Our Herbs Blog
Last week, my Facebook feed told me that 2 of our fellow veterinarians committed suicide. While tragic, this was not surprising. Veterinarians have the highest suicide rate of any profession. The amount of stress in our profession is both sad and debilitating. We as a group of veterinarians have to take better care of ourselves. There are many ways to decrease our stress.
One way to reduce stress is setting boundaries, most especially professionally but also personally. In our Apprenticeship course this weekend, students were talking about not letting clients on their personal Facebook page, or not giving out their cell phone numbers. These are great boundaries! We also need to take time when we are fully and completely disconnected from our practices and our work, to just decompress and rejuvenate.
There is a burgeoning field of research about gratefulness and overall well-being. Every morning in our classes, we start with gratefulness: “What are you grateful for this morning?” We go around the room. This is a really quick thing, but we use it to bring the class together and focused at the start of the day. We get all kinds of answers, like “sunshine” or “good night’s sleep.” Today a student was grateful for the fact that we teach as a conversation and in community, we don’t lecture down to our students, as she put it. Another student was grateful for the fact that Auburn won their basketball game last night!
Gratefulness can be defined many ways, but in their 2010 article, Sansone and Sansome broadly define it as “the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself and represents a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation” (p. 19). Gratefulness has been proven to help our mental and physical health. Research has shown that simply thinking about gratitude improves our outlook and health, whether we have an answer to this question or not! I make sure my sons at least ask themselves “what am I grateful for?” every morning. I personally am grateful for the sunrise every day, and usually something else specific to that day or moment in my life. The Sansone and Sansone article lists a variety of techniques to “enhance feelings of gratitude” and therefore overall wellbeing. These techniques include:
- “Journaling about things for which to be grateful
- Thinking about someone for whom you are grateful
- Writing/sending a letter to someone for whom you are grateful
- Meditating on gratitude (present moment awareness)
- Undertaking the ‘Count Your Blessings’ exercise (at the end of the week writing down three things for which you were grateful)
- Practicing saying ‘thank you’ in a sincere and meaningful way
- Writing thank you notes
- If religious, praying about your gratitude” (p. 20, Table 2).
There are herbs that specifically reduce stress. These herbs are called Adaptogens. By definition, adaptogens protect the body from stress – whether that stress is mental, physical or environmental; they stimulate the body to perform at its maximum capacity, which is great for athletes; and they are innocuous – they do no harm and cannot cross react with any drugs, herbs or other products. In fact, I recently taught about this class of herbs and a fellow veterinarian asked: “Why isn’t everyone taking them?” Good question!!
We want to foster happy, healthy productive veterinarians. Remember, you have to help yourself first in order to help others. We do, and we want to help you do so also!
Sansone, R., & Sansone, L. (2010). Gratitude and Well Being: The Benefits of Appreciation. Psychiatry 7 (11), 18-22. .
How do we keep Current?
This has been a question that has plagued me since I graduated from vet school. We always want to give the best care to our patients and address our clients’ concerns. I remember when I graduated, I could tell who was an “old-timer” versus who was an up-to-date veterinarian by whether or not the doctor assessed dental health. Our world is constantly evolving, and with it, the face of medicine is evolving. Healthcare as a whole is evolving. We no longer vaccinate every year, nor do we see it as the only way to get our clients in the door. More and more pet owners understand the importance of annual or bi-annual exams and diagnostics, just as we understand the importance of dental health.
Clients are also more invested in their pets as part of their families. We see fewer and fewer of the “farm dogs”. Clients are also researching their animals’ health on the internet (like it or not!). We need to be prepared to offer these people and their beloved pets the best medicine and most complete knowledge we can. To me, this means coming full circle and making the old new again! Herbal medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy, etc. are older than anything we learned in veterinary school. These are ancient medicines that has been proven to be effective for millennia. I had an instructor in my acupuncture program who said these other modalities are “more tools in your toolbox.” I always remember that. It is an integrative approach, and it is a good one. Once I trained in some of these other modalities, I no longer had to tell a client that there was nothing I could do for their animal or to just keep it comfortable at home. I always have an alternative to support the pet.
I want every veterinarian to have alternatives and ways to help every beloved family member you treat. That is why I teach now! I also want each and every veterinarian to be able to give an educated answer to the internet research the client is doing. Often at conferences, I have vets say they just want to understand the supplements their clients are giving their pets. It is so important: there are drug to herb interactions (for good and bad), there are herbs that are important to take or not to take with certain underlying conditions, etc.
In today’s world, I increasingly see the importance of “wholism”: working on the whole animal, working as a team with our clients and our patients, and using every medical tool available. Will you join me in this endeavor?