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The devil’s in the details

16 ways to stay positive during hellish workweeks and holidays

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VMD, MBA

I’m the first one to say I love, love, love my job. This is undoubtedly the best profession on earth. It does not, however, find me leaping out of bed with joy on every single day. Some days, in fact, can be so impossibly cruel that outside observers often cite our specific professional challenges as cause for concern (convenience euthanasia comes to mind).

Whenever an especially tough set of circumstances conspires to ruin an otherwise perfectly good day (incision dehiscence, let’s say), negativity starts to gnaw away at everything I think, do, and say. I can see it happening even as I’m doing it. Next thing I know I’m staring down the bowl of a whole ’nother day gone swirling down the toilet, sucked down by a single insignificant event that set the flush handle in motion.

Part of the problem is that I have a trigger finger on that lever. Sometimes I wake up knowing it’s going to be one of those days and just let it go south at the very first excuse (receptionist running late, tech missing a treatment, etc.). Other days I’m actually capable of letting my better angels rule the day in spite of clear provocations. Which often leaves me wondering: Why are some days so impossibly unmanageable?

More often than not, the devil lives not in the details of our daily events, but in the steps we actively take to process them.

To be sure, much has to do with brain chemistry and the almighty serotonin molecule, as those among us who have tried to do with less of it around can attest. But even the sickest among us are no mere slaves to our neurotransmitters. We are capable of transcending our biology, are we not?

To wit, there are plenty of tools we can all learn to wield effectively if we expect to make it through our “simple” veterinary workdays with a sense of accomplishment and a positive outlook on the future. Yes, there truly are effective methods designed to help you manage that obnoxious coworker with the bad BO and silence the nagging voice in the back of your head (you know, the one that insists on revisiting all of your decisions).

Because it’s the holidays, I thought it appropriate to make these tools known to you as soon as humanly possible. While many may be part of your repertoire already, this time of the year it’s crucial to use as many approaches as you possibly can to manage the onslaught of clients, cousins, co-shoppers, and other crazies whose orbits we cannot escape.

Prepare your days the night before

Nothing ruins your day like getting it off to a bad start. Which is how I learned (the hard way) to get things ready the night before. Packing lunches, filling the premade oatmeal thingies with almond milk, getting the kids’ clothes and homework all set up, even prefilling the animals’ food containers. I’ve learned that whatever I can do ahead makes my morning go better—more so when the holidays conspire to help me forget things.

Decorate your space

Your workplace may not technically belong to you, but I promise you that any smart employer wants you to feel proud of your space. I don’t care if it’s a desk, a locker, or the corner where you set your cell phone to charge in the morning, make it your own. This will improve your mood. Personally, I’m predisposed to Santa-themed kitten pics and amber-scented candles, but that’s just me.

Set simple holiday goals

Setting simple social goals at work can be therapeutic. Perhaps you want to plan a holiday breakfast party at work or a holiday night out with your work crew. If you’re less the butterfly and more the stealthy type, perhaps you’ll take it upon yourself to decorate the bathrooms with some pine-scented candles and some of those vinyl snowflake stick-ons for the walls. For kicks you can do it without letting anyone know …

Get in some “self-care”

Pedicure for lunch? Thirty-minute massage? Candlelight yoga class after work? As long as you don’t have to drive far and you’re not pressed for time (get someone else to pick up the kids for once), this kind of self-care is worth its weight in chocolate. Speaking of chocolate …

Absolve yourself of all edible sins, 
but plan accordingly

It’s the holidays. You will eat poorly. Especially at work, what with all those irresistible boxes full of Godiva chocolates. So get over it. But if you force yourself to eat a good breakfast and plan a solid lunch you’re way less likely to misappropriate calories. You’re also less likely to suffer the emotional highs and lows that come from consuming too much sugar. I mean, there’s no emotional hangover that won’t be provoked by a tray of tres leches.

Plan a working vacation

It’s preconference time, everybody! That means it’s time to plan a short trip to Orlando or Las Vegas or wherever your little veterinary heart desires. Keep the conference brochure pinned up over your desk. Set Space Mountain as your screensaver. Pick out seminars and labs to meet your loftiest professional goals. Message classmates who might plan to attend. Get into it already.

Tackle a new skill

Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you get to slack. Select a procedure or pathology you want to master and set your brain to “absorb” mode. Trust me, work is always more fun when you have a shiny new hammer. Trick: Download several docs you want to read and organize them into a folder on your phone. This way you can access them whenever you’re bored in line at the supermarket, waiting for your kids at the bus stop, sitting on the toilet …

Drive less

Do not let yourself get roped into extra driving detail just because it’s the holidays. We all know there’s evil math involved in any suburban driving behavior that occurs between Black Friday and New Year’s Eve. It’s got exponents and consonants in italics like you’ve never seen this side of multivariable calculus. Just say no to anything that promises to complicate your life for no good reason. Two words: Amazon Prime.

And finally …

Count your blessings

Literally. In the face of an especially tough day, making a list of things you’re thankful for has been repeatedly shown to lift your mood and help turn things around. You don’t have to write them down, but I’ve found this method to be especially therapeutic. Luckily, despite our many unique stresses (don’t get me started again), there’s no shortage of gratitude list material in this profession. Not convinced? Go find a puppy and now tell me I’m wrong. l

Dr. Patty Khuly owns a small animal practice in Miami and is a passionate blogger at drpattykhuly.com. Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.

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