October 19, 2016 5:40 PM EDT
I know what you’re thinking right now…work-life balance? C’mon!! It doesn’t exist! Well…I’m here to tell you that there are ways to achieve balance between veterinary work and all that remains in life outside of it! As veterinary care providers, we spend so much time at work, whether it’s in a clinic or hospital, in academia, working for the government, or in industry…even when we’re not “at work” we’re thinking about work, planning for work, answering work emails, or worrying about what will happen at work the next day. This sort of life is not balanced. But there are some strategies that can be used to find balance in terms of spending your work shifts working, and then spending your time away from work doing other things. That’s not to say that your life will be a perfect balance of 50% work and 50% life, but that you can find a way to let go of work during “off-hours” and nurture yourself in ways that foster your health and well-being.
These are five strategies that you can use to help achieve balance between work and life:
- Recognize that professional well-being does not drive personal well-being. In fact, it is very much the other way around! While it is true that we need to “work to live” in terms of making an income to ensure financial stability, it is unhealthy to define ourselves solely by what we do as veterinary professionals. Remember that you are also a person outside of work that fulfills many different roles such as parent, spouse, partner, sibling, coach, mentor, friend, and community member, among others. When fulfilling these roles, you are fostering other dimensions of wellness outside of occupational (work) well-being. These include the social, emotional, spiritual, environmental, intellectual, and physical wellness dimensions, which encompass everything from fostering healthy relationships with family and friends to reflecting on the meaning and purpose of our lives.
- The time for work-life balance is now. Not when you retire, not when you get a new job, not when your child gets older, etc. If you continue to put off balance for the sake of your career, you will find yourself sacrificing other important parts of your well-being. Ultimately, this imbalance will lead to burnout and a change will be required for you to continue with your work. So, rather than putting both your life and work in jeopardy, make the commitment to keeping both a priority.
- It’s the small things that matter.I’m not suggesting that you engage is some dramatic upheaval in your life, but rather, start with some small steps to take you towards more balance. This typically starts with becoming clear about which wellness dimensions you are neglecting and some simple ways that you can foster them. For example, if your spiritual wellness is on the back-burner, it doesn’t mean you have to commit to going to church every Sunday when you haven’t gone in years! Instead, you might take up gratitude journaling and spend a few minutes each evening writing down one or two things from the day that you are most grateful for. Alternatively, if your social wellness has been neglected, rather than taking on the task of planning a family reunion, but you might consider reaching out to a family member or friend each week by phone, email, or text message in order to foster those important connections.
- Find a way to leave work at work when your shift ends. Too often veterinary care providers are in the habit of “taking work home with them” and I don’t just mean this in the physical sense, in terms of finishing files or calling clients from home (neither of which I recommend!). What I mean is that we stew about work during the commute home, then we talk to our family or friends about it, then we worry about it while we lay in bed trying to sleep, and then we fuss about it again in the morning when we wake up! The reality is that it is impossible to have balance between work and home life when we are constantly thinking about work. So, at the end of your shift, I encourage you to engage in daily debriefing, which means completing a series of steps that allow you to let your day go when it is over, so that you can focus on (and enjoy) the activities you engage in outside of work.
- Put that cell phone away! One of the easiest ways that we can foster balance between work and life is to set boundaries around checking work email, sending work-related text messages, and taking calls related to work while at home. Certainly if you are on-call, there is no easy way around this. But if you have no reason to be doing work-related duties during off-hours, then make the commitment not to check work email or take work-related calls, especially 1 hour after waking up in the morning and 1 hour before going to bed at night. The last thing you want to do is to start or end your day worrying about that disgruntled client when you could be enjoying other things. This will help to set the tone for your day (and your sleep) and maintain healthy boundaries between your work and home life.
Marie K. Holowaychuk, DVM, DACVECC is a small animal emergency and critical care specialist and certified yoga and meditation teacher who also has an invested interest in the health and well-being of veterinary professionals. She organizes Veterinary Wellness Workshops & Retreats for veterinarians, technicians, and other veterinary care providers. To sign up for newsletters containing information regarding these events and veterinary wellness topics, please click here. More information can be found at www.criticalcarevet.ca/wellness.