Monday, July 29, 2013

Stress in vet practice

Okay. So its hard to find a photo of "stress" in the workplace, mostly because if someone is stressed they're likely to get even more so if you take a photo of them feeling their worst. Instead I've chosen to showcase these awesome cupcakes, brought to us from My Little Cupcake, because they are a stress antidote (for vets, not their patients).


In working on a project with colleagues Susan Mathew (Sydney University) and Jenny Moffett (Ross University) I came across an excellent article by David Bartram and Diana Gardner on coping with stress aimed at veterinarians.

They made the observation that veterinary surgeons are trained to problem solve, which serves them well in practice. BUT…we also may try to solve problems “beyond the point at which this is possible.” Furthermore, we don’t always appraise stressful situations appropriately. I know myself that I experience stress as a somewhat nebulous entity, often failing to slow down and work out systematically what I am specifically stressed about.

The article provides a framework for appropriately assessing stressful situations.

Coping strategies can be characterized as problem-focused (approaches aimed at addressing the problem causing stress) or emotion-focused (changing the way we feel about a situation, or regulating the feelings that arise from stress such as anxiety). Its a nice way of explaining ye olde advice: give me strength to change the things I can, and accept those that I can't.

People go wrong when they use problem-focused strategies when a situation is unchangeable (for example, when an animal has died despite our best efforts) or rely on emotion focused strategies when a situation can be changed (an unfavourable performance review by an employer).

The problem is that, according to the authors,
“we may exhaust ourselves trying to change things we aren’t able to, while missing the opportunity to change those things we can.”
They give numerous examples of problem-focused strategies that might be used, including:
  • Create a plan of action
  • Concentrate on the next step
  • Seek advice from others
  • Ask for help with or delegate tasks
In contrast, emotion focused strategies could be things like:
  • Spending time with pets
  • Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime
  • Seek emotional support
  • Accept the situation
  • Compare oneself to others who may be worse off

It’s a simple but incredibly helpful approach, because most problems in practice involve both practical and emotional elements.

Their approach is to identify a specific stressor or problem, for example, interpersonal conflict in the practice.

The aim is then to identify changeable aspects of the problem, for example unclear job description or ambiguities about responsibilities. Potential solutions are identified and listed, then prioritized.

Unchangeable aspects of the situation are identified, for example key personality traits of the persons involved, time and discomfort in dealing with the matter.

Emotion-focused options are identified and listed, then priortised. If that doesn't work, the cupcakes might! 

How do you deal with stress in practice?

Reference
Bartram D and Gardner D (2008) Coping with stress. In Practice 30:228-231.

Other related articles:

Bartram D and Boniwell I (2007) The science of happiness: achieving sustained psychological wellbeing. In Practice 29:478-482.


Bartram D and Turley G (2009) Managing the causes of work related stress. In Practice 31:400-405

1 comment:

  1. This is great advice. Many vets are also highly driven, intelligent (and maybe highly critical, of themselves, in some cases), and can be prone to stress.
    Personally I use mindfulness techniques and did this through the excellent book/course "Mindfulness: Finding peace in a frantic world" by Mark Williams and Danny Penman
    It's really practical and helped me deal with all situations - including clinical, although am still a work in progress...

    ReplyDelete

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