The Confederation of British Industry defines that stress is “that which arises when the pressure placed upon an individual exceeds the capacity of that individual to cope” – When something stressful happens to you or around you, the feeling and response is different for every single person. What may be stressful to one person could be a walk in the park for someone else.

On the first Wednesday in November each year, we shine the spotlight on National Stress Awareness Day. This awareness day was started by the International Stress Management Association (ISMAUK) – a charity and professional body which works towards supporting both workplace and personal stress management.

If stress is left unrecognised or unmanaged, it can make situations worse and also lead to other mental health problems. Feeling stressed or being put under pressure is very much a normal part of time, but a problem arises when you become overwhelmed by it. Stress is described as having 3 stages – alarm, resistance and then eventually exhaustion.

National Stress Awareness Day reminds us that we all need to take a step back and change our lifestyles, have discussions with friends, family or colleagues on what is contributing to your individual stressors, and to also find advice and support on how to manage it.

Identifying Stress

The feeling of stress is very much a biological need in human evolution (but it was usually in the form of acute stress – like maybe we should run away from that large scary animal charging towards us!) and causes the Autonomic Nervous System to activate; releasing cortisol, adrenaline and other fight or flight hormones, disrupting and upsetting almost every system in our bodies.

In this demanding day and age where there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day for the modern tasks in front of us, or the ability to feel like you shouldn’t let anyone down, the signs of (what should be a short lived) stress can manifest in a lot of different ways!

There are psychological, physical, emotional and behavioural signs of stress. These may include:

  • The inability to concentrate, memory lapses, becoming vague, less intuitive and creative, waking up tired
  • Frequent colds or infections, weight loss or gain, dizziness or palpitations, panic attacks, menstrual changes
  • Becoming irritable, sensitive to criticism, defensiveness, lack of motivation, anger
  • Increased reliance on alcohol or smoking or caffeine, poor time management, self neglect, social withdrawal, uncharacteristically lying

Usually it is easier for others to recognise the stress in you and it isn’t as easy to recognise it in yourself. If you are in a supportive environment (both with colleagues and with friends!) where you can have these discussions with those around you, it will help to identify and manage those problems.

Stress Awareness Space

As RVNs, we work in a face paced, emotionally and physically stress-filled role; keeping a practice running, ensuring we provide the best care possible to our patients, and also fulfilling and managing clients expectations when their pet is sick. With 44% of workplace stressors coming from workload, it is clear that everyone needs to be working in the same directions to ensure everything runs smoothly, and it should be in a supportive environment.

Creating a Stress Awareness Space within your workplace can help start the conversation on what someone finds stressful in their workplace, which helps to recognise what is potentially causing the stress and therefore how to deal with and manage it. Someone may be able to share how they deal with this situation, because at work  it likely does affect or impact everyone, it is just others manage it differently!

Why not have an anonymous “Awareness Box” in the tearoom where someone can write down what is a stressor for them at work, and then one day a month sit down as a team over a coffee in the morning to discuss these.

Schwartz Rounds

Schwartz Rounds is an “evidence-based forum for hospital staff from all backgrounds to come together to talk about the emotional and social challenges of caring for patients. The aim is to offer staff a safe environment in which to share their stories and offer support to one another” – whether staff are clinical or non-clinical, it is for discussing the social and emotional aspects of working in healthcare.

It is massively successful within the NHS and hospital organisations globally, and the RCVS run  Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) is working to create a pilot program that is veterinary industry specific.

“Rounds can help staff feel more supported in their jobs, allowing them the time and space to reflect on their roles. Evidence shows that staff who attend Rounds feel less stressed and isolated, with increased insight and appreciation for each other’s roles. They also help to reduce hierarchies between staff and to focus attention on relational aspects of care.”

What can you do?

Take a moment to sit down and write some of your stressors on a piece of paper. This helps identify if there is a common denominator that contributes to these events. It is time management? Is it one person? What are some ways to resolve this?

For example – if it is the thought of traffic in the morning, can you leave 5 or 10 minutes earlier? If it is the morning rush of getting ready, can you soak some overnight oats for breakfast and prepare your uniform the night before? If it is someone who doesn’t contribute equally to the tasks at work, can you approach them and have a conversation about it? Whatever is contributing to stress in your day, it must first be identified – this will help to feel in control of things when you feel you are falling apart.

Acknowledging that not everyone can function at the same speed on the same highway. It is OK to pull over and reset!

Check out or other blogs on Mental Health and Mindfulness:

If you are or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues and would like some support, the BVNA supports Vetlife – a registered charity that supports the veterinary community by offering support for work, emotional, addictive or financial problems. You can call them or send an anonymous email any time of the day – they offer a 24-hour service every day of the year. The Vetlife phone number is 0303 040 2551 – The volunteers at Vetlife are experienced in mental health and in the veterinary profession too.