In 1949, May was designated as Mental Health Awareness Month to bring more attention to the role that mental health and wellness plays in the lives of Americans. The purpose of this month is to bring awareness to the importance of taking care of our mental health and wellness, and reducing stigma for those who are managing mental illness and symptoms of mental illness.
But what is mental health?
This term can be daunting to some people due to the stigma that is tied to mental health, or rather mental illness; when our mental health is lacking in some way. However mental health and wellness is actually the combination of our psychological, social, and emotional well-being!
During this pandemic we have seen reports of increased stress and anxiety leading to negative mental health affects, which could indicate the emergence of a potential mental health crisis. It is no surprise that we are seeing these results, and more than likely experiencing them first hand, with so much uncertainty, changes in routine, financial stress, and isolation from others. While mental health and wellness is important all of the time, just like our physical health, this pandemic has made it clear that we should take extra care of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. A recent study showed that 56% of people polled had reported worry or stress related to the coronavirus has resulted in the experience of at least one negative mental health effect, (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2020). Similar experiences of worry, stress, and negative impacts on mental health had been reported by 64% of front line healthcare workers and their families, and 65% of those who experienced income loss, (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2020).
Why is this relevant for veterinary professionals?
The field of veterinary medicine is a field where the mental health and well-being of its members is already at higher risk, despite the pandemic. Veterinary professionals are more likely to develop symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, substance use, and other mental health challenges. Veterinary clinics have also faced difficulty during the pandemic due to reductions in revenue due to lock downs, as well as stress from changing protocols to provide the best care they can, while protecting the health and safety of their staff, clients, and patients. They are on the front lines of this pandemic too as essential employees and are at risk for similar mental health effects to those listed previously.
The Bright Side:
While all of this information can seem discouraging, these statistics and trends are not destinies set in stone. The goal of mental health awareness month is to make people aware of the trends we see, help them identify areas they can improve their mental health, and reduce stigma and dismay about negative mental health symptoms and mental illness.
Experiencing these reactions to the pandemic, as well as the high stress environment of a veterinary clinic is normal and expected.
Saving the lives of animals is stressful and challenging, why wouldn’t it affect you? Being isolated and having your entire routine changed is jarring and scary, why wouldn’t that cause you to worry?
All of these experiences and emotions are normal, and there are tools available to you to help navigate mental health, nourish your mind, nurture your spirit, and to promote wellness.
Tools for mental health and wellness:
- Make intentional contact to check-in with friends and family by phone, text, video chat, or even snail mail!
- Engage with those around you at work or at the grocery store by showing compassion and care at a responsible distance.
- Support your local restaurants, grocery stores, and shops if you can by doing your shopping locally and online.
- Engage in community groups online: drive by birthday celebrations, virtual hiking groups, virtual trivia or movie nights.
- Practice yoga or stretching exercises inside, or at a safe distance outside
- Take a safe, socially distanced walk through your neighborhood or on your local open trail
- Take the long way when you walk your dog
- Do body weight workouts at home
- Debrief with a friend, coworker, or supervisor after a tough day
- Give yourself reasonable expectations
- Create a task list to keep yourself organized and on track
- Make time for yourself
- Set, or reset boundaries; say “no” to things outside of what you are willing to do, and know that it is OK to say “no”
- Nourish your body and your brain with nutrient dense foods
- Eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily
- Eat foods that make you feel good and work for you.
- Snack on almonds, walnuts, broccoli, and blueberries, among other brain targeting foods
- Drink at least 11.5-15.5 cups of water per day
- Don’t forget to eat
- It is recommended that you sleep 7-9 hours per night
- Avoid screen time at least 1-2 hours before bedtime
- Establish a bedtime routine that works for you; this can help prepare your body for sleeping and get you ready to fall asleep faster
- Reduce light entering your room by using blackout curtains, making sure all lights are off in your home, or using coverings for electronic lights that stay on
- Maintain your bedroom between 60-67 degrees
Meaning and Purpose:
- Reflect on and express gratitude for yourself, others, and the world around you
- Think about the lessons you have learned or can learn from adverse experiences
- Be proud of the work that you are doing in your personal and professional life
- Set SMART goals for yourself: (S)pecific, (M)easurable, (A)ttainable, (R)ealistic, (T)imely
- Try something new
- Make new connections
If you are a veterinary professional seeking tools, strategies or support to take care of your mental health and well-being, we are here for you!
Please reach out to us at:
253.983.1114, extension 116