Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dr Cathy Warburton on how to survive and thrive and manage stress

rabbit vet, vet sculpture
Stress can make us feel fragile, unless we make a deliberate effort to refuel and build resources.

Do you deal with emergencies at work? Whether you’re an emergency vet, a general practitioner, a vet or nursing student, or someone in a different field of work who deals with emergencies, we know they can be stressful. We also know that “the best way to face an emergency situation is healthy, happy, rested and resource-laden”. The challenge is how to get to that point.

The above quotation is from Dr Cathy Warburton, former emergency veterinarian and founder of Make Headway. She addressed the AVA’s NSW division conference in Newcastle with a presentation called “Riding the emergency roller coaster – how to survive and thrive in high stress.”
Cathy is also a contributor to The Vet Cook Book, and also a brilliant speaker who has seen and been through the roller coaster of emergency veterinary practice.

There were some key points that Cathy made.

When we look after ourselves effectively, we have the energy and endurance to effectively look after our clients and their animals”. 

She used the metaphor of a car. We cannot run it on empty without refueling it. Yet good nutrition, hydration, rest and recovery take second fiddle to the demands of work. In the long term this is bad news. We need to keep refueling the tank. Simple. True. Not negotiable. Eat, drink, sleep, move.

“All recovery is not equal”. 

Taking a break but stressing about work does not a rested vet make. According to Cathy, we need to turn our minds away from work, reduce sympathetic activation and do things that generate positive emotions. She uses the acronym “CLING”:
  • Connect – with family, friends and non-human companions
  • Learn new things – not work related!
  • Into action – exercise (at least 30 minutes, 3 times per week)
  • Notice – notice the world around you, audit your own body
  • Give – take the focus off yourself and give to others (it could just be thanks)

She added that in order "to maximize our motivation, it is important that we choose CLING activities that are consistent with our values, strengths and interests and to vary our activities a little over time.”

“Nobody is happy all the time and no amount of self-care is going to prevent you from having challenges, setbacks and pain”. 

Building resources helps build resilience. Resources include but are not limited to:
  • Self-care e.g making that appointment with a health professional, eating well
  • Self-awareness and emotional intelligence
  • Feeling personally competent and in control (eg find out and play to your strengths)
  • Mindfulness
  • Find out what we value and work in alignment with these
  • Develop a support network

You can find out more about Cathy’s work and read her fantastic blog here. You can also enrol in her online High Achiever’s Training Program here. (It runs from May to June).
This blog has a strong focus on mental health of health professionals and some people ask why, aren’t I focused on animal welfare?

Here are a few thoughts. First, Google "veterinarian" and "mental health". Increased awareness has lead to open discussion about this issue, and the more aware we are, the more we realise we have a problem. And it does claim lives.

I should qualify that I don’t believe that health professionals - veterinary health professionals in particular - have a monopoly on stress. Any person can experience stress, distress and mental health issues, and in fact anyone who doesn’t is a bit of an exception. There are plenty of reasons that members of veterinary teams feel stressed at and outside of work. It’s not unusual, I’ve been stressed and distressed at and outside work myself. Every week I speak to colleagues and students who are impacted by stress, not all work in vet practice. We live in a stupidly busy, overstimulating world. We aren’t chased by woolly mammoths anymore but there are plenty of other threats to our well-being that keep us up at night. 

I do think as health professionals we have a responsibility to educate ourselves about our own health. After all, we look pretty hypocritical if we’re recommending great diets, lifestyles and wellness programs for animals and can’t get it together to eat a meal and have a pee at work! (Obvs in the appropriate place). We’re animals too.

Plus, I believe that we’re in a better position to treat animals the best we can if we’re feeling as well as we can. So for me, mental health of veterinary professionals and animal welfare are inextricably linked.