Vets have found themselves under more pressure than ever in 2020. So how can you remain positive despite the upheavals and still enjoy your work? Clea Sherman reports
The domestic cat is an introverted, solitary creature that enjoys its own space. But in 2020, felines around Australia found their personal domains rudely overrun. The usual daytime peace was shattered by pesky children doing anything but schoolwork and adults taking endless Zoom calls.
Inconvenienced by the lack of personal space, the cat population experienced a rise in lower urinary tract disease, which is often brought about by stress. This meant an excursion to the vet’s office.
It is not just FLUTD cats who are putting pressure on vets this year. The entire industry has been overwhelmed during the COVID outbreak with more new puppies to neuter and animals that have been injured or swallowed something they shouldn’t have.
“It has been phenomenally busy,” says Dr Bronwyn Oke who is veterinary director at Moorabbin Animal Emergency Centre. “Appointments for us have been up by 35 per cent and social distancing has made things even more challenging.”
In these circumstances, it is so easy for veterinarians to lose motivation. Many who live alone and have found themselves isolated due to lockdowns are struggling to stay positive and enjoy their work.
The common experience
During tough times such as these, Dr Oke focuses on self-care. “You have to go home, switch off and work on your own health,” she explains. “It’s easy to get trapped in your own thoughts but one of my strategies to overcome this is to make sure I exercise daily.”
Dr Oke also recommends regular debriefs with colleagues to discuss any cases that went wrong. “Particularly when you’re younger, you find yourself wondering what you should have done differently and if an animal could have been saved. It really helps to talk things through.”
The importance of a great team
When you’re not feeling positive about your work, the people around you become incredibly important.
As Dr Oke explains, staying connected has become a huge priority at her workplace during COVID. “We have regular Zoom meetings to make sure everyone is okay,” she says. “And my team looks out for each other. If someone isn’t doing so well, I will get a request from someone else to touch base with them.”
Dr Oke adds that mental health is prioritised as a way to keep people feeling positive. “My team is encouraged to take time off when they need it, especially after a difficult case,” she says.
Keep smiling with FARC
Professional speaker Amanda Gore majored in psychology and is a master practitioner of neurolinguistics. Her keynote presentations are centred around the subjects of joy, positivity and changing your own perceptions of the world.
Gore recommends vets who find themselves in a ‘funk’ of negativity take a step back and focus on ‘FARC’. This is a four-step system to break the cycle of feeling ho-hum about work and life in general.
Firstly, Focus on what you tell yourself and others, and take a look at the recurring patterns in your life.
“It is so common to fear not being good enough or as though you don’t belong. We tend to tell ourselves stories that generate the same behaviours over and over again,” says Gore. “When you focus on the present and what is good in it, you’ll find the stories that bring you peace, not the ones that reinforce negative judgements you have made about yourself or your situation.”
Next, it is important to become Aware of how you are feeling. “Your feelings come from the stories you are telling yourself,” explains Gore. “Be aware of what you emanate and what you want to emanate. That’s the ‘vibe’ that others pick up! Life is not so much about feeling good as it is about being good at feeling—so you can identify how you are feeling and change your thinking.”
Once you are focused on the stories you are telling yourself and aware of the way they are making you feel, start catching yourself out when diminishing or negative thoughts arise.
“If you can’t replace a negative story with a positive one, settle for a neutral version. Then aim to create new, more positive behaviours through Repetition. Remind yourself constantly to look for the ‘monotonous goodness’ (the good in our everyday lives) that exists, and you will start creating new pathways in your brain that reinforce these happier messages.”
And remember to Celebrate! Especially as a vet, it is so easy to focus on your shortcomings (or what you perceive to be shortcomings). But you need to notice the good times as well.
“Your brain loves to celebrate!” says Gore, “Any time you make a change that leads to improvement, give yourself permission to do something you love without any guilt. It doesn’t have to be expensive or huge.”
Reach out for help
Being aware of your own patterns, especially the negative ones, and taking the steps to free yourself from them can be a powerful way to snap out of a bad period at work. However, sometimes you do need the extra support of a mental health professional.
Your practice may have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) which gives you access to a counsellor you can talk to. This is provided either at no cost or a low cost and is definitely worth taking advantage of. Alternatively, you can visit your GP for a mental health plan that may reduce the cost of visits to a psychologist.
And take time off from work if you need it. “The days of vets working themselves to the bone should be behind us,” says Dr Oke. “Talk to your practice manager about hiring locum staff so you are not burnt out by constant overtime.”