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You’ve probably heard the buzz about creating a kinder, gentler work culture where employee wellbeing comes first – but is that realistic in the vet industry? Should you really make yourself a priority when animals’ lives are at stake?

The answer to that is such a resounding yes that it’s actually an official requirement: according to the RCVS codes of conduct, “Veterinary surgeons/nurses must take reasonable steps to address adverse physical or mental health or performance that could impair fitness to practise; or, that results in harm, or a risk of harm, to animal health or welfare, public health or the public interest.”

Working exhausted or under excessive stress will make you far more of a danger to patients than making time to take care of yourself. Stress, burnout and compassion fatigue are rife in the veterinary profession, and a recent BVA survey found 37% of respondents were actively thinking of quitting. If you don’t want to be one of them, it pays to heed this advice.

Warning signs of burnout can include feeling short-tempered, unfocused, exhausted, or like you’ve lost interest in your passions. If you’re experiencing symptoms like these on a daily basis, take a step back. You need to make immediate changes.

A vacation or spa day might not cut it. While relaxation is healthy and important, it can also be superficial. What will really make the difference in your day-to-day life is changing how you manage stress and other emotional factors of your work.

Making an appointment with your GP is an ideal first step. You can rule out possible physical causes for fatigue or mood changes, and your doctor can recommend mental health resources such as therapy and support groups, whether or not you are dealing with a diagnosable mood disorder such as anxiety or depression.

Another important action you can take is learning to step back from your thoughts and feelings–using mindfulness techniques, journalling, cognitive behavioural therapy, or whatever floats your boat. Practise focusing on your breath, the sensations and sounds around you, or the sensations in your body when you feel “stirred up” emotionally. Then begin to examine and label your feelings objectively, without trying to decide if they’re “right” or “wrong.” Over time, this process can allow you to pause and intentionally choose your behaviour, instead of getting pulled into the bad habits of stress.

In addition to taking care of your mental health, you will need to address physical factors that contribute to burnout. Are you living on coffee and instant noodles between appointments? Falling asleep in front of the TV at midnight when you have to be on the way to work at 6:30 A.M.? Evaluate your habits and identify those that don’t serve your overall well-being. You study your patients’ needs to determine the healthiest lifestyle for them–why not do the same for yourself?

Vets work in an environment where emotions can often run high. After all, you care about your patients, and you’re frequently working with their human families during psychologically charged transitions, such as the death of a beloved pet.

You know that our pets have profound impacts on our lives–it’s probably one of the reasons you became a vet in the first place. But amidst all this heavy stuff, you are trying to do your job well, and the emotional or logistical demands of others can easily become overwhelming. Saying “I can’t do that right now” with confidence and compassion is one of the most important skills you can develop. Make a habit of factoring your own needs into your schedule and your decisions–it’s a powerful tool for preventing burnout.

Above all, remember that if you’re struggling in your career, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It’s easy to blame yourself, your colleagues, your patients and their families, or some other single factor when things become too much, but the reality is that in these difficult times, many of us are stuck in unsustainable patterns of behaviour which we developed in response to cultural pressures surrounding career. Beating burnout requires a holistic approach–but with patience, kindness, and willingness to embrace change, you can beat it.

Vetlife offer support for you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They have a helpline you can call at 0303 040 2551 as well as a confidential email service. Calls and emails are answered by trained volunteers who have experience of the profession. They are there to listen and offer emotional support and a space to talk about how things are for you whatever is on your mind. Find how they can help you, no matter how you are feeling.