Take care of self first, pets second, doctor says


Veterinarians don't think twice about spending up to 12 hours a day providing quality care for pets. What dictates a practitioner's enduring success, however, is the amount of time devoted to their personal life.

Veterinarians don't think twice about spending up to 12 hours a day providing quality care for pets. What dictates a practitioner's enduring success, however, is the amount of time devoted to their personal life.

Table 1.

Professional pressures such as the crushing financial burdens of student loans or after-hours emergency demands of clients are sapping the energy of even the most dedicated professionals.

"With burnout endemic in virtually all professions, the resilient practitioner needs to know the skills for surviving in an increasingly challenging environment," says Dr. Edward Creagan, MD, Mayo Clinic cancer specialist.

"After all, if your health goes south, nothing else really matters. And no one has a greater stake in your health and wellness than you."

By citing peer-reviewed studies and personal observations, Creagan presented insight on how veterinarians can take better care of themselves and the integral role of the human-animal bond and healthy living at the AAHA annual convention in Phoenix.

Used up

Burnout, by definition, is emotional exhaustion that leads to lower personal accomplishment. The word itself didn't appear in the dictionary until 1981, three short years after "workaholic" made its Webster's debut.

"Obviously, life has become a business," says Creagan. "We don't have to belabor that point."

To reduce the onset of burnout, Creagan suggested the following:

  • Health. Walk a minimum of 25-30 minutes a day.

  • Incorporate strength training into your routine.

  • Stretch for 30 seconds daily.

  • Sleep. On average, according to Creagan, we're sleeping 60 to 90 minutes less per night than our grandparents.

  • Stick to a schedule, then go to bed the same time every night. Slowly wind down. To try to watch the news at 11 and then fall asleep is very difficult, especially with chaos and suffering in the world.

  • Time management.

  • "Do you run the day or does the day run you?" he asks.

  • Make lists at the start of the week telling yourself what you need to do for that week.

  • Aggressively purge "stuff." If you haven't read it in a week, toss it.

  • Family. Simply, spend time with those who care.

  • Spirituality. "This can provide your anchor of support," says Creagan. "It offers a time to replenish, reflect and give you peace."

  • Attitude. Attitude and disposition have something to do with physiologic function. Keep yours in check.

  • While these tips can relieve the pressures of burnout, it's the bond that pets and people share that has been shown to enhance the health of even the most afflicted humans.

Validity of human-pet bon

Creagan first encountered the concept of the "human-animal bond" via a 51-year-old alcoholic heart patient he met in 1973. While aggressive treatment with antibiotics played a large role in his physical recovery, it wasn't until the patient was reunited with his German Shepherd, "Max," that he felt 100 percent healed.

"That was my first inkling of the power of animals to motivate individuals to heal themselves," says Creagan.

Unconventional in his approach to medicine, Creagan now routinely prescribes pets to one-third of his cancer patients.

"Documents have proven that the pet that you or I may rescue may in fact rescue us," says Creagan.

One study shows that individuals who had contact with a pet have a lower incidence of loneliness. Less depression increased quality of life and a longer life for the individual. Another study on the human-animal bond finds that 21 percent of those with a pet say they have better coping skills, lowered blood pressure.

Heart disease and pets

Many are aware the No. 1 killer in America is heart disease. What some don't realize is the relationship between surviving a heart attack and having a pet. One study cited by Creagan quantified one-year heart attack survival based on having a pet or not. Of those who owned a pet, 94 percent of the patients were alive at one year. Of those who did not have a pet, 72 percent were alive at one year.

"That speaks clearly; if you have a pet, you have four times higher chance of survival of heart attack at one year," he says.

Aside from the intrinsic value of pet ownership, Creagan says the two most significant contributors to a person's well-being are:

1) The ability to identify your signature skills.

2) Knowing how to use them for the benefit of others.

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