Our organization is very concerned about our mental health, and for good reason. I have seen co-workers' lives crumble under the stress of life and our job at different locations. I have seen co-workers be admitted to inpatient psychiatric treatment, I have seen them have mental breakdowns, and we have even had some suicides. Because of all of this combined, I have had to attend a lot of presentations (which are usually very interesting) where we are told over and over again that it isn't a matter of if, but a matter of when vicarious trauma and PTSD will happen to us and how it will manifest itself. The presentations are given to us by Psychiatrists, Neurobiologists, and Foresnic Psychologists.
We are given screenings and warned about the signs that we need to be aware of because some of them will sneak up on you. So what does this have to do with horses? In every single one of these presentations self-care in the form of a hobby is talked about and emphasized. It doesn't matter what your hobby is. Or it could be something like taking your kid to the park regularly, just SOMETHING. Something that you do regularly that you enjoy and look forward to.
A big part of why I can handle what my career (and life) throws at me is because of horses (surprise, right?). I'm being totally serious though. I can't count how many times I have heard co-workers, and friends with other stressful jobs that expose you to things no one wants to see say things like "man, I need a hobby. I don't do anything when I go home," or "you're always happy when you talk about your horses, I need something that makes me that happy." Yeah, you do. That's seriously detrimental if you don't.
If you are reading this blog, then you are most likely lucky enough that you have found that happiness in horses too. The whole point of this post is that sometimes I look at stressful days like a battle and I figure out a strategy that will allow me to get my work done and still go ride. Some days, if I get stressed or have to deal with something severely disturbing thinking about what I'm going to do for my ride(s) that day helps take my mind off of it. Personally, I find it hard to think of anything negative while riding. There have been days where I am exhausted and I think "you know what? I'm just going to go groom them and hang out with them." Or there are some days I can barely remember my own name (court, trial prep, attending law enforcement interviews are mentally and emotionally draining) and instead of doing whatever I had planned, we just go for a quiet walk.
I forget who made the post, but somewhere out in Facebook land I have seen a post from a pro saying your horse is not your therapist. That's true and I 100% agree, don't take your crappy day or life situations out on your horse, they don't deserve that, and that is not what they are there for. However, sometimes a quiet walk is what you need. Something that takes no real concentration, just time with your horse(s). As I said earlier, some days I have to look at work like a battle and make a conscious decision that it's not going to win. I WILL ride my horse(s) that day. I'm usually able to keep a riding 5-6 days a week schedule without issue because I strategize my work days/week in a way that will still let me ride. Sometimes that means getting up extra early to ride before work because I know I won't be out of work until late that day because of a particular thing we are doing.
My point is, if riding is your hobby and is what you look forward to (or driving, or grooming, or whatever you do with your horse) you need to make it a priority. Too many people let it slip down the priority list because of other stresses. They get home and think, meh, I'll ride tomorrow and end up sitting on their couch all night staring at their cell phone. GO. OUT. SIDE. It's not good for you to just let your hobby slip away, and honestly according to all of these professionals, that's the start of a warning sign that will snowball.
I'm sure many of you have stressful jobs that are stressful for a myriad of reasons. Even if you don't deal with the things nightmares are made of on a daily basis, stress is stress. It's all relative and it will all wear us down at some point. Sometimes you may have to re-organize or go through some extra hassle to make that time for your hobby but you NEED to do it. I've watched co-workers gradually push away hobbies without even realizing it then hear them reminiscing about when they used to spend time doing their hobby and how much they miss it because they love it. DO NOT let it slip away from you.
Ok, so maybe you have to get up earlier one or two days that week, or maybe you'll get home a little later one or two days that week, or maybe you have to re-arrange your horse schedule a little bit for the week, and maybe that all sounds like a big pain in the ass that will only add more stress. But it will be worth it to get to that time that you look so forward to and enjoy so much.
Don't take this as continuing to hang out with your horses will cure any mental health struggles you may be having. If you are finding that you don't look forward to riding, or whatever it may be that you loved so much, that may be a red flag that something more serious is going on. I know that going for a ride can't cure all your should always be a priority (doesn't have to be #1, but it should be high up on the list), and more importantly, you deserve to have time for it.