Could Technology Support Veterinarians To Cope With Stress?
A new study, published in the journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association suggests that veterinarians are up to 3,5 times more likely to die by suicide than members of the general population. The article became viral and sparked concern among all members of the veterinary society. Additionally, studies have also shown that anxiety and depression are common among veterinarians.
The results of these studies are terrifying and alarm the need of action. We need to find and personalise a strategic plan to combat stress, anxiety and self-distracting impulses in a daily basis. We need time to relax and dissociate letting our body and mind to rest and get boosted. Inner stability comes from studying ourselves and understand our needs and our behavioural patterns.
Although the numbers are worrying, they come as no surprise to vets practising in the clinical field. Being a clinician vet is a rewarding and compassionate job that lets you bond with your patients and gives you the power to ensure a better life for them. On the other hand the daily routine surrounds us by many stressors, overwhelm us with many information and demands fast and right decisions. Usually we lack balance between our work and personal life, as we choose to prioritise our patients. We need as a community and as individuals to find ways to preserve our mental status and ensure that out colleagues are healthy as well.
Veterinarians are up to 3,5 times more likely to die by suicide than members of the general population.
The necessity of taking care of our emotional health
Just as we observe physical hygiene to stay well, we need to cultivate a kind of emotional hygiene too,” wrote the Dalai Lama on his Twitter-feed. It is equally important to form an efficient and comprehensive suicide prevention strategy and to cultivate mental-health friendly routines in our daily lives.
Having solid mental health doesn’t mean that we never go through frustration or experience emotional problems. We all go through disappointments, loss, difficult days and change. And while these are parts of life, they can still cause sadness, anxiety, and stress. But just as physically healthy people are better able to bounce back from illness or injury, people with strong mental health are better able to bounce back from adversity, trauma, and stress.
The pressure to perform, the stress to meet clients expectations and the chronic exposure to animal trauma is the reality of a full time small animal veterinarian. It comes as no surprise to see many of our thriving colleagues to struggle with anxiety and chronic stress.
However, technology provides us with a variety of digital tools to help us protect our emotional and mental health and relief our stress. There are apps to monitor our emotional state, to practise meditation and to reach mindfulness. There are digital devices and virtual reality experiences to help us reduce anxiety and decrease stress levels. It is in our hands to introduce them into our lives and master all types of anti-anxiety and stress relieving skills.
Where Do Digital Technologies Come Into The Picture?
Considering that technology is usually accused of being a source of stress and anxiety that troubles our connection with the world, it sounds contradicting at first, but actually there are a lot of beneficial digital solutions we can choose from.
1. The Tools Of Titans
Before starting listing all the digital tools I have in mind I will make a reference to a book: ‘The tools of Titans’ written by Tim Ferris author of the 4-hour workweek. In this book he explores through various interviews the key habits and routines that have been adopted by very successful people in all kinds of industries. I believe that we can all try and select the tactics which will meet our needs and lifestyle.
2. PIP device
It is a small device, connected to a smartphone application, which captures accurately changing levels of stress and returns audio and visual biofeedback. The user needs to transform a given winter image into summer by keeping his/hers stress level low.
3. Calm App
Calm is my favourite application when it comes to meditation and relaxing. You can choose among a variety of daily meditating programs, experience a calm body session or listen to a calming bedtime story whenever you feel you need it. Furthermore you can take advantage to the exclusive music tracks to improve your focus and efficiency or your relaxation time. You can keep track of your sessions and activity and set your personal goals.
Another great application for anyone who wants to make his/hers first steps in meditation. You can sign-up for the basic 10 day supervised meditation package for free and later unlock more experiences. The sessions are short and they help you master a lot of meditation techniques.
A very useful de-stressing tool specifically designed for medical professionals. It contains 3 short interactive e-learning modules offering information about the effects of stress, burnout and grief and coping strategies that users can apply immediately to their daily routines. It offers also the opportunity to boost your whole time against stress, through the board game option.
Many mental health professionals believe that diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing is an excellent tool for stress management. It is meant to help you use the diaphragm, the most efficient muscle of breathing, correctly while breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing exercises have been documented to decrease the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ (stress) response, and help with mood stabilization, anger control, and anxiety management. Breathe2Relax is a portable stress management application which provides detailed information on the effects of stress on the body and instructions and practice exercises to master deep belly breathing. You can download for free on your smartphone and practise the skill at any time.
This Virtual Reality experience transports you to a magical and mysterious underwater dive where you enjoy a relaxing environment and you learn specific breathing techniques that can alleviate stress and anxiety. You can walk and interact with the world literally through your breathing. The surroundings encourage you to slow your breath, to sink deeper and relax.
Except of the headset, the experience includes a custom controller attached to your belly, which measures diaphragm expansion in order to detect deep breathing. The feedback returns through changes in the Virtual world. The nature of Virtual Reality makes VR tools valuable as you can meditate shield from disturbing real world obstructions.
No matter what you will choose, whether it will be an application, a device or virtual reality, the vital thing is to remember to work on your mental status every day. Make it a daily ritual to isolate yourself for some minutes and work on your thoughts, your mood and feelings.