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Self-Care – Your Oxygen Mask

September 27, 2017

Self-Care and Wellbeing Tips

Ms. Garcia presents self-care tips to veterinary students at the CO Veterinary Medical Assn. Convention Sept. 23, 2017.

By Guest Blogger Katherine Garcia, MA, LAC, MAC

Whether you are feeling stressed in your veterinary medicine career or not, self-care is always IMPORTANT and NECESSARY. The easiest way to think about self-care is to think about the instructions you receive on an airplane. Always put your oxygen mask on first and then help the people around you. Your self-care is your oxygen mask. If you don’t make your self-care a priority, you will not be able to help others, and no one else is going to do it for you.

Begin with Your Basic Needs

  • Nutrition: What you eat affects your health, mood and emotions.
    • Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods and inhibits pain. It is produced in your gastrointestinal tract which is lined with neurons. Thus your digestive system digests food AND guides emotions.
    • Studies have shown that when people take probiotics, their anxiety levels, perception of stress and mental outlook all improve.
    • Studies have shown that certain diets (such as Mediterranean and Japanese) can significantly decrease the risk of depression. These diets are high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, fish and seafood, and are low in lean meats, dairy and sugars.
    • Some medical illness can result from a lack of nutrition (g., eating disorders or hypoglycemia).
  • Sleep: Sleep helps both the brain and the body rejuvenate. Sleep has been shown to help keep the body’s immune system strong, helps regulate moods and reduces stress.
    • Sleep is a balancing act. Too little sleep can impact physical and mental health. While oversleeping has been shown to increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity and cognitive impairment. Seven to nine hours of sleep is recommended for optimum wellness.
    • Patients experiencing depression report sleep disturbances 60 to 80% of the time. Persistent sleep problems can increase the risk of a relapse of depression and may also delay response to treatment.
    • Lack of sleep can cause significant cognitive impairment. Studies conducted with pilots have shown that 18 hours without sleep causes impairment equivalent to a .05 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), which is a DWAI in Colorado. The same studies have shown that no sleep over 24 hours causes impairment equivalent to a .08 BAC, a DUI in Colorado.
  • Tips for Better Sleep:
    • Spending time in sunlight helps stabilize your body’s sleep and wake cycles.
    • Exercise during the day and avoid it or other vigorous activities within four hours of bedtime.
    • Limit caffeine and alcohol intake.
    • Don’t smoke! Nicotine is a stimulant.
    • Create a bedtime routine – Go to bed and get up at the same time.
    • Create “worry time” where you “worry” for a specific time frame and also create to-do lists and prioritize tasks.

Other Self-care Techniques

  • Exercise:
    • Has been shown to reduce the severity of depression and/or anxiety symptoms
    • Helps relieve stress by burning off stress chemicals such as adrenaline, and releases endorphins which have a naturally calming effect
    • Improves the quality of sleep
  • Meditation:
    • Focuses on the physical sensation of breathing, thus can be used as an anchor for the present instead of ruminating about the past or worrying about the future
    • Provides help with focusing the mind
    • Reduces brain chatter
    • Lowers stress
    • Helps you cope with physical and emotional pain
  • Work-Life Balance:
    • When feeling overwhelmed with work, make a list of the positive reasons why you went into the veterinary field.
    • Consider reasonable expectations – Do Not Expect Perfection!
    • Don’t let the past define your practice – There will always be cases that go wrong, learn from them and then let them go.
    • Understand your limitations. Can you really take on more?
    • Track your time and identify tasks that aren’t needed, could be delegated to someone else, or could be clustered (done once-daily or once-weekly).
    • Don’t take work home, otherwise your “personal” time isn’t really yours.
    • COMMUNICATE! Communication is vital to ensure a good work-life balance. Talk to your team about tasks to be on the same page and let them know when you have set aside time to focus on your self-care. Make sure they know your boundaries.

Self-care doesn’t have to take a lot of time, and while it may seem hard to fit into the schedule, it does have to happen in order to remain healthy. Remember, always put your oxygen mask on first and then help others! If you don’t make your self-care a priority, you will not be helpful to your patients, practice, profession, friends or family.

Katherine Garcia, MA, LAC, MAC is the Client Services Manager for the Peer Assistance Services, Peer Health Assistance Programs. She has 11 years of experience working with individuals struggling with substance use and co-occurring disorders. Ms. Garcia has presented to audiences on issues concerning the health and wellness of healthcare professionals. She has done extensive work with professionals in the Veterinary community to increase awareness of wellness issues that are unique to the profession such as high rates of Compassion Fatigue, Substance Use, and Suicide. Ms. Garcia has published numerous articles for veterinary professionals and provides a webinar series for the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association.  She holds a Master’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with fields of Psychology and Social Work, is a License Addictions Counselor in the State of Colorado, and holds a national certification as a Master Addictions Counselor.