Veterinary Teams Debriefing Stressful Situations – Take Care of Yourself
April 18, 2017
By guest blogger Dr. Carrie McCrudden.
Taking care of yourself is a tricky business. You can be doing “all the right things” and still feel sideswiped by stress when something big happens.
It is great to establish a base of excellent self-care: healthy nutrition, enough sleep, regular exercise, enjoyable connections, a sense of spirituality, time spent outside, you know, the basics we hear about (and hopefully practice!). This base of self-care creates an overall sense in your mind and body of wellness, which helps you feel healthy, most of the time.
It is also incredibly protective for times of major stress. You may find yourself needing a wellness triage, often, through no fault of your own, when you have gotten mixed up in some real-life crisis. Or maybe because it is the very nature of your life.
When I think of veterinary professionals, I can easily imagine how awesome it is to snuggle a wide variety of fuzzy friends, and what an honor to help people be better parents to their animal charges. However, I also remember what it is like to have to put down an animal and how torn up we all were… my family AND the veterinary professionals who had become like family over the years.
I can also imagine the stress of having to help an animal that was hit by a car, or doesn’t make it when you thought they’d pull through a procedure. So how do you practice wellness in these situations?
By definition, these circumstances are stressful, and can often trigger feelings of regret, unfairness, frustration, guilt, anger or sadness. Most confusing is that sometimes they trigger a sense of relief. How are you supposed to make sense of all of these feelings? How is it affecting the rest of you? Is your body tense? Do you snap at a co-worker or take your stress home and become irritable with your loved ones? This doesn’t seem like wellness, yikes!
First Step: normalize your reactions. It is a reasonable human response under these circumstances to become physically tense and more sensitive to things that you would normally shrug off. This is your brain letting you know that it is going to be extra careful in watching out for you. A mixture of feelings is normal. Feeling upset is normal. Needing time to return to feeling well, is normal.
Second Step: let yourself feel the reaction you are actually having. Label what you are feeling, even if it is in stages. Recognize that you are tense, that your heart is racing, that you feel tearful or upset, or even that you have a mixture of emotions. Resisting, over inflating, or stuffing your reactions are all less powerful methods of managing crises than dealing what is really happening.
Third Step: make a plan for what you need. Maybe you relax with a run, or by taking a hot bath, or maybe you need to put the thoughts away for a while so you can continue to function for the day. Once you have the proper time and space to process what happened, take time to write it out (really, with a pen and paper as handwriting helps our brains consolidate information better than typing).
If you debrief with co-workers, make sure it is in a way that helps the whole team, and doesn’t just increase everyone’s stress. This may be a time for venting, but also make sure to finish with either learning lessons, solutions, or with a way to put the incident to rest.
Sometimes a staff ritual can help people process their emotions. Examples may be lighting a candle, remembering the animal in better times, or giving each other credit for putting a stressful incident in context and allowing people to move forward.
Final Step: give yourself time to heal. Be gentle with yourself and your co-workers if a day has been particularly stressful. Remember to go back to the basics (sleep, exercise, nutrition, connection with others). Resist the urge to feel awful about everything, when it is really just a few stressful incidents you are struggling with. As always, please reach out to a licensed mental health professional if you are unable to get back to wellness on your own.
Carrie McCrudden, PsyD
Colorado Therapy Care, PC
Achieve Change Through Conversation
Dr. Carrie, a Colorado-licensed psychologist, has been working in the therapy field for over 20 years, and is dedicated to helping people win over tough problems like anxiety, depression, trauma, PTSD, mood disorders and other life challenges. In addition, she seeks out research and information about mental health, behavior change, habits, relationships and other areas essential to a great life.