Veterinary professionals work in a care-giving role. However, it’s important to ask the question ‘who cares for the carer?’ Realising the importance of self-care practices is essential for your physical and mental wellbeing.
We already know that stress, burnout and compassion fatigueare high among vets. By making the time to look after yourself, both physically and emotionally, you can help identify signs of stress before they become a problem.
Without a doubt, when you acknowledge an issue early on it becomes much easier to address. As such, adopting self-care practices and making them part of your daily routine is a really good way to be kind to yourself and nurture your body. It’s also a key way to recognise when you are feeling out of sorts.
Assess your level of self-care
An importance part of maintaining your mental health and general wellbeing is noticing signs of stress and burnout. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to identify your level of self-care.
Are you conscious of eating a healthy, well-balanced diet?
Do you regularly exercise (at least a few times a week)?
Do you have a healthy sleep pattern?
Do you feel you have a support network around you?
Are you confident and equipped to deal with challenges?
Do you set boundaries at work that ensure you get regular breaks?
Do you trust in your own ability to perform your job well?
Do you have particular activities to keep your stress levels in check?
Do you have someone (at work or at home) who you can offload to?
Are you able to leave work issues in work?
Do you recognise the importance of being kind to yourself?
Can you sympathise with clients and patients?
Do you enjoy your job?
Ideally you will answer ‘yes’ to the majority of these questions. If you answer no to multiple questions this might indicate that your level of self-care is fairly low. In which case, you should consider making a few active changes to improve your self-care practices.
Taking good care of yourself requires you to prioritise and take accountability for your actions. Certainly, as part of your duty of care to the animals you care for you have a moral obligation to take good care of yourself too.
It’s important to know the signs and symptoms that may indicate that things aren’t quite right. But it’s also vital you understand there are many things you can do to support your wellbeing and prevent issues from arising.
The following self-care practices aren’t difficult to implement but they are an important part of looking after yourself.
Take regular breaks
Working long hours are a common complaint amongst vets. Indeed, working long hours without any breaks is, unfortunately, not uncommon. However, everyone needs regular breaks for food, water, to use the toilet and to take time out.
Recognise that working long hours without a break is not only unproductive in the long run, but it’s bad for your health. Schedule regular breaks throughout the day and accept that taking these breaks is not slacking off; it’s actually helping you to perform at your best.
Practice good sleep hygiene
The unsung hero of health, sleep has a major impact on many areas of our body. The short-term effects of poor sleep include increased risk of accidents due to diminished mental concentration and fatigue, high blood pressure and a spike in stress hormones.
Medium-term effects include reduced cardiovascular health and cognitive performance (lack of attention and motivation) and longer-term issues relate to mental and immune health.
Thankfully, there are some simple self-care practices that we can do to improve our sleep. The following tips can help promote positive sleep habits.
Maintain a consistent bedtime and wake time
Avoid caffeine for at least four hours before bedtime
Eat your evening meal at least two hours before bedtime
If you are not asleep after 20 minutes in bed, go to another room until you feel tired again and then go back to bed
Don’t have things in the bedroom that distract you from sleep
Try to get some sunlight during the day, as this can help you sleep better at night
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep a night
Avoid napping in the evening; it can make it harder to achieve a proper night’s sleep.
We all know exercise is good for us, but when you work long hours it can be easy to neglect physical activity. If getting to the gym on a regular basis is impossible for you, that’s okay; there are other forms of exercise you can choose from.
Try cycling to work or parking your car further away so you have to walk part of the way to your veterinary practice. Look for early morning or evening yoga classes.
Adding just 30 minutes of exercise into your day can make a big difference to your general health. Make a 30-minute jog part of your lunch break (this might actually force you to have a lunch break)!
Once you realise the benefits of regular exercise hopefully this will encourage you to keep it up and even increase it.
Do the things you love
As part of your self-care practices incorporate the things you love. If you love the ballet, keep an eye out for what’s on at your local theatre and make a point of going.
Mad about mountain biking? Schedule a day when you and your friends go biking. Whether it’s a relaxing pedicure, a massage, a swim in the ocean or a trek through the bush — take the time to do the things you love. It might not be every week, but even every other month is okay. It’s just important to keep doing the things you enjoy most in life.
If you’re feeling sad, depressed or angry – don’t keep these feelings to yourself. A problem shared is a problem halved. Make sure you have someone who you can talk to. Whether it’s a family member, friend or colleague, it’s important to talk about how you’re feeling. Simply sharing and talking about your emotions can be cathartic. It can also help you to spot when there may be a potential problem.
If you don’t feel that you have someone you can talk to, don’t be a hero; consider seeking professional help.
Include self-care practices into every meal by loading your plate with vegetables and fruits. Try to use a variety of herbs and spices. Opt for healthy fats like olive oil and avocado. Make use of nutritious nuts and seeds and reduce sugar.
Don’t forget to eat regularly. Snacking on healthy nuts and fruit can assist you to maintain energy throughout a busy workday.
Take time for self-reflection
Self-reflection should be an essential part of your self-care practices. Taking the time to check in with yourself helps create self-awareness. Regularly ask yourself the questions at the start of this post to gain a better understanding of how you are feeling and what factors are driving you.
Particularly if you intend to make an effort to add some self-care practices to your daily life, self-reflection will help you to realise the benefits and consider the improvements you can make.
At the end of the day, if you fail to take good care of yourself you’ll be unable to care for others. By taking optimum care of your own mental health and wellbeing you’ll be well equipped to take excellent care of your clients and patients.
What are your self-care tips? Share using the comments box below.
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