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9 things all veterinary professionals need to know about their mind & body

Physical and mental pain are experienced commonly in staff working in veterinary hospitals across the world. While some of the causes lie outside our control, there’s a lot we can all do to reduce the amount of avoidable suffering in our lives. My latest blog post on the Hamster Wheel gives a list of nine things that should be on everyone's self-help checklist as a starting point.

1. Back pain is scandalously ubiquitous in veterinary medicine. I have seen more than one nurse walking around a practice bombed on painkillers just to get through the day. It’s time to stop this. Care for your back by implementing the following changes:

a) Learn to lift in teams (You are going to wreck your back lifting alone).

b) Use hydraulic table lifts when available.

c) Engage your internal pelvic or "core" muscles - you achieve this in the same way you stop peeing - just clench your butt muscles! Do this routinely before any lifting and you will be giving your back excellent support.

2. Posture matters - leaning awkwardly over the dental table is a sure fire way to get back ache. You should look to have a neutral spine posture as much as possible. Combat this by using a seat and reduce the back stretch by learning how to use operating glasses (loupes) when performing dental work. They take a little getting used to, but it’s worth the effort to keep your back in trim. 3. Good posture isn’t just about pain avoidance/control. It also has a massive impact on how you are perceived by your team and clients. Estimates vary about how much of communication between people is verbal and non-verbal but suffice to say that a large part comes down to your posture, expression and tone.

If you sit down arms folded, crossed legged and not making eye contact at meetings then you are giving off a very negative vibe. If you sit upright, smile and make eye contact then you will be perceived as engaged and confident. Of course, it’s up to you which posture to assume, but don’t expect a lot of credit, opportunity or promotion if you are giving off a negative vibe all day. It pays to be aware of this. 4. Tension and anxiety = pain due to the effect of the muscular contraction that creates the feeling of tension. This might be in muscles in your face or perhaps in your back. Ever notice that you get headaches when stressed? Or that your trips to the physiotherapist seem to happen more frequently when you are stressed out? Chronic muscular tension is why. 5. Stress increases your chances of making poor decisions. Stress puts you in “fight, flight or freeze" mode. When you are stressed your prehistoric, hair trigger limbic system is in charge of your decision-making. And hormonally your system is awash with catecholamines and cortisol.

All of these things mean you are unlikely to be making good/rational decisions. Of course, some stress is unavoidable, but we can try to control our reactions and emotions (see point nine below) or model the behaviour Pilots and special forces operators train for years to combat this hijacking effect and retain the ability to think clearly in high-pressure situations. 6. Most people need at least seven hours of sleep per day. This is time for your brain to produce chemicals that help it to repair, regulate and work as intended. A lack of sleep is linked to decreased effectiveness in decision making and resilience to set back. Do yourself a favour, skip another episode in the box set and hit the hay an hour earlier. 7. While we area on the subject of sleep. A lot of unnecessary back pain arises from poor posture at night. This can be caused by lying down for extended periods of time in positions that stress the joint of your back. So, it is worth investing in a mattress that works for you. So how do you choose a mattress? Well, there are two great ways.

When you sleep in a hotel bed and feel rested and cosy afterwards then chances are you found a mattress that works well with your body. I, for example, get a great night's sleep in just about any Marriott bed. And guess what? You can buy a Marriott mattress on their website (if you are in the US) How cool is that? Quirky, but highly customer focused European hotel Cubic also have awesome mattresses which are available in the UK. Another great options is to take a mattress for a test drive. More and more mattress companies are happy to offer 100-day sleep test trials so if you happen to choose badly, then you can send the mattress back. 8. Overwhelm does not mean you are mentally weak, it means your CPU is running hot and needs some downtime. When you notice this feeling it’s probably time to down tools and take a break. 9. As a surfer, I observed that emotions share a lot of characteristics with the waves that must paddle out through to get to the take-off point (the right place to catch a wave from). As you paddle out you are faced with a barrage of oncoming turbulent white water waves breaking onto the shore. When faced with each wave (the equivalent of a strong emotional trigger) you always have a choice. You may duck under the wave, let it roll over you harmlessly and continue to paddle out to sea. Or, if you lack the awareness of how to do this, you inevitably get caught up in the turbulence and are quickly dumped on the beach tired, frustrated and dinged up. Learning the skill of self-awareness is the equivalent of learning to duck dive in the surf.

So there you go, nine things (all entirely under your control) that if you are aware of, can each have positive physical and mental benefits in your professional and personal life.

Have a great day - you're awesome.

Dr D.

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