Ease the Burn: 5 Ways to Relieve the Stress of Burnout

March 19, 2017
Kerry Lengyel

Do you find yourself feeling unmotivated at work? Do you dread just going to work? Burnout in veterinary medicine is no easy problem, but there are some relatively easy ways to tackle it.

The stress level for veterinary professionals often seems overwhelming and never-ending. Burnout is a job-related hazard to which any member of the veterinary team is susceptible. In fact, 85% of attendees at the 2013 American Veterinary Medical Association annual convention stated that they believe stress and burnout are important wellness concerns in the veterinary community.

Causes of burnout may include long work hours, a heavy workload, client demands, poor work—life balance, and a lack of professional support, among others. Some of the symptoms include physical and emotional exhaustion, lack of focus, negative attitudes toward work, irritability or hostility toward coworkers and clients, and low self-esteem.

The good news is that there are strategies you can use to relieve stress if you’re feeling burned out. And some of those strategies are simpler than you might think.

1. Take breaks.

If you find yourself feeling stressed out and on the verge of burnout, maybe it’s time to take a break. Don’t just stay at your veterinary practice, though—try to physically get away from it. Make a habit of taking a 1-hour lunch break at least once a week away from your clients, your hospital, and your stress. Get outside, relax, meditate, or even do yoga for a few minutes to center your mind and refocus.

2. Take care.

It can be hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle when you work more than 40 hours each week, but it is not impossible. If you’re feeling the crush of burnout, changing your diet or adding an exercise routine can help dramatically. Commit to taking a weekly exercise class or walk with a friend. Indulge in a non-veterinary hobby in your off hours. And be sure to get enough sleep. Remember to take care of yourself before worrying about what you need to take care of at work.

3. Speak up.

Keeping your stress bottled up will only lead to more stress. If you feel that you are being given too much work, being scheduled to work too often, not given enough compensation, or no longer enjoying what you are doing, speak your mind. Rather than wallowing inside your own head, talk to—and seek help from—a trusted coworker. Simply “venting” to another person who shares your experiences can help you unload negative feelings. Likewise, if you feel that your work atmosphere is toxic, approach the practice manager or owner with suggestions for improvement. Outside of work, let your family and friends know how you are feeling; their support will ease some of your burden. If you find your stress level so overwhelming that you’ve become depressed or physically ill, seek professional help.

4. Celebrate wins.

Think back to why you entered the veterinary profession in the first place. What goals did you set for yourself back then? Which have you reached? Take a few minutes either during or after your work day to stop and think about the everyday goals you have accomplished, and be optimistic about them. Acknowledging these small wins will help keep you going throughout your work week and rekindle your sense of purpose.

5. Turn off.

This can be one of the hardest things for veterinary team members to do when they get home, but it’s vitally important to follow the mantra that you “leave work at work” and “turn off” from that world when you get home from a long day. Likewise, when you have vacation time, use it to its fullest benefit. When possible, don’t plan errands on your days off; plan relaxation. Otherwise, planned time off simply becomes more planned stress.

These are just a few simple ways to start easing your mind and relieving the stress of work burnout. It won’t happen overnight, but with enough practice and effort, that weight should start to lift from your shoulders.