The often demanding nature of veterinary practice can have a negative impact on mental health. Rosie Allister, helpline manager at Vetlife, offers five top tips that can help reinforce your wellbeing.
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Rosie Allister is a vet, lecturer and researcher, and helpline manager at Vetlife (0303 040 2551 or email via (www.vetlife.org.uk))
1. Do your best to maintain and develop friendships
Social contact and support from friends is important for us all in some form, but working long hours can be isolating. It is easy to lose touch or to feel you don’t have enough time to nurture the sort of close friendships that can support wellbeing. Rather than big events with friends, it can help to instead focus on small, regular contact in a form that works for you – whether face-to-face; over the phone; or corresponding by social media or email.
2. Try to make time for good-quality sleep
Sleep is vital for wellbeing but a number of aspects of veterinary work can disturb it. Some find it helpful to develop a regular routine, which trains their body and brain into recognising they have left work and can put work-related issues to one side until the next day. Other people find writing down worries or tasks for tomorrow before going to bed helps keep them out of mind overnight. When busy on-calls interfere with sleep, plan in sufficient rest and recovery time over the following days.
3. Make sure your working environment is a positive fit for you
A workplace that is a positive fit does not just mean one where you have the basics, such as opportunities for breaks, food and manageable hours. It also means one that is right for you. That could cover factors including psychological safety, respect, colleagues whose values align with your own, opportunities for support and advice, and a focus on personal career development. When selecting a job it is important to consider how good a fit it will be with these factors, and consider opportunities that fit with your own priorities, needs and values. It is also worth considering leaving a post where there is not a fit.
4. Make efforts to maintain interests outside work
Having external interests helps with switching off workplace-related thoughts, and gives enjoyment, meaning and purpose beyond one’s identity as a veterinary professional. It may also be psychologically protective at times when veterinary life is tough. These interests or activities can just be small things – reading a book, going for a walk, catching up on a boxset – but it is important to develop them and to be unashamed about protecting this time.
5. Ask for help if you need it
Asking for help is a strength not a weakness
We are all aware of expectations that veterinary professionals are resilient, and can bounce back to previous levels of functioning after adversity. But as a profession we need to remember that asking for help is a strength not a weakness. It’s important to plan ahead and have supports in place, whether that’s supportive veterinary line managers who can play a crucial role in mental health at work, making sure you are registered with a GP practice, or knowing who would make up your own personal support team in difficult times.
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