Being anxious in certain situations is normal however when we are feeling anxious in everyday situations it becomes a big problem.
Anxiety is a stress response it makes us sweat, it causes us to shake, it makes us feel nauseous and in some instances leads to a full blown panic attack. Persistent anxiety makes us more susceptible to illness and indeed can make us think that we are suffering from physical illness.
When we suffer from anxiety, we are often unaware of what the root cause of our worries and we can become anxious at random times making us feel that we are not in control of our minds and bodies. This leads to us to become more anxious as we do not understand why we are feeling anxious and we can be dragged down by negative thoughts which in turn feed our inner critic and may end in us suffering from depression. Depression and anxiety are commonly experienced together.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool in the battle against anxiety. When we are feeling anxious, we need to take some time out to ask ourselves what is making us anxious. It may be that the situation we are facing reminds us of past events which we are not immediately aware of which we have not dealt with effectively. It may be that our anxiety response is a result of negative thoughts creating a physical response in our bodies. It may be that our inner critic is telling us that we are not able to deal with what is in front of us so we start to worry and stress.
Mindfulness allows us to examine why we are feeling how we are feeling. We can become aware of what thoughts are leading us to feeling anxious, we can tell ourselves that anxiety can be normal and question if the response is appropriate in any given situation. By gathering evidence about the sources of our anxiety we are giving ourselves the opportunity to address them effectively.
Mindfulness gives us a chance to regain control of our thoughts and emotions and the opportunity lead a more enjoyable life.
We all have our inner critic who tells us that we should know better, that everyone else knows better than we do, that we are not worthy of respect, that we must try harder and work longer than everyone else, that we are useless. It is our inner critic that also puts imaginary words into other peoples’ mouth to support the image that our inner critic has of us.
Some of us pay too much attention to our inner critic and accept its criticisms as the truth.
However, our inner critic’s views are not based in reality. They are thoughts that spring into our mind independent of and usually unrelated to what is happening around us at the time. In themselves these thoughts are not harmful, but when we start to listen to them and accept them as the truth, they will drag us down and prevent us from fulfilling our potential.
Unfortunately, some of us are all too ready to listen to these thoughts and these thoughts start to lead to emotions of sadness and depression and to self-doubt and low self-esteem.
We cannot, nor should we try to, control or stop our thoughts. But, being aware of our thoughts we can examine them and question their truth, this is the essence of mindfulness.
When we start practising mindfulness, we are taught to spend time sitting quietly, focussing on our breath and observing our thoughts as the flit in and out of our consciousness. Some people mistaking think that we are trying to stop our thoughts during this mindful meditation practice, but if anyone tries to stop their thoughts they will end in failure.
It is no more possible to stop thoughts from occurring than it is to stop breathing.
The value of mindful meditation is that it teaches us to accept our thoughts as just thoughts. As we observe our thoughts, we can develop a curiosity about them, we can start to ask ourselves “where did that thought come from?” “how does that thought make me feel?”. By questioning our thoughts we can start to realise that they have an intimate connection with our emotions and that if we dwell on critical thoughts that are constantly nagging at us we will be dragged into a quagmire of negative emotions which will feed the negative thoughts that our inner critic thrives on and gives our inner critic an ever louder voice.
We cannot eradicate our inner critic, it is part of us, but with mindfulness we start to listen to it with objectivity and at the same time we can listen to the positive thoughts that we also have.
Our critical thoughts can be useful in identifying gaps in our knowledge, but rather than telling ourselves that a gap in our knowledge makes us weak and useless, we can find the necessary resources and time to fill these gaps. We can also come to understand that no one person can know everything about everything and so it is quite acceptable to ask for help. It is a sign of strength that we are comfortable to ask for help.
By paying equal attention to or more positive thoughts, our inner support so to speak, we become more aware of our strengths and abilities and so develop our self-worth and self-esteem.
