Life Boost with Dr. Amelia is a new column where Associate IndeVet and health coach Dr. Amelia Knight shares tips to lead a happier and healthier life as a veterinarian.
IndeVets knows that happy, healthy doctors perform at their best. I couldn’t agree more.
I’m a (human) health coach and a veterinarian (happily breaking the norm over here). My type-A, high-achieving, people-pleasing tendencies led me straight to burnout as a veterinarian – the job I had dreamed of since I was 6 years old. Long story short, I “chose my own adventure” and became a health coach.
Now, I help other high-achieving stressed professionals who feel stuck support their body and mind to achieve true health, happiness, and success. As a result, I’ve also fallen back in love with being a veterinarian! I want to make sure you’re feeling happy (and healthy), too.
Each month, I’ll be sharing wellness tips to help you feel your best! Let’s start with one thing we can all relate to: stress.
Veterinary stress and burnout
It appears this decade was designed to test just how much stress our profession can handle – and we seem to be reaching the breaking point. Even among IndeVets who have a great work-life balance, in a survey 76% reported feeling more stressed in 2020 than previous years. Stress is a normal part of life, but chronic stress wreaks havoc on our physical and mental well-being. Your stress needs a pop-off valve.
Just thinking about that is stressful, right? I’m here for you. These are some of my favorite hacks for decreasing stress in the moment.
Stress hack #1: Take a few deep breaths.
Breathing is an amazing way to shift your body into the parasympathetic state. As a bonus, it’s free and you’ll be breathing anyway. Let’s take advantage of that with a few tweaks!
These are my favorite techniques:
This technique stimulates the vagus nerve to shift your body out of fight or flight mode. Most of us are walking around taking really shallow breaths. If you watch a baby, their bellies tend to push out when they inhale.
As we grow older and society tells us to suck in our bellies, that natural tendency disappears and we start to breathe more from the chest.
A great time to practice this is when you’re sitting at a desk completing medical records. If you tend to inhale your lunch (no pun intended) in between appointments, a few of these breaths before your first bite can help with digestion.
How to: Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Inhale allowing your belly to expand while your chest stays in place, and then as you exhale draw your belly button in towards your spine. That’s it! You can do this lying down or when sitting.
Physiologic sigh (double inhale, long exhale)
You know that deep sigh you have at the end of a good cry that gives you a sense of relief? This breath-work mimics that sigh. It’s a great way to quickly release pent up stress.
How to: Simply inhale and then inhale one more time before letting out a long exhale.
This is a technique Navy SEALS use for stress, so I encourage you to feel hard-core when you practice this. ? This one is very easy and can also be a great way to slowly start getting into meditating.
How to: Breathe in for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold your breath for a count of four. If it’s helpful, you can visualize a box to guide your breathing.
Play around with which breath technique works best for you to help you stay grounded during the day. Take a couple of breaths while washing your hands in-between an overflowing schedule, in the middle of a stressful surgery, or before a difficult conversation. Go ahead and try one of these now and see how you feel!
Stress hack #2: Laugh!
Laughing is an amazing way to instantly lighten the mood and decrease stress.
At the start of the pandemic, my hospital was divided into two teams, which meant fewer staff and an overwhelming number of patients. Stress was high and morale was low.
Each morning, I sent a couple of funny COVID-related memes in a group text to start the day on a positive note. That often created a cascade of other hilarious memes, and we all started the day laughing instead of dreading the day.
Find a meme or photo that always makes you smile or laugh and keep it on your phone. Consider making the picture your home screen for a little boost every time you see it. As I type this, I realize a new Teams thread to share funny stories or memes would be a great resource any time an Indevet needs a laugh!
In case you need a laugh right now, these are some of my favorites:
Stress hack #3: Go for a 5-10 minute walk outside to get some fresh air, clear your head, and regroup.
Okay, so this might not be the technique to use in the middle of a surgery or an appointment, but stay with me! Getting outside even for just a few moments before going to work, during your lunch break, or when you get home at the end of the day can have a hugely positive impact on your mental (and physical) health.
You can use a walk as an opportunity to listen to music that boosts your mood, to spend time with your dog (or cat or partner!), to call a friend or family member, or you can be crazy and completely unplug!
A walk outside is the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness and enjoying the moment. Savor a rejuvenating breath of fresh air, the cheerful sound of birds chirping, or the comforting feeling of the sun against your skin. Let your mind wander so you can work through whatever is on your mind.
At the end of the day, you may just feel like immediately making dinner and collapsing on the couch, but I dare you to try this at least a couple of times. You won’t regret it!
Stress hack #4: Get a hug.
It’s times like this, that we can be grateful for furry patients. While this may not be the era to go around hugging co-workers, the good news is you’re in the right profession!
A simple hug increases those feel-good neurotransmitters to boost happiness and decrease stress. Take a moment to take advantage of one of the huge perks of your job, and breathe in that puppy smell as you hug a pup.
Stress hack #5: Perform a random act of kindness!
I saved the best for last! With a random act of kindness, at least two people benefit. Even better, it often creates an amazing domino effect. One of IndeVets’ core values is to lead by example. With the high rates of burnout, compassion fatigue, and stress, this is an opportunity for Indevets to be a positive force in our profession.
A random act of kindness doesn’t have to be a grand gesture to have a huge impact. A simple genuine compliment can make someone’s day! I love to bring a delicious, nourishing snack like my salted chocolate coffee amazeballs to share at work for an energy (and mood) boost during the day.
IndeVets understands the value of a random act of kindness, which is why everyone gets a “Share the Love” fund to use on a day when your team needs a boost.
As you know, the veterinary profession is reaching a state of overwhelm. That’s stressful for the veterinary community and pet owners.
I recently gave pet owners a heads up, and the very first thing I encourage from both sides is kindness. Change needs to happen and that means some growing pains in the process. Supporting one another and prioritizing kindness is a really great place to start.
See how many of these stress hacks you can try today!