Vet Support NI helps colleagues through disruption

Vet Support NI helps colleagues through disruption

Vet Support NI has been continuing to support colleagues across Northern Ireland during the COVID-19 disturbances. Here, the group tells NIVT about its involvement and explains the importance of maintaining emotional health and wellbeing…

UCD Veterinary School is to be congratulated for its role in providing opportunities to its students to learn about the services offered by Vet Support NI. Pat Hart, Fiona McFarland, David McKeown and John Hill recently provided the students with some psychoeducation in the form of interactive webinars on why we become stressed, and described and demonstrated the tools for staying calm, despite our circumstances. These were very well received, and it is gratifying that the importance of good mental health is now becoming a standard part of veterinary education.

Although the current risk from coronavirus disease is reduced, we know that the associated turmoil could be around for some time. The upset to our emotional wellbeing can be huge and have a big impact on our lifestyle, relationships, our sense of achievement and happiness. 

We are not just perturbed by the threat of disease, the changes are also perceived by our brains as a threat, so our body is moment-by-moment preparing for ‘fight or flight’. The resulting surges of adrenalin and cortisol production can leave us in overwhelm, reduce our levels of restorative sleep, cause fatigue, leave us irritable, frustrated and less efficient, blaming our colleagues or loved ones and reducing our immunity.  If it persists it can lead to symptoms such as palpitations, butterflies, sweating, anxiety, panic, anger outbursts and depression. It is important to control our own personal fear and anger and help others to stay calm and rational.

• It is not hard to see how the Covid19 and the enforced ‘new order of things’ can make it very difficult for us to get these needs met in a meaningful way.
• We all have human needs in life – a need for some control over our lives, having security, achieving meaningful goals, experiencing teamwork, having emotional connection to others and intimacy, community involvement, having status and a meaning or purpose. 
• When these needs are not met, our emotions can overwhelm us. The frustration, fear, anxiety, impatience, and sadness can boil over and lead to anxiety, depression or apathy.
• Those who have had to work during the outbreak may find themselves overworked and have the increased risk of getting the disease, but their immunity is boosted by having at least some of their human needs met through work.
• Those who have to stay at home may not have had their human needs met as they didn’t have as many options for meeting friends and loved ones face-to-face, achieving meaningful goals, being involved in community activities or having holidays.
• When our needs for are not being met, we must control the surges of stress hormones.

What can you do to help yourself and others? 

• 2.5 to three of hours aerobic exercise per week to boost serotonin, the happiness hormone.
• Stimulate the rest and digest (parasympathetic) nervous system four or five times daily by using tools such as muscle relaxation exercises or 7:11 breathing. For details on these exercises see 
• If you are away from work, set yourself goals to help get your human needs met and get a boost of dopamine and endorphins. Perhaps do things you always wanted to, such as learning a new skill, cooking healthy meals or becoming a creative gardener.  
• If you are distressed please contact a Vet Support NI volunteer

Please remember, Vet Support NI is here to help, listen and support. We provide confidential support and we know that this is one of the hardest things we have ever had to face, but we must face it together and support each other where possible. 

Please note we are now delivering practice workshops via Zoom and are willing to facilitate this to help your team. 

Our thanks go out to Dr Des Rice who has continued to provide all the volunteers with professional training and guidance so that we can be an ongoing source of help to others.