Six steps to manage stress (Sponsored by Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health)


The day-to-day tasks and surprises of an equine practitioner can be stressful to even the most level-headed person.

Whether it is veterinary practice, college, marriage, or family life, stress saturates our daily activities. We cannot completely avoid stress—as long as we deal with people, it will be there.

Don't lose heart. There is hope and resolution. After almost 26 years of practice, I have learned how to minimize stress in my practice. The key word here is "I"... me, myself. I can make a situation better or worse. So can you.

Does your morning occasionally sound like this? A dystocia at 5 a.m., a lameness exam patient arrives four hours early, a valued employee calls in sick, a horse with colic at a farm 35 miles away at 9:15 a.m., walk-ins for Coggins testing and vaccinations arrive, two dental floats take twice as long as expected, and you are supposed to meet your spouse for lunch. Throw in spays, neuters, bovine dystocias, orthopedics, and parvovirus if you are a mixed animal practitioner. Then at night, you have a high school basketball game to coach. This daily grind that can build up stress and wear you down. Here are a few suggestions for maintaining your equilibrium.

1. Set aside time for yourself. For me, stress management begins with filling my days with fun and healthy activities before, during, and after work. I usually get up early enough to read my Bible. I then drive to our recreation center to lift weights five to six days a week. Afterwards, I go to the coffee shop and read my newspaper. Then I go to work.

2. Be spontaneous. I take spur-of-the-moment lunches with my wife. We meet somewhere and talk about anything and everything—but usually not work. In between appointments, I talk to my children. The best call might just be from or to my granddaughter.

Sometimes a stress reduction comes from spontaneous treats for my staff—ice cream or gift cards from their favorite stores or restaurants work famously. This boosts morale and shows the staff that I care about their peace of mind, too.

3. Don't do it all. You may listen to equine continuing education CDs while driving or subscribe to several equine journals and magazines, but it can be taxing and pile on the stress. I used to do it, but now I pace myself to keep stress at bay. I choose one journal that I can read easily when it arrives, and I rarely volunteer for horse shows and rodeos, either. For me, life holds more than horses 24-7. I also leave my phone off when I'm not working (during family time, church, etc.).

4. Communicate and delegate. Another great stress reducer is better communication with my employees and clients. When I stop assuming and start asking or directing, I have fewer disgruntled clients and stressed co-workers.

Surrounding myself with excellent employees is crucial. If I delegate jobs and don't micromanage, everyone is happier—and, therefore, less stressed.

5. Adjust your fees regularly. Annual or semi-annual fee adjustments can help relieve worry during long and grueling days. I would wager that most of us undercharge for our services. What does your plumber or electrician charge for the services he provides?

6. Take time off. I try to take one afternoon off each week to prevent burnout. My staff members try their best not to call me unless it is absolutely necessary.

It's all about you. Stress reduction begins and ends with you. In the book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, author John Maxwell describes one law as the Law of the Lid. This means that your practice and employees can only be as successful as you, their leader. You can limit them—and your practice's success—with your comments, work ethic, and anxiety level. You can reduce stress by changing your daily routine before, during, and after work.

I have learned how to succeed by adjusting from past failures, realizing my shortcomings, and making self-improvements. You can do it too—if you don't stress about it.

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