Mental Health, the Pandemic & the Pet Care Industry
By Annalisa Berns
Being faced with a pandemic was an overwhelming, stressful and unexpected challenge. Operating a business during a pandemic may have felt impossible. Finding and keeping staff was at the top of the list of difficulties. Learning continuously-changing safety protocols and keeping lines of communication open continue to be an obstacle course for mental health and wellbeing.
Now that some of the dust is settling, there are plenty of lessons learned. We interviewed three professionals to get their insights, feedback and resources for managing mental health. Some answers are edited for clarity and brevity.
Cofounder of Get MotiVETed, RYT 200, Certified Personal Coach, veterinary technician and team leader, www.getmotiveted.com
If you could tell someone in pet services one thing at this challenging time, what would it be?
It’s temporary. Mindfulness reminds us that everything is temporary and when you can bring your awareness into the moment, it’s quite freeing; things become less daunting.
It can be overwhelming. What is a possible first step?
Self-reliance is the first step. We can’t wait for the system or others to change before we, ourselves, decide to be happy, at peace and/or fulfilled. Where your attention goes, energy flows and when you choose to pursue your wellbeing, things begin to align. The choices are made each day, throughout the day, in the moments, to support you and your wellbeing, or disempower you, leaving you in victim mode.
I encourage people to “start where they are.” That means that if you’ve never ran a marathon, you might start by walking. In this case, if you’re just beginning to shine light on the dark areas in your life, take baby steps that make sense for your current state and use the resources at hand—be it a book, video, podcast, journaling, a mental health professional and so forth.
What are some “lessons learned” during COVID about our mental and emotional health and positive changes we can make?
This pandemic has been a wakeup call. It’s common to become complacent in daily life, taking the simplest things for granted. When we move into a state of being conscious leaders, we allow ourselves to be more open and willing to learn rather than being committed to being “right” or doing things the way they have historically been done just for the sake of repetition. We now see that the world can function and, in some ways, thrive when we seek creative and alternative solutions to integrate work and home, use technology to its full potential, manage clients’ expectations, show a little compassion and give ourselves a bit of grace. The same concept can be applied to one’s wellbeing. We can choose to learn and change course.
We have to be willing to adapt; we have to be willing to be more intentional with our approach in life and in our industry. When we no longer resist change, we can better navigate it.
Why is it important to openly talk about mental health?
You realize you are not alone, you inspire others and, not only can you find support, but you can be support. It breaks the stigma and it enhances the likelihood people will connect with proper resources and build a support network. Hope never falters, nor gives up. Hope can be the beacon of light that someone needs to get through difficult times. By talking about it, we shine light where there is darkness.
What can a boss or business owner do to support their positive mental health, and their employees’, too?
The best way leaders can create a work culture infused with wellbeing is to model healthy behaviors, mindset and skills. Leaders can also provide the necessary resources that their team members can access with minimal obstacles. A number of different ways can help a team bring wellbeing to the forefront of an organization. Schedule a designated time for these topics, re-evaluate benefits packages to develop a more robust selection, create holistic wellbeing programs, appoint wellbeing liaisons, allocate resources and offer continuous training in wellbeing. Regularly and openly discussing challenges and successes encourages a safe environment for others to do the same. It’s important to discover and adjust what works best for your team.
Dr. Nneka Jon-Ubabuco
DNP, APRN, PMHNP-BC and MOOD Clinician, www.moodhealth.com
What are some “lessons learned” during the COVID-19 pandemic about mental and emotional health?
COVID was so stressful for all of us and it made us really evaluate our everyday, routine practices that contributed to our emotional wellness. Limited or no access to hobbies, people and places that we would frequent was very difficult. Many of us lost jobs, housing, economic growth opportunities and even relationships. I think the most valuable lesson learned is we have to prioritize our emotional and mental health which can be the difference in how we handle these life stressors.
We can all agree that the human experience can be a difficult journey. Mental health issues affect everyone, more so than any physical condition. We need to talk openly, honestly and frequently about our mental health to decrease stigma and increase the chance of people being able to access the services that they need.
How does someone know if they need the help of a mental health professional?
If their stressors are becoming unmanageable.
