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10 Ways To Beat Holiday Stress While Staying Mindful During The Holiday Season.

It’s “The Holidays” again…  I was totally doing great until right before Halloween.   That’s when I started making my “gotta do this for the holidays” “gotta do that for the holidays” lists.  Then it really kicked in.  I was already feeling stress and the beginnings of overwhelm. Time to dust off the stress reduction and coping techniques that have served me well in the past.  I thought I would share them.

I completely understand holiday stress.  I really understand regular stress but holiday stress is a different animal.  It is even more so when you manage a busy veterinary practice or any business for that matter.  I personally would DREAD the holidays in my work life.  In fact, as soon as the first holiday time off request hit the desk the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach began and didn’t end until we made it through “the holidays.”  I have always LOVED the holidays personally but my work stress was bleeding into that passion and love and I didn’t even notice it until I did something to change it.  Then I was awakened to how bad it was. Ugh.

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I was already tense as a busy full time manager, and then you throw in my staff all wanting to be off during the holidays, cranky overwhelmed owners, irritable cash strapped clients and it really amped up.  Sleep was not great, jaw was tense and tight, resting B face was in full effect from October to mid-January.  The point is this, we ALL feel an extra dose of stress during the holidays because of the additional financial, physical, emotional, and mental strain taking on the “extra” activities the holidays bring.

The invitations to parties, get-togethers with churches, with friends, work parties, family gatherings, etc. all add up this time of year.  That gets to be a lot of physical and emotional strain for some.  If you weren’t overwhelmed before reading this, you probably are now, right? Don’t be.  I’m here to share with you my tips I’ve learned throughout my career managing hospitals and now being a business owner, mom, wife, friend, and much more.

1. “Your job is to fill your own cup, so it overflows. Then, you can serve others, joyfully from your saucer.” Lisa Nichols

This is HUGE!  If you don’t take care of yourself and make time to take care of yourself how will you be able to cope with taking care of the needs of others?  It is NOT selfishness.  It is the biggest gift you can give to your family and friends.  Being emotionally and physically able to be present during the holiday gatherings and making so many positive memories is the best gift of the season.

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2. Be Mindful

When you are in the clinic fray and clients are upset, and you got yet another time off request that you don’t have the staff to cover, take a moment to be mindful.  Being mindful is simply stop and be in that moment.  What is going on around you and within you in that exact moment? Being positively mindful in that moment is wonderful but not highly likely.  So, be mindful and really present in the fact that this moment sucks! I know it’s not what all the gurus say, but I’m a realist.  It DOES suck.  It won’t suck long term but right now in this moment it does, and that’s totally ok.  Things will from time to time.  We know how to manage through this, and we can get through it.  Time to breathe a few deep breaths and stop mentally drafting your resignation.  Go for a quick walk, hug a puppy, pet the clinic cat, or just chat with a happy client up front.  These quick environment changes clear out the negative clutter.

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3. De-Clutter Your Work, Home, and Mental Space

Start decluttering now.  De-cluttering your work and living space will go a long way towards clearing out and de-cluttering your mental space.  When I get overwhelmed with “THE LIST” I pick 1 item and start.  Generally, it’s the smallest easiest item, so it’s a quick win.  Then go to the next easiest item.  The trick to this is yes, you are narrowing your list down to the hardest tasks, but you are prioritizing them by how easy they are to do next.  So in your mind when you approach the next item, you are seeking out the “easiest” one. Make sense? By the time you get to the last chore on your list, you are already remarkably accomplished!

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4. Maintain Your De-cluttered Space.

Don’t allow your de-cluttered space to become cluttered.  Train yourself to take a moment to straighten it every day.  You WILL love that when you come back the next day, it is ready for you, and when you get home, your home space is also ready for you as well.  This is a considerable win in the mental space maintenance department.

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5. Plan for Success At Home.

Do your best preparations at home first.  A de-cluttered home space will help invigorate you to tackle decluttering your work space.  Both of these spaces being free from frustrating items and reminders of tasks undone will lead to a de-cluttered mental space.

I own my own consulting business, as well as a few part-time endeavors I enjoy as well.  I don’t have a set schedule beyond what I do for myself.  I still set my alarm, get up, shower, get dressed for my work day, feed the pets, make my latte and check Facebook, and then log in 10 minutes early so I can start my day.  It’s important to my own mental attitude that I be ready to work.  If I don’t prepare for success, then I’m just off, and it’s hard to reset.  My clothes are washed and ready.  My dishes are clean and prepped (most of the time).

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6. Plan Ahead for Success at Work.

