February 2022

In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, VETgirl’s Chief Happiness Officer, Jeannine Moga, MA, MSW, LCSW, clinical veterinary social worker, discusses what to do when you’re not okay. These 10 “simple” things can be easily implemented EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. when busy in the veterinary clinic. In fact, VETgirl here had to just take a few deep breaths, play my Enya playlist, and step outside in Minnesota -10F weather to poop scoop the backyard for a mental health break from stress. So I get it. Take care of yourself with these 10 things to do when you’re not okay in veterinary medicine.

10 Things to Do When You’re Not Okay in Veterinary Medicine

By Jeannine Moga, MA, MSW, LCSW, Chief Happiness Officer, VETgirl

…because, you know: COVID caseloads, virtual learning, hospital closures, crabby clients. It’s the big things, the little things, and everything in between. And sometimes it’s all just too much.

Here are 10 activities to try when you are feeling overwhelmed:

1. Breathe. Deep breathing triggers a relaxation response and gives us access to the toolbox that otherwise goes off-line when we are overwhelmed. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Count to 4 on the in-breath, pause for 2 counts, and then count to 6 on the out-breath. Repeat until you feel your shoulders drop and your belly relax.

woman stressed

2. Move. Move your body with the intention of discharging built-up stress and tightness. This can be accomplished via a short walk, a few minutes of stretching, or some yoga poses. Short bursts of movement help us to reset, and if you can get your heart rate up a bit, it will be even more effective.

3. Hug it out. We are wired for connection, and our body-mind finds comfort in the deep pressure of a good hug with someone safe. Find a willing other (a friend, a pet, a partner, a child) and hug them – aiming for a ‘medium’ squeeze – for about 20 seconds. Feel yourself relax as your vagus nerve triggers a calming response and oxytocin gets released.

4. Playlist it. Music has the capacity to alter mood, blood pressure, and heart rate. Using the “ISO Principle,” identify a song that represents how you feel right now, a song that represents how you want to feel, and a few songs in between that might move you from here to there. Think of playlists as mobile tools that help us to both up-regulate (energize and focus) and down-regulate (calm and soothe).

5. Expose yourself to cold. Splashing ice water on your face, taking a cold shower, and drinking ice water activate the vagus nerve, which helps the body down-regulate after stress exposure. 30 seconds of cold exposure improves vagal tone, thereby allowing the body to reset.

6. Laugh. Find something – anything – that allows a sense of playfulness or joy to emerge for even a short time. Laugher can increase heart-rate variability and improve your stress response.

7. Write it down. Giving difficult feelings and thoughts a literal place to land can help our brains manage overwhelm.

8. Phone a friend. We all need caring others who can listen to our most difficult truths without judging, interrupting, or fixing. Identify at least two people who are trustworthy in this role and create a shorthand manner of requesting their attention. With my own “witnesses,” as I call them, this sounds like, “Do you have 10 minutes?” (which actually means, “Help me, I’m struggling”).

9. Get into nature. Contact with the natural world (fresh air, trees and plants, wildlife) is deeply grounding, bringing us back into our bodies and allowing our over-active brains to rest. Quiet time in nature – or mindful movement in green spaces – does wonders for mental and physical health.

woman outside

10. Focus on the present moment. When everything seems like it is spinning out of control, focusing on what needs attention right now gives the anxious, searching brain a task. Make the task something quick and achievable (like making a phone call, writing a grocery list, washing the dishes, or feeding the dog). Start small and give yourself a “win.”

  1. This is Amazing. Reading this can even be a matter of life or death for some of our colleagues, as it brings hope and tangible things one can do to feel better, and do so right in the moment. We should make it 1/4 CE!

  2. Cold exposure is my favorite. If I need a moment, I make a habit of going outside *especially* when it’s freezing or raining. It immediately puts you in a different physical state and your emotional state usually switches as well.

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