November 30th 2020

Vets and Wellbeing: Avoiding Burnout

According to a recent survey by the British Veterinary Association (BVA), three-quarters of vets are concerned about the profession’s levels of stress and burnout as a direct result of COVID-19.

Concerns about practical vet student training, and student and new veterinary graduate confidence also feature high up on the list of pandemic-sparked worries. Specifically, on the impact of health and welfare in the medium term, vets had most concern for zoo animals and wildlife.

The survey, consisting of 565 respondents and taken six months after the first national lockdown, gauged the profession’s feelings about veterinary life and how the pandemic may have affected it. 

The participants ranked their levels of concern across areas that included health and wellbeing, finance and employment, students and new graduates, and animal health and welfare. 

Although veterinary workplaces have adapted to working safely, 42% of the profession is very or quite concerned about contracting COVID-19 at work, rising to 55% among anyone working in mixed practice and 50% in small animal/exotic practice.

In other parts of the survey, respondents showed they were more concerned about stress and burnout in their colleagues (67%) than how the pandemic was impacting on themselves (45%), but the proportion was higher at 58% among small animal/exotic vets. Managers and employees ranked stress and burnout higher than business owners and self-employed members of the profession. 

Burnout can be described as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when one feels overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. 

As the fear of burnout becomes all too real, we have compiled a short list that can help professionals avoid burnout and to maintain a healthier emotional balance in their professional and personal lives.

Exercise

Exercise has been proven in countless studies to be an excellent way to combat stress and to release positive endorphins. Just thirty minutes of exercise per day can have an enormous impact on one’s emotional state. Leaving the practice at lunch for a short walk and getting out in nature for even only 20-minutes has been clinically proven to decrease stress hormones and increase those associated with wellbeing.

Eating Correctly

Eating correctly provides the body with the correct nutrients and vitamins to function and create the energy needed for long days, 

Rest

Rest and taking time for oneself can take many forms. Be it reading a book, enjoying a series or watching a film giving you an all-important off switch from work. 

Taking Time Off

Holidays, however short, can help you to gain perspective and distance on work related issues and provide a welcome break that can leave you refreshed and ready for new challenges. 

Relaxation Techniques

Yoga, meditation and Pilates are all excellent ways to promote relaxation and decrease stress. Grounding and breathing techniques can help to reduce anxiety and stress, helping you to refocus with greater clarity and calmness. Try the 5,4,3,2,1 technique below. The technique gets you to use all your five senses to help you to get back to the present. It starts with you sitting comfortably, closing your eyes and taking a couple of deep breaths. In through your nose (count to 3), out through your mouth (to the count of 3):

  • 5 – things you can see (you can look within the room and out of the window)
  • 4 – things you can feel (the silkiness of your skin, the texture of the material on your chair, what does your hair feel like? What is in front of you that you can touch? A table perhaps?)
  • 3 – things you can hear (traffic noise or birds outside, when you are quiet and actually listening to things in your room constantly make a noise but typically we don’t hear them)
  • 2 – things you can smell
  • 1 – things you can taste (it might be a good idea to keep a piece of chocolate or snack handy in case you are doing this grounding exercise. You can always leave your chair for this one and when you taste whatever it is that you have chosen, take a small bite and let it swill around your mouth for a couple of seconds, really savouring the flavour).

Taking and Seeking Professional Help

Speaking to a mental health professional can help you to gain a new perspective, clear your mind of worries and to build emotional resilience. The below resources may help should you wish to speak to someone:

  • Vetlife – Vetlife provides independent, confidential and free help for everyone in the veterinary community including veterinary nurses and students. You can contact Vetlife directly by calling 0303 040 2551 or visiting the Vetlife website
  • Samaritans – Samaritans provides a free to use services that helps anyone in emotional distress or struggling to cope. Samaritans can be reached 24/7 on 116 123 and via the online live chat on the Samaritans website
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