If there is a disruption in their quality of life, relationships, or patterns of behavior that might be unhealthy or negative.
Staffing is particularly challenging at this time. What is the most important thing a business owner can do to support their employees’ positive mental health?
Think of what impact you are making on their lives. This can be done in many ways, one of which can be showing them how valued and appreciated they are and taking an interest in their personal lives.
If you could tell an animal care provider one thing at this challenging time, what would it be?
Pets are important members of our families and they bring us so much joy. They can really help us with our emotional health struggles and limitations. For someone in pet services, I would say to remember that what you do, in any capacity, is really helping our furry friends and us by extension. We want to feel that our loved ones are being well taken care of. Thank you for all that you do!
LCSW in California, with clients in the animal care industry, www.timeoutwithin.com
How can we deal with stress at such a challenging time?
Be prepared for the unexpected by using resources, information and tools to alleviate undue stress. So many people realized during the COVID shutdowns that isolation can be detrimental to their emotional wellbeing. In some family situations, the lack of space among family members created disharmony and chaos which resulted in distress, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, hopelessness and helplessness. Lessons we all can take from this experience include building healthy coping skills, daily exercise routines and overall healthy nutritional habits.
The use of a personal journal to self-express is a beneficial tool for one to gain a sense of their thought processes, gain self-awareness, reconnect with creativity, problem-solve and make decisions in a way that does not create conflict with others. Journaling enables a “time out” with oneself to gain a sense of what their needs are in the situation. The use of meditation, yoga, qigong, and energy work are valuable and beneficial for overall wellbeing.
How are people coping now and looking back?
Left on our own, at times, negative thoughts may create havoc in our problem-solving and decision-making processes. Talking with a Clinical Mental Health/Behavioral Therapist or a confidential friend enables one to express their needs and concerns in a confidential setting, free from judgments and criticisms.
Many people used their isolation time to be creative with art projects, garden projects, puzzles, home-improvement or clearing out excess belongings not being used. Simply clearing space in your home and mind opens avenues for newness to enter in. Use quiet time to look at life from a new perspective to decide what is essential for your happiness and what needs to be eliminated.
If someone is stuck in a funk, or knows they aren’t feeling well emotionally, when should they get help?
There are a few ways to know when it is time to seek professional counseling. One way is when someone develops problems or changes with daily living routines, like being unmotivated or feeling depressed. If other people in your life notice and speak to you about these behavioral or mood changes, it might be time to find help. In addition, counseling may be beneficial if you are struggling with making decisions and/or life choices and need someone to provide guidance, support and resources.
What can an employer do to support their own positive mental health as well as their employees’?
Employers can educate themselves to notice signs and symptoms of mental and emotional health deterioration among themselves and employees, and to act on them before problems become worse. Research studies support the positive workplace effects of having on-site employee group classes in meditation, yoga, qigong or energy balancing. These classes help overall wellbeing and manage stress. Staff Development Retreats are beneficial and introduce staff to self-improvement techniques.
If you are stuck in a funk or stressors in life are unmanageable, here are some suggestions from our experts on how to get help:
- Contact your existing medical provider and ask for a referral to a behavioral health specialist within your network of providers.
- Psychology Today (www.psychologytoday.com) is a fairly large database of psychiatric providers. You can find medication management, therapy, and even support groups in your area.
- Online telemental health services like MOOD (www.moodhealth.com ) offer medication management and therapy from the safety and comfort of your own home.
- If you are not sure what you need or just want some more education, check out NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and they also provide emotional health support services.
- Get MotiVETed (www.getmotiveted.com) is a resource for the veterinary community, but has an insightful blog that applies to all people in animal care jobs. There is a free open forum discussion with Dr. Barry Feldman, PhD discussing wellbeing and mental health topics.
- American Red Cross offers information and resources at www.redcross.org , including COVID-19 bereavement resources.
- 800-985-5990 is a 24/7 national hotline (call or text) for immediate crisis counseling for people experiencing emotional distress related to any disaster or COVID-19.
- 833-492-0094 provides emotional support for frontline workers.
- 800-273-8255 is a Suicide Prevention Lifeline.