Work-life balance is essential in any profession. As an animal care professional, it can be especially hard not to bring work home with you. Whether you had a particularly difficult case, you had to break upsetting news to a client, or you’re simply exhausted, the ramifications of a lack of work-life balance can start to add up.
When you’re busy, it can feel difficult, if not near impossible, to make time for yourself. However, prioritizing self care will ultimately help to avoid burnout and promote happiness. After all, as stated by the AAHA, “Among all veterinarians who experience psychological stress, the most frequently reported conditions are depression (98%), burnout (88%), and anxiety (83%).” Prioritizing work-life balance is a variable you can control when it comes to protecting your mental well-being.
This article, the first in a 3-part series, will outline some tips—ranging from easy changes to new habits—that will help you achieve a better work-life balance for yourself. The first step to achieving better work-life balance as a veterinarian includes setting boundaries.
Setting boundaries can be intimidating, but it’s extremely worth it in the long run. These are some small ways you can create more boundaries in all areas of your life, which will allow you to take back your time.
1. Separate work and home
When you’ve had a long or emotional day at work, compartmentalizing will allow you to create a separation between your work and home lives. Try to focus on one area of your life at a time; this will allow you to be more present and also make it easier to leave work at the door.
So, when you’re at work, try not to think about the laundry you need to do or the groceries you need to buy. And vice versa. Accomplishing this is easier said than done, but to start, find activities that allow you to completely tune out and add these into your schedule. Scroll through social media, draw a picture, go on a walk, take a bath—whatever makes you happy! Creating dedicated time to focus on something fun and relaxing will help incorporate mindfulness and balance into your weekly routine.
2. Remember that it’s ok to say, “No”
It’s difficult. Saying “no” can feel uncomfortable and can even lead to guilt. However, it’s essential to creating a healthy work-life balance as a veterinarian.
Your boss asks you to switch your schedule to work weekends. But your softball league practices on Saturday afternoons, and you like to spend time with your kids on Sundays. It can be difficult to say no to this, but try compromising: you’ll work the first and third weekend of every month. Or you’ll work weekends on even months and not on odd months.
You and your friends meet for happy hour every Wednesday from 6-8pm. You’re usually a little tired the next day, but a few sips of coffee and you’re good to go. One day at happy hour, someone suggests going to the local karaoke bar to continue the fun, but karaoke is from 9pm-12am. You’d love to go, but know that it’ll make for a harrowing Thursday. It’s ok to say no, as enticing as the idea may sound. Offer to plan a karaoke night for a weekend, or stick around for a few songs and leave so you’re home by 10. Doing what’s best for you is always a solid option!
An overfilled schedule and lack of free time can lead to burnout, so doing what you can to free up your schedule will help to prevent this. According to the AMVA Census (2016-18), 50.2% of veterinarians have high levels of burnout.
3. Take time off
Take a look at your schedule for the next few months or even for the year. Are there any weddings or family events? Important birthdays? Submit a time off request as soon as you can!
Having guaranteed breaks, even if it’s just a long weekend, can help to create more of a structure to the year. It’s also a good feeling to know that you’ll have some time off, and knowing your schedule will help you prepare for any vacations so you can truly leave work behind while you’re out!
You can also offer to swap shifts with a coworker. That way, you can guarantee that there will be coverage, and you’ll both be helping each other out!
Tip: Relief work provides vets and vet techs with the opportunity to create their own schedules and work on their own time. To learn more about how you can get started with relief work, click here.
4. Make time for fun AND rest
Sleep is important. Getting the recommended amount can make all the difference when it comes to mental clarity, mood, and not feeling as drained after a long day of work or errands. However, self care and making time for meditation, baths, and good ol’ couch surfing are all additional ways to ensure that you’re getting mental and physical rest. FOMO can be real, but be sure to prioritize rest when your body needs it.
However, fun is important too and will be the deciding factor that takes you from feeling “blah” to feeling fulfilled. Treat yourself. Have fun things in your schedule to look forward to. Even small things, like getting coffee with a friend, a nice dinner with your spouse, or a Zoom hangout with your college BFFs will help to add some excitement to your schedule and prevent you from feeling like you’re starring in a remake of ‘Groundhog Day.’
Find a mix of activities that make you feel well-rested and activities that give you that “day before a field trip” feeling, and try adding them into your schedule. Biweekly, once a week—figure out a routine that works for you, and enjoy the improved balance!
5. Be sure to disconnect
Finally, make time to be truly in the moment. Time where you’re not looking at your phone, not watching TV, and not worrying about the laundry list of things you’ve been putting off (including laundry!).
Stepping away from your electronic devices and the seemingly endless notifications, messages, and advertisements is a great way to feel more present and improve your overall mental health. Going a step further and making time to be outdoors or in nature will help you feel more grounded and ready to tackle your other responsibilities, even if it’s just a short 15-minute walk during the workday.
Creating a separation between your work life and home life will ultimately provide you with a more balanced schedule and a clearer mind. Making small adjustments goes a long way, and finding what works for you is the most important part!
It can be difficult to make these changes at first, but setting boundaries is just one way that veterinarians and vet techs can improve their work-life balance. Stay tuned for the upcoming articles in this series exploring ways you can take back your time and prioritize you!
What other tips do you have for setting boundaries as a vet? Let us know on social media!