It's clear veterinarians want and need better ways to manage their mental health. Addressing stress within your veterinary practice is a great place to begin. Below are seven ideas to get you started.
1. Talk about it.
Acknowledge that stress is a normal occurrence in a veterinary practice environment and give employees opportunities to discuss it.
Your staff meeting is a great place to start the conversation. Share some of the findings from the 2020 Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study and, if you feel comfortable, contribute any personal experiences or stories.
By talking openly about stress, you can help reduce the stigma surrounding this mental health issue and show others they aren't alone in their feelings.
2. Encourage physical activity.
We all know exercise is great for our overall health and well-being. But did you realize it can also act as a stress reliever?
By boosting your brain's production of endorphins, improving your mood, and promoting a focus on your body rather than your thoughts, exercise can have a direct effect on your stress levels.
So find ways to promote physical activity in your veterinary practice. You could organize an office-wide step challenge or include stipends for gym memberships in the benefits package for employees.
3. Promote healthy eating.
Eating a balanced and healthy diet is key to helping your body manage its physical reactions to stress, such as an increase in blood sugar. Consuming whole, natural foods and protein can help stabilize levels of sugar in your blood.
Make it simple for employees to consume healthy foods by sharing fruit and trail mix at staff meetings rather than treats like donuts and pastries. Provide access to filtered water to make it easier for employees to forego sugary sodas. And offer healthier vending machine alternatives, such as protein bars, nuts, and fruit cups.
4. Provide a space for downtime.
Designate an area or a room where staff can relax throughout the day. Ideally, this space would be away from ringing phones and the hustle and bustle of the office.
Encourage people to use this space to meditate, read, or even do some light yoga. A little bit of downtime can go a long way in helping calm the mind after a stressful situation.
5. Publicize resources.
There are a variety of reasons your staff may experience stress. Financial pressures brought on by high student debt loads is one of the biggest sources of stress for associate veterinarians. Other veterinarians are struggling with varying forms of psychological distress, including depression, burnout, and anxiety.
It's important to help ensure staff has access to resources that can help with these mental health issues. Post a list of resources like financial planners, social workers, psychologists, and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline in an area frequented by staff. Distribute this list to practice employees and include it in the employee manual as well.
6. Encourage breaks.
Taking regular breaks from work is essential to avoiding burnout and fatigue and remaining focused and productive.
To foster an environment where downtime is encouraged, try scheduling appointments for an hour and a half to allow time to run over and still get a one-hour lunch break. Discourage practice employees from contacting other team members about work outside of working hours. And periodically give employees a "reserve" afternoon so they can catch up on paperwork.
7. Focus on relationship-building.
Supportive coworkers can help you cope with difficult situations, and a trusting environment can make it easier to resolve interpersonal conflict when it comes up.
You can help foster stronger working relationships through formal initiatives like offering mentorship opportunities and peer support groups. Informal activities including taking lunch breaks together or organizing social events outside working hours can also be effective.
It's also important to have a clear policy regarding harassment and bullying and a well-defined process for reporting and managing conflict when it arises.
Work stress can affect physical and mental health and can also lead to poorer work performance, increased absences, and employee turnover. Try implementing some of the ideas above to improve the well-being of your veterinary staff.