By Lauren S. Grider, DVM, CCFP
Katie,* a twenty-seven-year-old veterinarian, is just finishing her first year of practice. She graduated from veterinary school, relocated to a neighboring state, and began working at a busy, understaffed two-doctor small animal practice in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the past year, Katie’s clinical skills have grown, and she feels proud that she has independently managed several extremely challenging medical cases. However, Katie also feels that her life is out of control in many ways. “The past year feels like a whirlwind,” she says. “It’s been non-stop.”
When she’s not working, Katie has very little energy to do the things that bring her joy. Typically, Katie loves running and completes marathons regularly. However, since she started her full-time veterinary job, she has barely laced up her running shoes. For the past year, she has become accustomed to eating on the go and often relies on take-out instead of cooking nutritious meals for herself, which she used to enjoy. Long hours at the office combined with pandemic concerns meant that Katie has missed out on a lot of social time with friends – something that she deeply values. Lately she has been dreading going to work and has difficulty sleeping through the night. Katie simply doesn’t feel like herself anymore, and she worries that the quality of her patient care will suffer as a result. She knows that she needs to prioritize her self-care, but what should she change? And how?
Sometimes when we’re feeling down, it’s hard to decide what to do to nurture ourselves. That’s why forming a self-care plan is so beneficial. A solid self-care plan includes ideas for both everyday life and for when the going gets tough, such as during bouts of depression or anxiety. Effective plans also address how new goals will be accomplished. Everyday self-care targets might include quality nutrition, adequate hydration, and restful sleep, but how will you ensure that these basic needs are met regularly? The inclusion of personalized stress-reducing activities is also important, but which specific approaches will work best for you? In short, how are you going to accomplish what you’ve set out to do? That’s where brainstorming comes in!
Brainstorming by the Rules
Brainstorming is a creative method of generating ideas or solutions to problems. You may already be familiar with the idea of collaborative brainstorming in the business world, but it can also be a useful tool for finding inspiration on an individual basis. This technique is simple, inexpensive, and yields high-quality, fully customizable results in just a few simple steps.
Step 1: Get cozy. Settle into a quiet, comfortable area with a pen and paper. Try to set aside at least ten minutes to work on this exercise.
Step 2: Narrow your focus. Select a single issue to concentrate on during the exercise. Remember, you don’t have to have all the answers – just focus on one thing at a time.
Step 3: Just write it down. List all the ideas that come to you, even if they seem silly. Set judgement aside. Don’t pause to consider whether possibilities will work for you or whether they are a perfect solution. Use items on your list to generate other similar ideas and record every variation. Also, be sure to include wacky ideas! Sometimes it’s the off-the-wall options that lead to a breakthrough.
Step 4: Aim for quantity rather than quality. Focus first on building a comprehensive list and worry about refining it later. Think of as many ideas as possible! Aim to write down at least ten options.
Step 5: Refine your results. The last step in the brainstorming process involves selecting preferred strategies. Review the full list of options and strike through anything that isn’t appealing or isn’t currently possible. Then, select one or two of the remaining ideas to implement right away.
Putting Brainstorming into Practice
Now that you know more about the general brainstorming process, let’s go through an example with Katie. She decided that her home office was the best place to focus on the exercise, so she sat at her desk with her laptop and a cup of her favorite tea. Katie decided to concentrate on ways to add her favorite hobby – running – back into her weekly routine. Ultimately, she was able to come up with twelve ideas, and she even added some options that she wasn’t sure about.
Let’s take a look at Katie’s list:
- Sign up for a small race
- Sign up for a virtual race
- Join a local running club
- Ask coworkers if they are interested in running
- Ask coworkers if they are interested in competing
- Ask friends if they are interested in running
- Ask friends if they are interested in competing
- Find out if the local high school allows community use of their track
- Start a running club
- Start a social media group to host virtual races and challenges for veterinary professionals
- Coach a community or high school track team
- Plan short runs with a friend after work so that I have to leave on time
After editing her list, Katie ultimately selected two of the ideas to implement first: signing up for a virtual race and planning short runs after work.
Transforming Ideas into Action
Now that she has two potential solutions in sight, the next step for Katie will be to decide how to execute her ideas. It’s time to make a plan! The next article in this series will focus on the art of goal-setting for maximum results, and we’ll follow Katie through the process of implementing her personal self-care plan.
This is part five of a multi-part series on compassion fatigue in veterinary medicine. View the previous part here. The next part will focus on goal-setting.
*Name changed to protect anonymity.
1. Davis, A. (2021). Designing and setting goals [PowerPoint presentation]. CHD 602: Fundamentals of Counseling, University of North Alabama.