The coronavirus pandemic has most everyone feeling anxious and I recognize there is no magic solution to dispel these anxious feelings. Veterinary healthcare team members are working diligently to recognize and allay anxiety in pet owners. But what about the anxiety veterinary team members are feeling? How are we dealing with our own anxieties?
The veterinary profession prior to the COVID-19 outbreak knew that psychological stress was a health hazard for professionals.1 Studies have shown that it is not only substantial disruptions to a person’s personal and social life which affect mental health, but also minor daily events, work hassles, family problems and physical health status which play a role.2 Add to this an unparalleled global pandemic resulting in massive uncertainty, and veterinary team members are at their breaking point—all while trying to maintain a calm demeanor and remain compassionate and empathetic with our frazzled clients.
Typically, anxiety helps individuals prepare to respond in a more adaptive and healthy way. Think about it—in the past we may have found it possible to tolerate some degree of discomfort but still manage anxiety in a healthy manner.3
This is a result of our life experiences. But this is not a typical situation. Veterinary team members are balancing competing demands, caring for our patients, caring for pet owners, caring for our families, and caring for ourselves.
What steps can we take to alleviate anxiety?
- Take Action! Communicate your concerns with your co-workers and problem solve with colleagues to plan coping steps – for you, the hospital, the patients, and the clients. Action is a great remedy for anxiety.4
- Pace Yourself. Driving ourselves into the ground helps no one and leaves us unable to care for our team members, patients, or families. Watch for disturbed sleep, excessive fatigue, irritability, and poor focus.
- Remain Calm. Breathing helps calm us and enhances our focus. Take intentional, slow breaths—before entering the hospital, before entering an exam room, before getting in the car to go home, etc.
- Prioritize Good Health Habits. In all the craziness of the “new normal,” we are not focusing on our health. Maximize healthy eating by bringing your meals to work, practice good sleep habits (put that phone down!) and go outside.
- Exercise. To reduce stress, aerobic exercise is crucial. Walk, bike, run, hike—especially with your dog! Or throw a Frisbee or ball. But remember to abide by the CDC’s social distancing guidelines if others are also exercising.
- Get Connected. Health and well-being depend upon social connection, emotional support, and healthy problem solving. Reach out safely to family, friends, colleagues, and favorite community groups for social contact via phone, Facetime, Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.
- Take Breaks. Incorporate breaks into the practice protocols—even mini breaks will help. A 10-minute walk during your workday is calming and enhances energy and focus.4
- Be a Team Player. If you have children or relatives who need care, let your hospital team leadership know ASAP, and be willing to cover for co-workers with same concerns.
- Be Flexible. Changes in the way we provide care, social distancing, and other stressors challenge our flexibility and adaptability. We are veterinary nurses and are used to adjusting to change! We are all in this together and are working toward the same goal. Lean on each other and determine what is working and what is not working. Then modify the behavior and move forward.
- Be Kind. Everyone is stressed and trying their best to cope with the ever-changing world events. Smile, be encouraging, and help one another – while maintaining 6 feet of distance.
- Shirangi A, Fritschi L, Holmana CDJ, Morrison D. Mental health in female veterinarians: effects of working hours and having children. Aust Vet Jl, 2013;91:123–130
- deVries MW, Wilkerson B. Stress, work and mental health: a global perspective. Acta Neuropsychiatry 2003;15:44–53.
- Sharp J. Coping with the coronavirus pandemic for people with anxiety disorders. Harvard Medical School’s Health Blog. March 26, 2020. Accessed April 1, 2020.
- Coons HL, Berkowitz S, Davis R. Self-care advice for health-care providers during COVID-19. American Psychological Association. March 26, 2020. https://www.apaservices.org/practice/ce/self-care/health-providers-covid-19?_ga=2.119199305.119737274.1585750987-1680755641.1585750987 Accessed April 1, 2020.