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Your Mental Health Matters

By Allen Clarke MSc MIACP | June 23rd, 2020

I’m not a vet. I don’t know a lot about animals, except that most times I prefer them to people – you might be the same. It is a lot of easier to deal with a sick animal than a difficult owner. I know I’d rather work with children than have to deal with their parents! So whilst I don’t know a lot about animals, what I do know is people and what I do know from clients I’ve had that have been vets or veterinary nurses – it is a tough job!

Job is perhaps the incorrect term, “calling” being perhaps more accurate. It needs to be a calling to sign up to a profession with anti-social hours, long hours, being on call, no holidays during spring, you’d have to be mad! Hopefully I can provide some information which will ensure you don’t fully go down that rabbit hole.

Be Assertive

Firstly, let’s address the major life event of finishing college – well done you! A fantastic achievement, it certainly was not easy. Now that you have finished college though, you’re facing the real world, perhaps even your first ever job. A daunting and overwhelming experience at the best of times.

 As a new recruit but my first advice to you is this: people will treat you how you allow them to treat you. If you have difficulty with being assertive, speaking with a therapist to address the source of this and what to do about it can be a great place to start.

Setting the boundary of what is and is not acceptable for you from the outset will hopefully mean you’re not going in day after day, struggling doing jobs you may not be completely comfortable with because you couldn’t say no. You will internalise that anxiety, repress it for so long until you either end up in front of me, or get fired for throwing a dead hamster at your boss before you rage quit.

Be an Animal

How best to deal with stress? For starters do not underestimate looking after the basics. The essentials that we need as humans, food/ drink, sleep and exercise. Just by taking care of these it can have a huge impact on our mental health. Eat shit – feel shit. You’re probably so tired and exhausted from work that the thoughts of cooking is enough to say “fuck it!” and either order a take away or just go to bed, depriving your body the nutrition it needs to function effectively. You probably advise pet owners to stop feeding their dog shite food, whilst you’re living off McDonalds and tubes of Pringles. So if possible, meal prep on one day. Batch cook and throw it in the fridge/ freezer. Your body and wallet will thank you.

I hate to burst the delusions of grandeur you may have, but you are just a fancy animal! Learn from the animals you work with. When a dog is tired – it sleeps, hungry – it eats, thirsty – it drinks. Listen to your body. Also note for yourself if you are eating because you are hungry or eating to deal with stress. Be careful of your alcohol intake. Alcohol is a mood modifier; you’re feeling one way and you want to feel another way. It’s very easy for that shared bottle of wine with your friends (when you do miraculously happen to see them) to become a glass in the evening by yourself to wind down, then you develop a tolerance and one glass doesn’t cut it any more, it’s two glasses, then a bottle… Notice if your alcohol intake has increased and has become a dysfunctional coping strategy.

Be Social

If you find you are struggling reach out to someone… anyone! Whether that is a friend or co-worker. You may feel too embarrassed to talk to a co-worker but I can almost 100% guarantee they have felt like you have at one point or another. How can I be so certain? Because they are human beings and we all have a breaking point. Also, it might be no harm to talk to friends outside of the profession. Perhaps you’ve made some great friends through college but people outside of the profession can be a great escape. I’m sure when you’re with your college friends the majority of things you talk about are work related. Being able to switch off from that and get away from the job altogether will be good. If you need to, speak to a professional. Seek out a therapist, talk to a counsellor about what you’re feeling. You will be talking to an absolute stranger that is not going to judge you and who only has your well-being as their priority.

Be Creative

Get a creative outlet for yourself. Whether that is as simple as keeping a journal and writing (unedited and unchecked by your ego) exactly how you feel, writing some poetry, drawing/ sketching, playing an instrument. Anything where you get to express something. A hobby can be a great way to get into a state of flow. Mindfulness coloring books became all the rage for a while because when you had to focus on coloring in the intricate details, there wasn’t much space in your mind to be thinking about something else. Speaking of mindfulness…

Be One with The Force

Develop a meditation practice. There is a saying from Zen Buddhism that you should meditate every day for 20 minutes, unless you’re too busy, in which case mediate for an hour. Meditation is a great way to develop self-awareness. It’s so important that you are able to identify when your mental health is starting to decline. Learn to identify your early warning signs. Is it insomnia or hypersomnia – sleeping too little or too much? Eating way too much junk food or barely eating? Drinking more than normal or using recreational drugs more than you plan to? Being able to name it for yourself is a great beginning. Simply saying to yourself “I’m stressed/ depressed/ anxious” – name it to tame it.

If meditation sounds a bit too new age hippy bullshit for you and you care more about science, then consider the fact that mediation helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. Which moves you into the “rest and repair” state and out of “fight or flight” state which you experience when you are in a stressed state.

I hope this helps in some way to deal with all you will face in your career. It’s not an easy job. Also, don’t forget – the animals are grand, it’s the people that are the problem!

Allan is the proprietor of Kildare Psychotherapy & Counselling in Kildare Town. He holds a MSc (Honours) degree in Counselling & Psychotherapy. He is currently undertaking further studies and his areas’ of particular interest are, neuroscience and trauma.

Allan is a highly sought speaker and delivers lectures and workshops to parents, schools, health groups and also presents corporate workshops on mindfulness.

His down to earth explanation of complex issues, his thousands of client hours experience and his sense of humour means he is able to discuss the presenting issues in a relatable manner.

He is a self-confessed nerd, frustrated golfer, bibliophile and scale model builder. When he finds the time, he indulges in his other love – acting. In 2012 he won Best Actor at the All Ireland Drama finals.

To learn more about Allan and the services he offers visit his website here. He is also the Co-host of The Straight Talking Mental Health Podcast listen here.

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