In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, VETgirl’s Chief Happiness Officer, Jeannine Moga, MA, MSW, LCSW, clinical veterinary social worker, discusses work-life integration (or work-life balance) in veterinary medicine. How do you achieve work-life balance as a veterinarian, veterinary technician or veterinary student?

“Work-life balance” (and the newer term, “work-life integration”) can be a tough target to hit: it’s elusive and constantly shifting as we try to keep track of the moving parts of our life. Humans often have a tough time wrapping our heads around “balance,” but we know its’ opposite all too well. So sometimes it is easier to think about what we don’t want and what we shouldn’t do… and work back from there.

Here are some of the behaviors that *should* land on your “DON’T” list:

1. Say ‘yes’ to everything. Most helping professionals like being helpful and don’t like to see others struggle. We can get trapped in a superhero complex without much effort. Remember this: if your degree did not come with a cape, an invisible jet, or other magic-making weaponry, your most powerful tool is the word, “No.” Know your limits and enforce them. As wisely said by Cheryl Strayed, “’No’ is the power the Good Witch wields.”

2. Increase your work hours. Some of us juggle multiple jobs, with an added side hustle or two for good measure. The payoff is often, importantly, financial. However, the down side of too much work is too little time and energy to show up for the rest of your life. The rest of your life is important, and you’re not going to get those hours – or relationships — back. Before taking on more work, ask yourself if doing so aligns with your happiness and wellbeing, not just your loan balances.

3. Skip meals/sleep. Both are bad habits that make us sluggish, crabby, and foggy – which can slow our work and prevent us from Getting. Shit. Done. Remember that an effective, efficient, and engaged brain needs rest, glucose, and water to keep cells working properly. Eating good food (on the run, if necessary, but regularly nonetheless) and improving your sleep habits will set you up for better everything.

4. Switch shifts constantly. This is a great way to disrupt circadian rhythm and make it impossible for your brain to down-regulate. Find a schedule that works for your mind and body, and then stick to it.

5. Be available to everyone all the time. This often relates to item #1. Being on-call is one thing; giving clients and your entire work team your cell phone number is another. Compartments help us to focus, and none of us can be “on” all of the time without symptoms. Enforce boundaries around your off time and don’t give folks a back door through which to reach you.

6. Compulsively checking/engaging social media. There is such a thing as too much information, which often leads to too much social comparison. Both result in over-stimulation and an (almost) guaranteed trigger for negative thinking. Put guard rails on your social media exposure and engagement. Substitute screen time with face to face/voice to voice contact when you’re jonesing to connect.

7. Multi-tasking. The human brain isn’t actually built to juggle multiple things simultaneously. We do it all the time, of course, but that doesn’t mean we do it well. Cultivate focus by “calendarizing” or blocking off chunks of time for certain tasks and commitments (whether at work or at home). This includes personal relationships, folks. If you make dinner with friends or loved ones a critical event from 6:30-7:30, don’t be checking your phone at the same time.

8. Refusing to delegate. OMG. Let someone else take some tasks off your plate, please. The work can get done, or it can get done with your head on fire and a hefty side dish of resentment. You choose.

9. Getting sucked into the black hole of guilt. I forgot _______, so I have to make it up by working 5x as hard. I didn’t make it to __________, so I must be a horrible parent. Sound familiar? It’s natural, and it’s not healthy or good for problem solving. Be like Elsa: let it GO.

10. Committing to perfection. Voltaire has been quoted as saying that ‘perfect is the enemy of good.’ There is no such thing as perfect work-life balance, and striving to hit excessively high standards – whether in our work lives or personal lives – is a recipe for frustration and failure (and then guilt and shame… see #9). Do your best to show up fully – with your sharp mind and your whole heart — for each part of your life. “Fully” is enough.

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