Don’t go into the season without a plan. You know what you know, so it isn’t a surprise.  Boarding will pick up.  Staff will want to take off.  Hospital hours will change for hospital closures. EVERYONE will be working with a shorter fuse.  So prepare for that…early.  Set up the boarding schedule with the kennel team.  Get them on board for the influx.  Get their feedback from the previous season to see what worked what didn’t.  This gets them on the boat with you and rowing in the same successful direction.  Same for the staff requests.  Acknowledge that everyone wants more time with family during the holidays and with cooperation and organization granting what is feasible is your biggest goal.  They can help with coordinating their needs before they come to you. Ask for that cooperation; the staff can work out who can cover what shift and so on. Present solutions, not problems.  For client interactions, train your staff on how handle the stress that comes from cranky clients.  Start off with comfortable, congenial conversations with clients when they check-in.  This starts the entire visit on the right foot.  It is hard to be blazingly mad at someone you have made a positive connection with only a few moments ago.  Disagreements and misunderstandings can be dealt with from a place of common ground if it is established early in the visit.

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Encourage your staff to be mindful and take short mental breaks when it gets tough.  Being able to have them identify that the cranky client is not personal and will not have a long-term effect on them is key.  My favorite saying is “No one gets to take up space in your head rent free.” This means that I don’t get to stay upset, mad, stressed, worried, unsure, or whatever just merely based on someone else’s feelings.  Irritated owner?? He/She can get over it.  It has nothing to do with you. If it did have something to do with you, then correct and learn what you can, so you don’t repeat it, then get past it.  Don’t take it into the future with you. Not helpful.

7. Delegate or Outsource What You Can

This is a tough one for managers.  We feel guilt for asking someone else to do a job that we perceive as our job.  I struggled with it as a manager.  I would’ve rather done it myself then feel the guilt or emotional turmoil that comes with asking some one else to do it. Problem with this philosophy is that I was most likely not accomplishing the task to my best most creative ability because I tremendously stressed under the work load I  had.  If you can delegate tasks to another team member then do it.  They will approach it from a fresh set of eyes and with a newer sense of passion.

Secondly along the lines of delegation is outsourcing.  Hire a consultant like myself or many others that are there solely to accomplish the bigger projects you just don’t have time for.  The sense of freedom that comes with handing off a big project to someone to do and knowing they have the skill set and project management know how to get it done will lessen your stress and work load tremendously.  There are lots of consultants that focus on many areas of the practice.  It isn’t hard to find one in your area usually.  Do a quick search for management groups in your area and see ask the leader who they recommend.  I know several so I can definitely point you in the right direction based on the types of work you need done.  Big picture is, hire someone to get that project started instead of knowing you should start it but never do.

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8. Prepare For The Parties But Be Ready To Say NO When You Need To.

If you are blessed as I am, I get invited and included in lots of holiday festivities.  Each one by themselves isn’t a major thing but adding it all up can take an emotional toll.  I personally love meeting with friends and family, but it does drain me.  That is just my personality.  I used to think that if I ever told anyone NO that they would be really hurt and not ever invite me again.  So I would go and not really enjoy myself because I was too tired and drained to enjoy the moment really.  I am sure they sensed it and was offended I wasn’t having a good time.  In reality, I bet they would have been fine with me saying no.  We all feel this same sort of stress, and it isn’t a slight to the host it is just time to be real with ourselves that we need a break.  It’s a timing issue not a judgment of their gathering.  When it is time to say NO, be gracious and kind but resolute that you need to recharge your batteries for a bit.

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9. Cooking and Party Planning

This tip is work and home related.  Take a quiet moment to plan out your meals during this busy season.  Failing to plan out healthy meals for you and your family will most definitely lead to poor convenience eating decisions that will make you FEEL WORSE in the end.  This time of year is great for breaking out the instant pot or slow cooker.  Plan for yummy comfort foods that can be prepped, frozen, and slow cooked for convenient weeknight meals.

If you have to bring food for hospital potluck, don’t get elaborate. Make something easy with only a few ingredients and throw it in a slow cooker, so it’s ready when you are.  Keep it simple.

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10. Just Stop

The biggest thing I want to share with you is to STOPJUST STOP.  It’s a wonderful thing to stop and just be aware.  Smell the yummy chili in the slow cooker, the fire in the fireplace, open windows that let in a crisp cool breeze, warm furry cat curled up next to you on the desk or couch, steamy hot latte, a blanket freshly washed warm from the dryer, etc.

It’s the little things that add up to big things.  When you have managed your stress and have a newfound sense of peace, you will enjoy each of the moments you now notice with your friends, family, coworkers, and clients.

That is where the memories are made…

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I wish you the best holiday season!

Blessings,

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The opinions expressed in this post are mine alone.  They do not offer or suggest medical advice. If you struggle from mental health issues or strain, stress, anxiety, depression, compassion fatigue, or burnout please talk to someone.  It’s important that you address these feelings and know that you are not alone.

If you do not know where to turn please reach out to me.  I would be happy to help point you in the direction of someone that could help.

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About Rhonda Bell, CVPM, CCFP

Certified Veterinary Practice Manager and a Certified Compassion Fatigue Professional with 15 years of veterinary hospital management experience. My passion lies with the small business owner specifically in veterinary medicine but not exclusively. I love coaching, teaching, developing and creating opportunities for veterinary practice success. I want to help overwhelmed stressed out practice owners, managers and veterinary teams make sense of the sticky areas of veterinary practice management.

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