In today’s world, it seems that stress is at an all-time high. Unfortunately, as veterinary professionals and students we tend to experience even more of it in our day to day lives. From personal stress, to financial burdens, to distressed clients, and stress from school, there are many different factors that can lead to us being overwhelmed.
While some parts of our educational path and career are out of our control, there are other aspects of our lives we can take charge of in order to help reduce our stresses. This is important because if we aren’t taking care of ourselves, we won’t be at our best to take care of our patients.
I know for myself, as a student, I didn’t expect stress to be a major part of my life. However, as I progressed in my classes I realized that at times I felt swamped. I have seen firsthand that it negatively affects my academics, as well as my personal life. While it’s not fun to experience stress while I’m trying to learn at school, I think it can bring forward such an important lesson for veterinary students. With more and more schools advocating for student wellness, we are able to find ways to manage our stress earlier in hopes of beginning to change what is considered the norm within our field.
Stress is often overlooked as just being a part of life, but in reality it has many long term health effects. High stress levels can intensify anxiety, depression, and can even lead to cardiovascular problems. According to a recent study published in JAVMA by Malinda Larkin in 2016, “the biggest concern that respondents indicated was work-related stress.”
With today’s increase in information being shared on this topic, most people would have already guessed that. What is less commonly discussed is what can be done about these alarming statistics being shared more and more.
Every person is different so there is no perfect solution to de-stress, but here are some tips that work for me and some of my classmates.
1. Take time for you.
Even on the days when you think there isn’t a minute to spare, there are apps like Headspace that literally take one minute to help boost your mood and clear your mind. I try to take advantage of my lunch time during the week to concentrate on refreshing myself for afternoon classes or surgery lab by enjoying my food, not cramming in any extra studying. Even with just this hour to myself I notice a huge difference in my attitude the rest of the day.
2. Exercise regularly.
I also find it very relaxing to exercise in the evenings; though I know many others who prefer painting, reading, or walking their dogs. In regards to which activities you choose, the AVMA says it best: “How you do that is up to you, and there are a wide range of possibilities.” There isn’t one formula to improve your mental wellness, but there are a lot of things to try. I enjoy OrangeTheory, PureBarre, SWEAT, and CycleBar to exercise because the classes are a quick hour, then I can get back to what I need to work on.
3. Use your time wisely.
One of the biggest points of stress for a veterinary student comes from lack of time. We have so much to do and study that it can become very overwhelming. I found this very tough my first year because I had never had to manage so much studying during the week. Even now this is still challenging, but I’ve found the app Flora is extremely helpful to accomplish tasks without distraction. I’ll turn it on for an hour or two to get through one subject, then take a break to scroll Instagram, then get back to the next thing I want to work on. It makes not looking at your phone during the set time frame feel like a game.
4. Use resources.
The AVMA is also a fantastic place to start if you are feeling overwhelmed, their website includes an entire section on stress management with links to webinars, other useful apps, a checklist to measure your stress management practices, relaxation techniques, as well as many other wonderful resources.
Just because high stress levels have been a normal part of veterinary medicine in the past, doesn’t mean it needs to continue to be.