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Ten Ways to Relax after a Long Veterinary Shift

  • September 7, 2017 8:42 PM EDT

    We’ve all been there … at the end of a 12+ hour day during which we’ve jammed in appointments, surgeries, procedures, phone calls, emails, and an endless stream of paperwork.  As veterinary care providers, these long shifts take their toll and despite the feelings of exhaustion and wanting to crawl straight into bed the moment we get home, there is often a difficulty relaxing and letting go of the events of the day.  Instead, we find ourselves at home re-hashing our day; the clients that left us feeling frustrated, the difficult cases that have us feeling sad, or the annoying co-worker that seemed to make the day that much worse.  Even when our day is filled with happy clients, successful cases, and a well-oiled machine of teammates, we can still struggle to unwind once the shift is over. 

    Letting go and separating work from home life is of the utmost importance, as this allows us to ameliorate burnout.  If we spend all hours of the day thinking about work (or worse, doing work in the form of emails, phone calls, or rumination at home), then we have no time to reset, refuel, or reenergize ourselves.  Additionally, constantly thinking about work and not letting go of the stress of the day can wreak havoc on our sleep hygiene, by keeping us awake at night.  Approximately 1/3 of adults experience insomnia, which can be a difficulty falling or staying asleep, and the largest non-medical cause of insomnia is worry

    So, how can we let go of the day’s events and our thoughts and anxieties that might go along with it?  We can insert an activity at the end of our work day to signify that the day is done, our work is complete, and now is the time to rest and restore.  Here are some examples of activities that will help to encourage relaxation at the end of the work day and allow for separation between work and home life.

    1. Spend 10-15 minutes of worry time at the end of the day going over the things that are on your mind.  These might be outstanding tasks or other things that must be completed the following day, or certain things that happened during the day that remain to be addressed.  Take a moment to write them down, think about them, make a to-do list or action plan, and then set the intention to not think about them again for the rest of the day. 

    2. Take a walk either alone or with a pet to allow yourself to reconnect with nature and help foster sleep hygiene.  Exposure to natural light for 20-30 minutes during the day is important in regulating the circadian rhythm.  Time spent outdoors also reduces cortisol levels and enhances feelings of happiness and joy.  Use this time to think or simply take note of your surroundings and acknowledge that the day is done. 

    3. Exercise has tremendous mental health benefits that can outweigh the physical benefits.  Exercise also helps the body to relax and settle into sleep at the end of the day.  Spending even 10-15 minutes doing high-intensity exercise or 30+ minutes doing low intensity exercise can be tremendously beneficial and can signify sweating off the day’s events. 

    4. Breathing is an underutilized strategy for relaxing the mind and body since we usually do it without thinking of it.  Trying to engage in calm and easy breathing while slowly increasing the length of the inhale and matching or lengthening the exhale helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and takes the body out of the fight/flight responses of the day.  Start by counting the breaths as 4 seconds each and lengthening from there.  During the inhale, notice any tension and on the exhale, let the tension go.  With each breath out, let the shoulders, neck, jaw, eyes, and forehead release. 

    5. Stretching can have incredible benefits, especially for those who might spend hours in front of the computer typing up records or doing other paperwork.  At the end of the day, taking time to engage in movements that open the hip flexors, stretch the hamstrings, and relax the shoulders can help to loosen the muscles that hold tension during the workday.   

    6. Taking a shower at the end of the day signals to many people that the day’s difficulties are washed away.  This can be a very powerful symbol that the work day is done and it is time to enjoy home life. 

    7. Debriefing with a partner or spouse can be a good way to tackle some of the issues that might have come up during the day, as a means of working through problems and deciding how best to address them.  However, this time should be limited to 10-15 minutes, so as not to derail the entire evening or make a habit of using close friends and partners as constant sounding boards, which can add strain to relationships. 

    8. Do something you enjoy, whether it’s coloring, reading a book, browsing a magazine, listening to music, or scanning the newspaper.  Even if just for 10 minutes, let this time be your time to do something that you enjoy and find relaxing. 

    9. Meditation can be an excellent way to decompress after a stressful busy day.  While often toted as “clearing the mind” meditation is a way to notice thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise and then gently bring awareness back to our breath or our immediate surroundings.  This practice of bringing attention back to the present moment helps to cultivate an ability to let go of stressful circumstances that might otherwise derail our mind. 

    10. Listening to music during the commute or once arriving at home can be a nice way to set the tone for relaxation after work.  Spotify and other music streaming services offer many play lists tailored to relaxation with different genres of music that appeal to different people. 

    Marie K. Holowaychuk, DVM, DACVECC is a small animal emergency and critical care specialist and certified yoga and meditation teacher who has an invested interest in the health and well-being of veterinary professionals.  She facilitates wellness workshops, boot camps, and retreats for veterinarians, technicians, students, and other veterinary care providers.  To sign up for newsletters containing information regarding these events and veterinary wellness topics, please click here.  More information can be found at