How hospital staff can help each other get through the holidays

As we enter the third year of the pandemic, continued uncertainty has everyone feeling a little beleaguered. On top of that, we have a new variant to contend with, plus we still have the holidays to get through—a time when many veterinary professionals can feel isolated and sad under the best of circumstances.

NEWStat asked Mary Beth Spitznagel, PhD, associate professor in the department of psychological sciences at Ohio’s Kent State University, for advice on strategies hospital staff can use to help cope with holiday stress.

“When stress hits and you can feel yourself starting to struggle, take a moment to focus on the here and now,” Spitznagel says. Then ask yourself, what here is within your control? “Challenge yourself to identify what matters most to you, and take action that matches up with your values,” she says. For example, when that irritating client has called for the umpteenth time, instead of leaning into the irritation, see if you can focus on educating that person, or on the welfare of their pet, or on simply practicing patience: “Hold onto any value that gets you through.”

The holidays are stressful enough already, and Spitznagal says it’s important to avoid adding more of our own making. One way is to focus on what’s personally important to you: “Prioritize the events, the people, and the traditions that are most meaningful to you during the holidays,” she says. “And avoid obligations that cause unnecessary stress.”

Focus on meaning. “Look for moments of gratitude throughout the day,” Spitznagal suggests. “Set aside time each day to focus on the highlights.” To help you remember to set aside that time, she suggests pairing it with a daily habit that you won’t forget, like brushing your teeth.

Or instead of scrolling through social media, challenge yourself to identify three aspects of your day that brought you comfort or made you smile.

They could be something as simple as:

  • A hot cup of coffee in the morning
  • The comfortable shoes that kept up with you all day
  • The stranger who held a door open for you
  • A beautiful sunset on your drive home from work

“Try to be specific,” Spitznagal says, “And dig deeper than good health, family, and friends.”

Rebecca Rose, CVT, told NEWStat that setting boundaries is an important component of managing stress. And a big part of that is knowing your core values: “When you’ve identified your core values, everything becomes easier. Prioritizing your time becomes much easier.”

That’s especially true during the holidays, says Rose, a past president of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), a former practice manager at two AAHA-accredited hospitals, and a certified career coach who facilitates team workshops. Even just lowering your expectations of what you’re going to accomplish can help: “If I don’t get the gifts wrapped, that’s okay. If I don’t get the Christmas cards out in time, that’s okay.” She says it’s important to remember that the person that card is going to cares about you and wants you to be happy and healthy—they won’t care if the card is late. “If it’s creating stress, let it go.”

Like Spitznagal, Rose is a big believer in the stress-relieving power of gratitude. She advocates that hospital staff ask themselves a simple question: “What in your life brings you the greatest joy and relief?”

Rose says we’ll find the solutions to our stress in the answer to that question—the things that bring us joy and relief. It’s not that stress isn’t a thing, she says—it’s here and it’s real. But it’s important to consciously shift away from focusing on it, especially at work: “We need to support each other in creating days that are more calm, centered, and self-aware.” A good start is reminding yourself what you’re grateful for.

“Gratitude changes everything,” says Rose.

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