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Chapter 2

Practical Lifestyle Changes That Can Make a Real Difference . . . and the Data to Back Them Up

Marie K. Holowaychuk, DVM, DACVECC, CYT

The long days spent caring for pets and their families in practice are challenging enough. Now, with the added pressure of staying connected to clients through postings on social media, communicating through text messaging, and monitoring online reviews, veterinary practice teams have a difficult time “unplugging.” With the added stress of balancing finances, family, and other demands, many of us are overextended to the point of collapse. Taking time to prioritize getting enough sleep, staying mindful, and practicing yoga and gratitude sounds farfetched. But investing small moments each day into self-care pays a team and their patients back in huge dividends.

Sleep hygiene refers to the “good habits” used to ensure falling (and staying) asleep for the suggested eight hours that most adults need to feel rested. Getting a proper night’s sleep leads to feelings of physical rejuvenation and has mental health benefits including memory consolidation, task integration, and emotional regulation.

How to get started: Improve sleep hygiene by avoiding caffeine 6 hours before bedtime and setting an alarm for 30 minutes before bedtime to allow time to unwind, relax, and prepare for bed. Electronic devices including cell phones should be kept outside of the bedroom and not used within 1–2 hours of bedtime.

Mindfulness is discontinuing the nonstop juggling act and turning awareness to the present moment and a single task, whether it’s speaking with a client or simply breathing. When being mindful, attention is focused on the “here and now,” a practice that has many physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits. A mindfulness practice has been shown to alleviate anxiety and depression, boost immunity, and manage chronic pain.

How to get started: Practice mindfulness daily by pausing and taking a deep breath before going into an appointment, turning off the music in the car and paying attention during a commute, and engaging in conversations with family and friends without checking one’s phone.

Yoga has many physical benefits, but the physiological, mental health, and emotional paybacks make it that much more worthwhile. A regular yoga practice helps balance metabolism, lower blood pressure, improve digestion, reduce stress, boost concentration, and cultivate calm in the face of adversity.

How to get started: For those starting a yoga practice for the first time, try a gentle hatha or restorative practice, before attempting the more challenging flow or vinyasa classes.

Gratitude is arguably the most powerful emotion that overrides negative ones such as anger, frustration, sadness, or envy. When gratitude is truly embodied, people can overcome the uncomfortable thoughts that arise when they criticize themselves or their lives for not being “better.”

How to get started: Studies show that a gratitude practice is most powerful when written, so start a daily gratitude practice by keeping a journal with updates that include a list of things that you are most grateful for each day.

While it might seem difficult, incorporating appropriate sleep hygiene, mindfulness, yoga, and gratitude practices into the busy schedules of veterinary team members is possible. More importantly, these activities make measurable improvements in our physical and mental health.

Bibliography

  1. Bonura, KB. “The Psychological Benefits of Yoga Practice for Older Adults: Evidence and Guidelines.” Int J Yoga Therap 2011;21:129–42.
  2. Irwin, MR. “Why Sleep Is Important for Health: A Psychoneuroimmunology Perspective.” Annu Rev Psychol 2015;66:143–72.
  3. Li, AW, Goldsmith CA. “The Effects of Yoga on Anxiety and Stress.” Altern Med Rev 2012;17(1):21–35.
  4. Raab, K. “Mindfulness, Self-Compassion, and Empathy Among Health Care Professionals: A Review of the Literature.” J Health Care Chaplain 2014;20(3):95–108.
  5. Wood, AM, Froh JJ, Geraghty AW. “Gratitude and Well--Being: A Review and Theoretical Integration.” Clin Psychol Rev 2010;30(7):890–905.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Marie Holowaychuk is a -veterinary specialist in small animal emergency and critical care medicine as well as a champion for wellness in the veterinary profession and a -certified yoga instructor. She promotes wellbeing and self-care by offering veterinary wellness workshops and retreats.

Take-Home Message: While it might seem difficult, incorporating appropriate sleep hygiene as well as mindfulness, yoga, and gratitude practices into our busy schedules is possible. More importantly, these activities make measurable improvements in our physical and mental health.

AAHA’s Guide to Veterinary Practice Team Wellbeing
  • Open Letter
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3
  • Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5
  • Chapter 6
  • Chapter 7
  • Final Thoughts
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The Link Between Healthy Workplace Culture and Optimal Personal Wellbeing
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Want to share with the entire team?

Pick up free copies of AAHA's Guide to Veterinary Practice Team Wellbeing and the roundtable discussion, The Link Between a Health Workplace Culture and Optimal Personal Wellbeing at these locations:

  • AAHA@VMX ( Rosen Centre Hotel)
  • Health & Wellbeing Center ( VMX Expo Hall)
  • AAHA booth ( VMX Expo Hall)
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