10 tips for managing stress at vet school

Posted on March 08, 2019 by Rosie Allister

Student life can be brilliant, but it there are potential stresses too, and particular challenges associated with veterinary study. These affect everyone and everyone develops their own ways of managing. Regardless of how stressed you’re feeling right now, there will be ups and downs throughout your time at university and it’s worth thinking ahead and planning for them now. Here are 10 things which can help to manage stress during veterinary training.

Talk to someone

Sharing any stresses or worries at an early stage can help give some perspective on what helps and prevent them getting worse. Think about who you feel comfortable confiding in, whether this is a trusted friend, family members, a tutor or another person at university.

Ask for help

If stress goes on for too long it can cause other issues and also make things feel worse. Nobody can manage every situation single handed and knowing when to ask for help is a sign of strength.

Use supports available at university

Each university has a number of services to support students with challenges, including counselling, peer supporters, Nightline and student health services. Worries about debt are common and universities offer financial advice and hardship funding. Where students have mental health problems or disabilities which are affecting their studies, universities can support via health services, disability services, and reasonable adjustments.

Maintain friendships

Social contact is so important for maintaining wellbeing and managing stress. It’s important to make time to have fun and talk with close confidants. Friends you make at vet school can be friends for life, but for keeping a sense of perspective it’s also important to maintain contact with friends outside of the profession.

Maintain interests outside veterinary studies

With the amount of study expected it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s important to have activities that allow you to switch off from thinking about studies, that you enjoy, and that allow you to maintain a sense of identity beyond only being a vet student.

Do things you enjoy

This should go without saying but sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of enjoyment among the demands of student life.

Spend time with animals

Let’s face it, enjoying spending time with animals may be one of the reasons we applied in the first place, and it’s important that we don’t lose sight of what we enjoy. It’s important to find joy in the experience of clinical placements. If you don’t have any pets of your own, think about other ways you can meet this need for contact with animals – perhaps through animals owned by friends and family or by volunteering.

Keep physically active

When all the focus is on studying it’s important to remember that we need to exercise our bodies as well as our brains. Physical activity can take many forms and you can choose something that works for you, whether it’s being part of a sports team, exercising by oneself or games played in pairs such as squash or tennis.

Be aware of the impact of high expectations and perfectionism

Although the stereotype is of students pushing themselves through perfectionist tendencies, many of us have also experienced external pressures, whether from family, people contributing to fees, or elsewhere. It’s important to be aware of this and consider how to manage it and maintain perspective. This is where talking to people and asking for help can be really important.

Do things that make you feel competent and capable

When you’re surrounded by other intelligent, energetic students it’s easy to feel as though everyone else is doing better than you, when the reality is that almost everyone feels secretly overwhelmed at times. A sense of competence and capability within veterinary practice will come with experience but it’s really hard to feel this as a student – which is why it’s important to have outside interests that you are good at and can offer you that sense of satisfaction.

More information

If you’d like to talk to someone in confidence, Vetlife Helpline is available 24 hours a day on 0303 040 2551 or via www.vetlife.org.uk

Rosie Allister

Written by Rosie Allister

Rosie is Vetlife Helpline Manager. She has been researching veterinary wellbeing since 2008 and has particular interest in mental health, workplace wellbeing, supporting vet students during the transition to practice, and veterinary identity. She runs workshops and training, publishes, and regularly speaks in the UK and internationally on veterinary mental health. She is a member of the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative Task Force and has also volunteered with Samaritans for eleven years. She’s owned by a dog who likes running even more than she does.