Shift done!! Phew.
Between the three emergencies, 24 patients and a fluid pump that just wouldn’t cooperate it was a doozy. Walking to my car I find myself looking forward to the ride home: my “me” time to jam out to my favorite playlist and feed my inner rockstar before I get to go home and feed the horses. I knew I always looked forward to my “rockstar time” ...what I never realized is that there is a name for it.
This “me” time…These moments of “transition between one role or task and the next” is what peak performance researcher Dr. Adam Fraser refers to as the “third space.” Now no, this isn’t meant to be a literal space, but rather a mental space where we can allow ourselves to make the shift between “work self” and “home self” and most importantly leave “work self” where it belongs - at work!
Now I know that we are all veterinary professionals here…and I see you…those of you in the back saying “now wait a second…there IS something called the third space and it is that place where fluid wrongfully ends up, causing our patients to have a pretty bad day.” And yes! I thought the exact same thing when I heard this term…I have seen many patients with interstitial fluid in their third space due to a lack of proper protein levels. The imbalance causes fluid to spill over into the body where it doesn’t normally go - can we all say “parasitic puppy belly”??
These two problems are actually quite similar! Uh oh…I sense a metaphor here!
If we think of the fluid in our body as stress, the protein in our bloodstream as wellness, and the goal of regulating the two as our ability to leave our work selves at work then the “third space ritual” concept should start to sink in.
As the level of stress in our bodies increases, we need to ensure that we are monitoring our wellbeing appropriately.
If we neglect our personal wellbeing, our metaphorical levels of “wellness protein” will decrease and allow the “fluidy stress” to leak out and fill up the interstitial space otherwise known as the family dinner table, or an afternoon at the farmer's market.
In order to keep everything in balance we could consider adding third space rituals to our treatment plan to promote maximum wellness levels for OURSELVES! By increasing our “wellness proteins” through self-care, we can effectively draw the unwanted stress from our personal lives and dilute it back into the bloodstream of our work life.
Spillover of work stress into our personal lives is all too common, especially for veterinary professionals. This field we have chosen tends to be more of a lifestyle than a career, which fuels the compassion we carry towards our patients and clients. Problem is, we find it difficult to detach from this compassion. I know all of you have stayed up late worrying about a patient or found yourself offering veterinary advice to Aunt Sally at the family reunion. This is ultimately a wonderful thing, but in order to maintain that level of compassion we need to regulate the inevitable stress that we face. Thankfully, Dr. Fraser has researched and explained “third space rituals” and how they can help with this. He has broken up these useful little rituals into three basic steps.
Reflect. Take a moment and think about your day. What went well for you and how that made you feel.
Rest. Find that non-work related activity that makes you smile and allows you to refocus on what's next.
Reset. Determine your intention for the next task. How do you want to behave? How do you want to show up in the world?
Creating a ritual and making a habit of it will encourage your brain to make this switchover. It can be anything from walking your dog, listening to a favorite podcast, meditating at yoga class or my personal favorite - blasting my playlist at max volume and indulging my inner rockstar. The big takeaway here is that it doesn’t really matter WHAT you do…as long as you DO it.
Giving our brains permission to convert and leave the work stress behind will boost our wellbeing and allow us to focus on how we want to behave as we move to the next step in our day. These short, basic rituals are a simple and straightforward way to reflect, rest and reset. To help ensure that you are your best self when meeting up with your friends for dinner after work and to leave that awful beeping pump back in the hospital - where it belongs!