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by Cherie T. Buisson, DVM, CHPV
Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarian
Originally published on DrAndyRoark.com

I just returned from a speaking engagement in Indiana where I educated young veterinarians about self-care. We talked about compassion fatigue, euthanasia, assertiveness and stress relief techniques. I flew home at night.  Because of weather delays, I didn’t see my bed until 1:30am. This is past my bedtime.

I had the sense to take today “off” – meaning that I’m working from home, haven’t taken a shower and feel like I’m recovering from the flu. My body aches from dragging suitcases and falling asleep in an airplane seat. My entire digestive tract has declared mutiny and is demanding only healthy food for a little while. My phone keeps reminding me to “right self-care piece for Andy Roark”. I really hate that Siri can’t spell.

Considering what I’ve put my body through in the last 24 hours, I’m wondering if I should be writing or lecturing on self-care.  I know better than to do most of the things I’ve done in the last day. However, part of the self-care strategy is to avoid aiming for perfection. Mission accomplished.

I’ve written articles on self-care before. I’ve talked about saying “NO” and stress in the profession. I teach classes on setting boundaries. Before you can set boundaries, though, you have to figure out what they are! You have limits to what you can take without going all banshee on everyone. Like toxic doses of drugs, you should avoid stepping up TO that limit.  Give it a wide berth. Ask yourself the following questions.  I’m giving you some of my answers so you can see what I mean.

1 – What do I eat that makes me feel good?  For me, that’s protein, veggies, fruits, nuts and salad.

2 – What do I eat that makes me feel bad? The usual suspects: sugar, caffeine, greasy foods, spicy foods, red sauces, alcohol. Any combination of these is deadly. Did I eat pizza before my flight yesterday? You bet I did! It’s part of the reason my stomach felt uneasy on the plane. Is quatro formaggio pizza with bacon heavenly? Unfortunately, YES! This happened to be a bad decision, but I knew better than to drink alcohol or load up on sweets, so I was uncomfortable rather than miserable.

3 – What are my stress triggers at home? Not enough sleep, the dog having accidents in the house, coming up with something not boring to cook, watching the news, politics, obnoxious loud music, negative discussions on social media.

4 – What are my stress triggers at work? Mean people, demanding people, overbooked appointments, emergencies that should have come in before today, feeling overwhelmed with too many tasks

5 – What relaxes me? Quilting, reading a good book, meditation, harp or other quiet music, yoga, a glass of wine (tricky because this is also a trigger), clean sheets on the bed, being cold and covered in blankets, playing online (with the exception of negative discussions on social media).

6 – What do I wish I did more of? Spending time with my family, spending non-vet time with my pets, canoeing, taking cycling trips, napping, quilting, working on my aquarium, writing, being outside doing nothing

7 – What do I wish I did less of? Checking email and social media, grocery shopping, laundry, cooking, worrying

8 – What people are the most positive influence in my life? Since the thought of trying to list
everyone without leaving someone out is giving me anxiety, I’ll just tell you this: These can be people you know or people you contact indirectly. Find ways to spend more time with these people. Whether it’s reading an author with a positive message or talking to a friend who is always there for you, make time to connect with those souls who are good for yours.

9 – What people are the most negative influence in my life? I’m pleading the fifth here as well.  Find ways to reduce your contact with these people. Sometimes just hiding a really negative person on social media makes your day better. Let them go to voicemail when they call. Be busy when they want to heap negativity on you.

10 – What do I want? Make a list of your dreams and goals. Pin it up somewhere and review it regularly to make sure everything you do is aiming you in their direction.  Don’t be afraid to change them as your life changes. Every time you move in the right direction, pat yourself on the back (you know, a treat for doing well, positive reinforcement?).

I know myself better than anyone. I’m the only person I’ve lived with for 40 years in a row. The more I know my reactions to my environment and other people, the more chance I have of directing my life positively. Seeing on paper what you love and hate and comparing that to what you are exposing yourself to in life is a revelation. Make room in your life for the things and people you enjoy. Hang a “no vacancy” sign for the rest. Know yourself well enough to know when you need to slow down, ask for help or unplug. Don’t wait for others to offer to give you a break – that so rarely happens in today’s self-centered world. Here in the U.S. we are guaranteed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Not happiness, the PURSUIT of happiness. Make sure your choices reflect that pursuit and you’ll be moving in the right direction.