Wrangle your to-do list for less stress

January 6, 2019
Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Strike a balance between responsibilities at home and at your veterinary practice with these tips.

Parents working in veterinary medicine can find themselves in a "bubble" where everyone depends on them. With these tools from Dr. Vogelsang, learn to manage stress at home and in the office. (Vasyl / stock.adobe.com)

Find a tribe

Being a working parent can be very isolating, and it's really easy to end up in a bubble where everyone you interact with depends on you for something. In those times, when you feel swallowed by pressure, the support of people who need absolutely nothing from you can be invaluable. Maybe it's at a CrossFit gym. Maybe it's a Facebook group for veterinarian mothers who like to decorate cakes. It doesn't matter whether your tribe consists of people who live your same life every day, or people you have nothing in common with other than your love of pinot noir. The only mandatory part is that your tribe must be there with unconditional support.

Take advantage of technology

To this day I cannot fathom how I managed to get anything done when I was an undergrad in the 1990s, doing everything on paper. Sure, this seems pretty basic if you're an organized person to begin with, but if your analog life consists of scrap paper and Post-its like mine did, getting and staying organized can be a little chaotic. This only increases by orders of magnitude once kids come along-kids who have soccer practice and play rehearsals and their own grocery requests.

I am convinced technology is the only reason I accomplish anything these days. I use the Alexa function on our Echo to sync to an app called Todoist, which keeps track not only of my daily tasks but also our shopping list just by yelling across the room. I knew that my husband's Christmas present was lost in San Bernardino thanks to tracking on the Amazon app. When my son's after-school robotics league ran over time and I wouldn't have time to go to the store as planned, I ordered groceries to be delivered so we wouldn't have to call for pizza yet again. It's not lazy, it's efficient.

Pick your yeses

When my kids were younger, I felt an extreme amount of pressure to say yes to everything I was asked to do in order to prove I was being both a good parent and veterinarian. Yes, I would be kindergarten room mom. Yes, I could cover your Saturday. Yes, I can make cupcakes for so-and-so's birthday. Yes, yes, yes. Yet these were never reciprocated.

Rather than continue to sink into a deep sense of resentment and an ever-increasing feeling of discomfort when I had to say no, I finally decided to draw a hard-and-fast line around the tasks I was happy to do and refuse anything else. My chores list shrank tenfold, as did my stress level.

It's a small but fundamental change to proactively define your boundaries rather than waiting for others to force you to figure them out along the way. I started telling my kids' teachers I can volunteer on particular days at particular times. I will always send in paper plates or cookies for celebrations. I can stay late if needed on these days, but on other days, I must leave on time. When I started a website about life as a DVM, I wrote in huge letters on the contact form, “Don't ask me for veterinary advice because I don't give it.” And guess what? It worked.

Yes, these boundaries irritated certain people along the way, but who cares? It was always the people who were going to badger me into something I didn't want to do anyway. Life runs much more smoothly now.

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang is a certified veterinary journalist, a regular contributing writer for a number of publications, author of the memoir All Dogs Go to Kevin, and creator of the popular blog Pawcurious.com.