free morning routines

Nail trimming: the absolute worst thing that we do to pets and the number one priority for most owners. Regardless of how many times a pet is told “It’s just a nail trimming! You’re fine!”, the reality is that, in their world, a nail trim is really scary and uncomfortable.

As advocates for our patients, we need to honor their perspective and make sure that nail trims are a stress- and fear-free experience. Are you utilizing desensitizing techniques for your patients and in your own life?

When it comes to nail trimmings, we know how to take a gentler approach through desensitizing. We shouldn’t expect to be able to trim every nail in one fell swoop when even the sight of nail trimmers or walking into the veterinary hospital elicits fear.

Time constraints, owner requests, and a “we’ve always done it this way” mentality are some of the reasons the restrain-and-get-it-done nail trimming approach isn’t always questioned. Yet one traumatic nail trim experience can negatively impact a lifetime of veterinary care. Thankfully, we have the power to lead by example.

As a profession, we need to embrace slowing down enough to be kind and to respect both our patients and ourselves by not losing sight of the ultimate goal: sustainable health, happiness, and success.

One nail trim may seem important in the moment, especially to an owner, but that’s an opportunity for us to serve as our patient’s advocate and to help the owner understand their pet’s perspective and gentler options. The veterinary team can benefit from taking the same approach for themselves! Vets are incredibly compassionate except in the way we often treat ourselves.

If “being healthy” feels like too much effort right now, there’s a good chance you’re taking the brute force nail trimming approach towards healthy changes. Here are a few ways to make healthy changes a less traumatic, more enjoyable experience.

Tip #1: Fear-Free Fitness

Packed gyms in January are a prime example of the typical forceful approach when it comes to health. Most people have taken a break from working out and overindulged over the holidays. On January 1st, they’re ready to get back on track. The gym is full of people committed to spending an hour at the gym despite not having worked out for months. Their bodies hurt and everything is uncomfortable, but they push through as punishment for the guilt they feel from the holidays and a belief that working out isn’t supposed to be fun.

A month later, the gyms are no longer packed. Why? Because that weekend warrior approach to working out is traumatic. If you haven’t worked out in a while, it’s because you view it as undesirable in some way. Either it takes too much time, effort, or it’s a lower priority than something else on your plate.

When you force yourself to the gym, expecting it to be uncomfortable, and then you go all out on the elliptical or weights for an hour hating every moment, you’re proving to yourself that you were right: working out is hard and uncomfortable. When you wake up crippled with soreness the next morning, you cement that the gym was a traumatic experience. It’s no wonder the gyms don’t stay packed for long!

One hard, hour-long workout is great, but it’s not going to have much of an impact on your overall health. Just like we need to avoid the urge to try to get the whole nail trim done in one visit, focus instead on how you can create a short positive experience that you might actually want to do again. Fifteen minutes of a moderate intensity workout consistently throughout your life will have a much greater impact on your health than the rare intense but miserable one.

Find what feels safe and doable for you. That may mean starting with 5 or 10 minutes of walking and running outside at a pace that doesn’t make you want to vomit. Look for a short YouTube workout video that seems fun and put on a playlist that pumps you up.

Desensitize yourself to not expect working out to be uncomfortable. Experiment to find what feels fun and then start with short amounts so that you can feel the positive energy and mood boosts that exercise has to offer. When working out feels good instead of traumatic, it will turn into something you look forward to instead of dread.

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Tip #2: Drama-Free Healthy Eating

If you have a tendency to find a diet and then go all in, white knuckling your way through every temptation and ignoring when you’re hungry, you’re making yourself miserable. Instead of focusing on “being good”, find the nourishing food that makes your taste buds and body happy.

Waiting until you suddenly feel pressure to lose a lot of weight for an upcoming vacation is a lot like waiting until all the pet’s nails are super long. When you have the time pressure, efforts become forceful, the experience is miserable, and then you avoid it until the next time it feels like an emergency. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Focus on creating a lifestyle where you never have to worry about rapid weight loss because you maintain the weight that feels great. Start small and create habits that feel sustainable.

Here are some places to start:

  • Be mindful of the way food makes you feel—both physically and mentally. Try keeping a food journal to start paying attention to how food influences you beyond the moment you’re eating it. Instead of tracking calories, note your satiety level, cravings, mood, stress, sleep, GI signs, and even seemingly unrelated symptoms like headaches or brain fog. This is a helpful tool to start becoming more in tune with your body and relationship with food.
  • Consuming over 30 different plants (fruits, veggies, nuts/seeds, legumes, soy, grains, and herbs) each week is optimal for gut health. Count how many you’re consuming in a week and then challenge yourself to add one or two new plants each week. Break out of your typical routine and try a new ingredient you haven’t tried at the grocery store. Have fun getting creative with how you can add an extra vegetable to a favorite dish.
  • If you struggle with a sweet tooth, frequent cravings, or energy dips, start paying attention to how much added sugar is in the food you eat. You’ll be shocked where it’s hiding. Savory foods like crackers, pasta sauce, bread, and meat and seemingly healthy food like dried fruit are all common culprits. Start choosing swaps that don’t contain added sugar.

More from Dr. Knight: 8 tips for Fear Free morning routines

Tip #3: Approachable Meditation

Have you ever tried meditating and then completely dismissed it as something that’s not for you? That’s kind of like the Chihuahua who “has always hated” nail trims and screams throughout the whole process. It takes time to get used to new, intimidating things that don’t feel natural. Just because something feels impossible or intimidating today doesn’t mean it has to always be that way.

While the Chihuahua may need some trazodone and gabapentin to start repairing its relationship with the nail trimmer, meditating could turn into your natural anxiolytic. First, start believing it’s possible. That busy brain of yours is a sign that meditation is just what you need, not that you should avoid it. Then, start small. Can you sit and breathe for a minute? Start there.

Taking time out for self-care: One veterinarian’s journey to tai chi

In Closing

These days, it never feels like there’s enough time in veterinary medicine. Yet every time a nail trim ends up taking three staff members and becomes a traumatic event, we’re decreasing productivity in the long run. The same goes for you!

When you don’t make time to listen to and support your body in the way it needs, your energy, mood, and ultimately productivity suffers. Let’s happily break the norm and lead by example by practicing understanding and a gentler approach to both our patients and ourselves.

Amelia Knight, VMD, cVMA, INHC is an Associate IndeVet and a veterinary life coach. Learn more at, follow her on Instagram at @lifeboostwithamelia, or listen to her podcast.

More from IndeVets:

Exotics 101: Getting started in exotics medicine

Setting boundaries in vet med: Lessons from Disney’s Encanto

“Doc, how do I know if it’s time?” Advising pet owners on peaceful euthanasia

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