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Nurturing Mental Wellness: Strategies for Work-Life Balance and Self-Care for Veterinary Professionals

Nurturing Mental Wellness: Strategies for Work-Life Balance and Self-Care for Veterinary Professionals

Maintaining a healthy work–life balance is essential in any profession, but it can be incredibly challenging for veterinary professionals. Long working hours, constant exposure to complex cases, and high levels of emotional and physical demand can lead to stress, burnout, and mental health concerns. Consistently practicing self-care strategies can help you build and maintain mental wellness in a challenging industry.

In light of May being mental health awareness month, we asked our Instinct team about some of the tools and strategies they use to support their well-being, from ideas for building community to tips for creating healthy habits.

It’s important to note that individual self-care strategies are just one piece of the puzzle. There’s so much we can do in our veterinary hospitals to make positive changes and improve mental health and wellness for veterinary staff. So, we've also gathered a few helpful strategies we’ve seen hospitals implement that have wide-reaching impact across teams.  

Let’s have a look!

Work solutions that improve work-life balance for veterinary professionals

1. Increase staffing levels and decrease workloads

A primary driver of burnout in veterinary medicine is a working environment where veterinary professionals repeatedly encounter long working hours, high caseloads, and challenging patient outcomes. One way that hospitals can improve mental health for veterinary professionals is by hiring additional staff and reducing individual workloads to more manageable levels.

We know—easier said than done in an industry facing a major staffing crisis. But there are several strategies you can use to make your veterinary practice stand out in the job market. Here are a few of our favorites.

2. Provide mental health resources and support

Hospitals can prioritize mental health by providing resources and support for veterinary professionals struggling with burnout or other mental health issues. This can include providing convenient access to mental health professionals, creating a supportive workplace culture, and encouraging open communication about mental health and well-being.

Here are a few resources we’d recommend making available to your team:

  • Not One More Vet (NOMV) provides educational resources and grants to help support veterinarians and staff who need assistance with mental health and well-being.
  • NOMV Support Staff (NOMVSS) is a private Facebook group where support staff can safely (and anonymously, if preferred) discuss their many challenges in the profession.
  • Both NOMV groups have partnered with Better Help to provide veterinary professionals with a free month of professional online counseling.
  • Meditation and mindfulness apps like Calm and Headspace can help team members develop strategies to reduce stress, improve resilience, and get better sleep—and they offer plans you can provide to your whole team.

3. Provide opportunities for professional development

Encouraging continued learning and growth can increase job satisfaction and prevent burnout. Make a point of investing in consistent training opportunities, mentorship programs, and career advancement opportunities, and ensure team members can attend trade shows and conferences when possible to connect with the veterinary community and refuel.

4. Promote work-life balance

Finally, hospitals can help veterinary staff prioritize well-being by promoting work-life balance. This can include offering flexible work arrangements, enabling team members to take time off when needed, and promoting self-care activities like exercise, mindfulness, and hobbies outside of work. By prioritizing work-life balance, we can help prevent burnout and improve overall mental health for veterinary professionals.

Self-care practices that support wellness

In addition to these hospital-level strategies, individual veterinary professionals can practice self-care techniques that support their wellness. When considering practical approaches to self-care for veterinary professionals, we can break our recommended techniques into a few key categories.

Physical health

This one is a no-brainer. We all know how impactful even a little movement and sunshine can be when stressed and overwhelmed. Prioritizing exercise, nutritious meals, and adequate sleep is critical to maintaining physical health.

And a little bit goes a long way! One of the best things you can do is find a type of movement you enjoy and make it a habit. For some people, that might be a daily gym routine. For others, maybe it’s a weekly spin class, a midday dance break, or a walk around the block.

Many of our Instinct team members report that their physical health practices—even something as simple as a morning stretch or an evening walk with the dog—have been some of the most impactful tools for staying physically and mentally healthy.

Emotional health

Mindfulness practices (like meditation and breathwork), self-reflection, and stress management strategies are all tools that can help you maintain emotional health. Journaling, talking with a trusted friend or colleague, or attending therapy sessions can help you process complex emotions and build resilience, improving your ability to manage and recover from challenging situations in veterinary practice.

Taking breaks throughout the day, even for a few minutes, can help reduce stress and improve focus. Take short walks, practice breathing exercises, or simply step away from your work for a few minutes.

Setting boundaries between work and personal life is also essential to help reduce stress and improve work-life balance. Set limits on your work hours, delegate tasks, and prioritize your workload as often as possible. And if possible, get off the grid sometimes so your mind can rest.

Social health

Don’t underestimate the role community plays in your well-being! Building and maintaining solid relationships with family, friends, and colleagues can make a big difference. Like all things health, social health looks different from person to person. But at the end of the day, we all need a trusted, supportive community to lean on. Veterinary groups like Not One More Vet (NOMV) and DVMoms can be great starting points.

Want to build a local community or friend group? Try an app like Bumble! It’s not just for romance. Switch on BFF mode and find people in your area who share your hobbies and passions.

Career health

Setting achievable goals and seeking consistent feedback can help improve your performance and, ultimately, your job satisfaction. Engaging in professional development, such as attending conferences or taking CE courses, can also contribute to overall career health. Here are a few of our team’s favorite resources for keeping up with the pace of veterinary medicine.

Financial health

This is an often-overlooked aspect of overall well-being. Budgeting, saving, and managing debt are all tools that can help reduce financial stress and improve overall well-being. Free budgeting apps and financial resources like Mint and NerdWallet can help you cut through the noise and make smart money moves.

The veterinary profession presents unique challenges that can significantly impact our mental health and well-being. By implementing strategies at both the hospital and individual levels, such as increasing staffing levels, providing mental health support, promoting work-life balance, and practicing self-care techniques, we can work together toward improving the overall mental health and wellness of the dedicated professionals in our industry. And remember: taking care of yourself is not only beneficial personally but also leads to better patient care and a more fulfilling veterinary career. You have to put your oxygen mask on first, after all.