What's bugging you?


Little irritations can cause bigger flare-ups if you don't swat them early. Use these tips to manage six stressful situations.

Some mornings just start out bad. And a little pebble of stress can quickly steam roll into a boulder of problems if you don't halt the momentum. Stop for a moment and remember that you're in control. You can choose to let stress bugs bite you in the rear—or you can squash them before they swarm out of control. Sounds simple, doesn't it? It can be. Let's take a look at some stressful situations—and ways you can overcome obstacles to turn a bad morning into a good day.

Stress is inevitable, but these challenges don't need to ruin your day. When you learn to manage the situations that cause you the most stress, you're happier, more efficient, and you're less likely to suffer from burnout. So pull out that fly swatter and take a swing at what's bugging you.

Squash last-minute confusion

An emergency derails your morning. Clients are waiting, and a surgery is running behind. How can you catch up?

Regroup and refocus, says Christine Merle, DVM, MBA, CVPM, a consultant with Brakke Consulting in Dallas. "You need to focus on what you can control," she says. "For example, if an emergency comes in and appointments will be delayed, tell receptionists what's going on. They can contact clients scheduled later in the day and let them know you're running behind."

Next step: reprioritize. Once you take a breather and reorganize your agenda, Dr. Merle says you can redistribute the workload for greater efficiency. For example, perhaps you can start taking a patient history for a waiting client while the doctor finishes up the surgery that took longer than expected.

The flu has taken a bite out of your staff. You're running short and everyone's stressed.

Take a step back, Dr. Merle says. She recommends using the STOP method introduced in The Inner Game of Work: Focus, Learning, Pleasure, and Mobility in the Workplace (Random House, 2001). STOP stands for Step back, Think, Organize your thoughts, and then Proceed. "You take five minutes several times a day to stop and re-evaluate what's going on and how you're reacting," Dr. Merle says. These little breaks let you refresh and clear your head before you move on to the next task in your day.

Once you've managed this tough day, plan ways to make the next one less stressful. For example, if you haven't already you could cross-train team members to fill in when you're short-staffed. "When you cross-train, technicians can invoice and answer phones and receptionists can draw up vaccines and set up fecal tests," says Michelle Guercio, CVT, CVPM, the hospital administrator for Animal Care Center of Pasco County in New Port Richey, Fla.

"Generally, in the flow of the hospital, receptionists get slammed in one 10-minute period and then it all flows back to the technicians' area. Then it goes back to the reception area within the next 15 to 20 minutes. If everyone's prepared to move with the work, you can usually get through those days. And it's a great team builder, because you can't do it without each other."

A patient isn't responding to treatment. What's the deal?

"Sometimes you're doing all you can, and the results just aren't what you want," Dr. Merle says. "I always say, 'The patient didn't read the book.'"

It's pretty stressful when you can't manage to get that catheter in, the fluids aren't flowing, and the patient just isn't responding. You might wonder, "Why isn't the treatment working now when it worked for another patient yesterday?"

Start by reviewing your work. Did you give the medication the doctor prescribed in the right dosage? Then ask someone else to check you. Sometimes an outside eye can offer a new perspective.

Finally, Dr. Merle says, realize that lack of predictability is part of medicine. Sometimes you do everything right and the patient doesn't respond. Accepting this fact will help diminish the stress and guilt you feel and leave you better prepared to help the next patient that needs your care.

Your to-do list keeps growing and the hours are flying by. At this rate, you'll still be doing inventory at midnight.

If your work list has you worked up, it's time to sort it out. For example, Guercio says you might create different lists for tasks you must do today, this week, this month, and whenever you can get to it. Of course, sometimes your to-do list is undoable. The solution: "In the short run, don't hesitate to ask your team members for help," Dr. Merle says. "In the long run, you may need to talk to your manager. Be prepared and use time estimates to show how long tasks take."

Next step: Plan some down time. When you've wiped your today list clean, find some time to enjoy yourself. "People who are emotionally balanced handle stress better," Guercio says. "I need my down time, so I step away. And when I walk back in these doors, I'm ready for action."

One of your co-workers called an end to the cease-fire and now an all-out war is brewing among the staff.

When there's a conflict between team members, it's almost inevitable that battle lines will be drawn and the rest of the team will take sides. And then your private battle becomes a public problem.

Nothing gets accomplished if everyone's fighting. So send up the white flag and approach your co-worker. Ask for a minute of her time, and keep it private. If you can't resolve the problem yourselves, it may be time to take the problem to the practice manager. But act quickly; if you don't disarm the situation, the bad feelings may continue to spread.

An angry client chose the floor in front of you to throw her temper tantrum.

You wouldn't give a screaming child a candy bar to shut him up, and you don't need to reward clients to stop their tantrums either. Listening to clients and making the effort to understand why they're upset will often put a stop to their fits faster than anything else, Guercio says.

"The No. 1 way to defuse these situations is saying you understand and apologizing for the way they feel," says Guercio. "For example, you might say, 'I'm sorry you feel this way. What can I do to make you feel good about the situation?' Many times, that's all it takes."

Once you're through the situation, put those bad feelings behind you and move on with your day. "If we allow negative experiences to stay with us and affect the rest of our day, we'll drag down the people around us, including other team members and clients," Guercio says.

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