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Practice life isn’t exactly ‘stress-free’. 

Long hours, demanding clients, and crazy workloads can put a lot of pressure on both veterinary leaders and their teams. 

But as a practice manager, owner, or director, you have an added layer of stress…. because you are ultimately responsible for everything! Pressure like this can really pile on and create issues in the long term. 

In this article, we explore the nine ways you can manage stress at work, so you can show up as the best leader possible.

1. Consider What You Can and Can’t Control

When people are stressed, they can do one of two things. They can either bury their heads in the sand (in the hopes that the problem will resolve itself) or go into overdrive trying to fix everything. 

The truth is that there are some things in life that you can control (fix), and some that you can’t. 

For example, when faced with a difficult client you can: 

1- Apologize. 

2- Offer reparation.

But you can’t:

1- Magically control how the client will respond.

2- Turn back time. 

Do what you can to relieve the pressure, but accept that not everything is within your control. 

2. Listen to Your Body

Amid all the chaos of day-to-day practice, cues that we are overworked or overwhelmed can get muted out, leaving us in a chronic state of stress. Becoming more in tune with these cues and checking in with yourself throughout the day can prevent burnout. 

Things like noting whether you’ve had enough food or water can really make a difference.

3. Avoid Unhealthy Habits

People can turn to bad habits when they are stressed. 

In a survey by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA), researchers found that 72% of respondents suspected that someone they worked with had a drug problem [1]

Although these coping mechanisms can offer relief in the short term, they will cause bigger issues down the road. So establishing healthier strategies is imperative.

4. Improve the Efficiency of Your Practice

Nothing exacerbates stress like a poorly run clinic. Like a leaky boat, instead of spending your valuable time navigating the ship, you spend most of your time plugging in holes. 

During 2020, the efficiency of practices dropped by 25% due to COVID restrictions. This is a staggering amount, which is quite unsustainable. With high workloads causing significant stress for clinicians, working on your practice productivity has never been more important. 

If you’re looking to improve the efficiency of your practice, check out some of these articles:

This Is How To Improve The Productivity Of Your Veterinary Practice

Veterinary Clinic Efficiency: Work Smarter, Not Harder

A Guide to Using Telemedicine for Streamlining Your Veterinary Practice

5. Prioritize & Organize

When you have a stressful job, being organized and getting on top of things outside of work can really help. Things like packing your lunch before work and getting your ‘life admin’ done (laundry, cleaning) can take off the pressure and make coming home a zen experience.

On the job, the following actions can also help: 

  • Setting boundaries.
  • Delegating work.
  • Working predominantly on the things that only you can do.
  • Completing one big project before starting on the next (avoiding multitasking as much as possible).

6. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness activities can be used to improve long-term resilience or used tactically to calm a perturbed mind. Below are some quick stress-busting strategies which you can use whenever you need them:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR):

1- Set a timer for around 10-15 minutes and find a private place where you can relax completely. 

2- Sit or lie down. Ensure your arms and legs are uncrossed so you have easy circulation throughout your body. 

3- Tense up the muscles in your face one at a time. Purse your lips, screw up your eyes and clench your teeth. Do so for a couple of seconds, then relax. 

4- Tense your neck and shoulders and then release. Continue doing this down your body until you reach your toes.

4-7-8 Breathing:

1- Part your lips and exhale through your mouth (you should make a ‘whooshing’ noise if you are doing it right). 

2- Close your lips and inhale through your nose for four seconds. 

3- Hold your breath for seven seconds. 

4- Exhale (again making a ‘whooshing’ sound) for 8 seconds.

5- Do this for four whole breaths.

Separate Facts from Feelings:

1- Write down your anxious thoughts on a piece of paper. 

2- Create two columns, one for ‘facts’ and one for ‘thoughts’. 

3- In the thoughts column, write down what is worrying you about the source of stress.

4- In the facts column, write down the objective facts about the scenario, and then compare the two columns. For example:

Thoughts: Everyone is going to be angry at me if I don’t do this, the client is going to be furious, etc. 

Facts: I have three hours to do this task. I have done this before successfully. The client has never complained about our services, etc [2].

7. Connect With Others & Vent (If Needed)

Sometimes, you just need a little perspective on life. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed about work, connect with your peers, mentors, loved ones, or friends. They can offer you advice, distract you for a bit, or let you vent. 

After all, a problem shared is a problem halved!

This is also why joining a group such as Leaders (a group dedicated to veterinary leaders) can help enormously. If you’re curious about leaders, you can learn more about the group here.

8. Sprinkle a Little Joy into Your Day

Having something to do outside of work (and more importantly, look forward to) can relieve work stress immensely. Hobbies are also a major part of the PERMA model of wellbeing.

If you haven’t got much planned, consider doing some small things in the day to boost your mood, like texting a friend. Stop putting off the good things in life because work gets in the way.

9. Remember, You Can’t Do it All!

Do you struggle with perfectionism? In this profession, many of us hold ourselves to an incredibly high standard. But no matter how good you are, you can’t do it all! 

Failure is a part of life and not a measure of your worth. If you’re really overwhelmed and strained at work, give yourself a break- because you deserve it. 

And per the advice given by Squadron Leader Tim Davies (one of our former Blunt Dissection guests) remember: ‘Failure is a First Attempt in Leaning’.

Summary: 

  • Being a veterinary practice manager, owner or director can be incredibly stressful.
  • To manage your stress levels, try connecting with others, improving the efficiency of your practice, or listening to your body, etc.

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References

1-  ‘Dark shadows: Drug abuse and addiction in the veterinary workplace.’ 15 Jun. 2016, https://www.dvm360.com/view/dark-shadows-drug-abuse-and-addiction-veterinary-workplace. Accessed 14 Jan. 2022.

2- ‘17 Ways to Eliminate Stress in 5, 10, and 30 Minutes – Healthline.’ https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/stress-coping-eliminate. Accessed 14 Jan. 2022.

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