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Work-life balance is tough in the veterinary world. It’s easy to fall into the mindset that taking time for yourself is selfish–but with burnout rife in the profession, you can’t afford to ignore your own needs.

Here are some practical tips to achieve a better work-life balance as a veterinary professional.

Think of yourself first

Putting yourself first is difficult when patients and clients are in need. But what you can do is take time for purely selfish pleasure and relaxation outside work, whether that’s a spa day, a Netflix marathon, or a night out with friends. Use your holiday leave. Remember that the more you put into your own wellbeing, the more your patients will get out.

Set priorities and goals at work and at home

Feeling constantly overwhelmed is a huge source of stress and can make you feel as if you always have to be working or catching up on personal tasks. Set time limits for tasks and projects both at work and at home, otherwise they’ll expand to fit the time available and you won’t have time to recharge.

Learn to delegate and ask for help

Work smarter, not harder. There’s a limit to what one person can do, and your coworkers might actually be happy to have you delegate a bit more responsibility to them.

Communicate

If you’re struggling to communicate, talk to your colleagues and superiors. Most organisations want to keep staff and would much rather step in and help you before you become so overwhelmed you quit or are fired.

Know your limits

Work out how many hours of work a week you can sustainably do without sacrificing your personal life, and try to avoid going over that. If you do push beyond your limits in a crisis, proactively schedule some time to recover afterwards. Overdoing it has to be paid for sooner or later, and if you don’t pay with rest time, you’ll pay with burnout and avoidable mistakes.

Learn to say no

The most successful people in the veterinary profession are not doormats. Again, trying to juggle everyone’s wants and never say no will lead to overwhelm, sloppiness and mistakes. Safeguard your energy and say yes when it really matters, not as a knee-jerk reaction.

Put the phone down

While you may have to be on call sometimes, try to turn the phone off and get away from email from time to time. Being constantly available is very draining.

Exercise, eat healthy, and get enough sleep

If you’re chronically tired, you may not realise how much lack of sleep affects you, but when you start getting 7-plus hours a night, you’ll be astonished at the difference it makes to your performance. The same goes for exercise and proper nutrition.

Have fun

When you’re exhausted, fun can seem like an extra chore, but if you make time to get away from it all with your friends and loved ones, you’ll probably find you feel much better at work. Have fun with your colleagues too–schedule an escape room or go for a night out together. The more you get to know them, the easier it will be to work with them.

Everyone’s ideal work-life balance is different, and it may take some experimenting to find out what works best for you. But once you’ve found it, if you stick with it, you and your patients will reap the rewards.