5 Anxiety Hacks for Your Shelter Med Team (and everybody else)

VETgirl recently hosted a free YouTube LIVE event with Jeannine Moga, MA, MSW, LCSW, and Chief Happiness Officer at VETgirl. With more than 17 years working with veterinary teams, Moga shared a wealth of start-right-now tips in her 30-minute presentation, “Taming anxiety in veterinary medicine: Biohacks to reduce overwhelm in an overwhelming time.” While the event was targeted to veterinarians and veterinary teams, who in particular have felt a great deal of stress from adjusting to curbside veterinary medicine, all working in animal sheltering can benefit from the following tips.

Know Your Anxiety Style

The good news is that anxiety is normal—and, shares Moga, “The more we worry, the better we get at it.” Anxiety causes some people to underfunction; these people feel so overwhelmed they tend to shut down, zone out, are unable to complete daily responsibilities, have trouble making decisions. Overfunctioners, on the other hand—and Moga suspects most veterinarians and vet teams fall in this category—work harder under great anxiety as a way to control it.  “The problem,” she says, “is that overfunctioners take on the work of underfunctioners, which only creates worse anxiety.” And continues the cycle. Recognizing either of these patterns can help you pause and instead focus on resetting your nervous system.

Box Breathing

You may have heard of this technique, and with good reason—it works. And, it only takes 16 seconds—so even if you feel so stressed you can’t take a lunch break, run to the bathroom for half a minute, do this and you’ll still have 14 seconds left over! 

When anxiety hits, here is your first line of defense: 

  • Breathe in through the nose for 4 counts.
  • Hold the breath for 4 counts.
  • Exhale through the mouth for 4 counts.
  • Hold the breath for 4 counts.
  • Repeat or let the breath turn to normal.

Move It

One of the easiest ways to manage anxiety and allow it to discharge, says Moga, is to move. This could be anything that raises your heart rate and respiratory rate (in a good way!)—drop and do a 60-second plank, take a short walk, dance to your favorite bad 80s song… Movement allows the emotion lodged in your body to pass through it.

Name It & Tame It

This is about emotional fluency, and being able to recognize and name what you are feeling. It’s not just that I’m anxious, I’m feeling ___________. Filling in the blank helps you put your finger on what’s really going on. Moga suggests using the Emotion Wheel as a tool to help in this process. (Here’s one example of many; you can Google “Emotion Wheel” to find pdfs.)


Limit Your Worry Time

Go ahead, encourages Moga. Worry! “Allow yourself the time and space to worry like it’s an Olympic sport.” The key is to keep it to 10-15 minutes (set the timer on your phone) and then stop—time to change that channel in your brain!

Great stuff, right? Watch the entire event on YouTube for more tips like this, and check out VETgirl, a podcast and webinar service offering online veterinary CE, for their upcoming offerings.

Learn More

6 Mantras of Cross-Team Collaboration
COVID-19 Coping Skills: Increasing Resilience
Register for our Upcoming Webinar, 9/2: Positive Perseverance: Leading During Crisis 
Purchase the Shelter Medicine & Leadership Package, which includes a popular session about awakening the resilience within you


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