In the early stages of mindfulness practise this will all seem to be a daunting and possibly impossible task, but this is just our inner critic setting us up for failure. As time goes by the observation of thoughts and emotions becomes part of our every day being. And as we stop giving our inner critic so much credence its voice will start to quieten and we can learn to accept that we are good enough, and indeed better and more capable than we thought.
Imposter syndrome is common. It stems from self-doubt and perfectionism and creates feelings of not being good enough, that everyone else knows more than we do. We take any criticism as proof that we are rubbish and are constantly stressed by the feeling of “being found out” and we feel that we have to constantly push ourselves harder and harder to prove our worth.
Imposter syndrome is extremely debilitating and can stop us from reaching our full potential, but it can be countered to some extent using mindfulness techniques.
The reasons that we suffer from imposter syndrome are mainly based on unfounded evidence which circulates in our minds that keeps telling us we are not good enough. By being mindful we develop awareness of the truth of situations, we can appreciate what we do well, how we help people and our patients. We can hear the appreciation that we get from those we help and we are aware of how much we know and what our skills are.
By being mindful we can quieten our inner critic, boost our self-confidence and realise that we are where we are because we have worked hard and deserve to be here. This process can also lead us to understand where the gaps in our knowledge and skills are in a way that we can accept that nobody can know everything but we can learn new things with the appropriate training.
On Tuesday morning this week I gave a 15 minute presentation to Tameside Chamber of Commerce as part of their #Actionforbusiness series of events. There were about 60 delegates who listened to me talking about the use of mindfulness and developing a reflective and non-judgemental environment at work. My talk was loosely based on my last post and although I used the veterinary environment as an example, the focus was on how these simple techniques can be applied to any environment. I was delighted by the attention that I was given, the questions that followed and the numerous delegates who came up to me afterwards and told me how much they enjoyed the presentation.
I am hopeful that this will open up more opportunities for me to spread the mindfulness word. Stay tuned and watch this space.
Two of the great pieces of advice from the WellVet were; “Bridge the intention gap” and that you can only ask for what you need when you know what it is that you need.
I am sure we are all familiar with having good intentions especially after hearing a great speaker or reading an article or book that really resonates with us. And then returning to everyday life we are swept away by the tsunami of demands and deadlines and to keep our heads above water we cling to the life raft of familiarity and routine to get us through the day. The good intentions are left behind and are soon forgotten as we persist in doing what we have always done. This is the intention gap.
The intention gap arise as we tend to be stuck in the “doing mode” of living where we are always focussed on the next task, of other demands that we have on our time and we feel like we will never get to the end of what we need to do. The (better) alternative to this doing mode is adopting the “being mode” of living. In the being mode we develop an awareness of what we are doing at any given minute, giving it our full attention and note how we are feeling and how what we are doing is affecting us. It is only the moment that we are in that we can interact with, and it is only by getting the most out of every moment that we can improve on what we do next. In the being mode of living we give ourselves the opportunity to incorporate the great ideas and advice that we have been given and give them a chance to help us. If we find that we can achieve better results we can continue to use the new approaches that we have learned and if we find they do not work for us we can understand why and become curious about what it is that we need to help us get more out of life.
This is another benefit of the being mode of living, we can discover what it is that we really need to help us. We stop assuming that the present way of doing things s the only way. We become curious. We can start to see what is helpful and what is not to us as individuals. Knowing and recognising what works for us, what excites us, what brings success to what we are involved with brings us so much more satisfaction and success as measured by our improved wellbeing. When our wellbeing improves our interaction with others improves and everyone develops. When we truly know what it is that we need than we can ask for help in obtaining it. This will probably not be an overnight success, but rather a continuous personal journey where we feel confident in asking for help, explain why we would like this help and to be able to communicate what the benefits that this will bring to us and to those around us.
If we can all start to think about stopping just being and accepting that what is here and now is the future and starting to develop the being mode of life we will all benefit.
“Why fitting your own oxygen mask is key” was the title of one of the talks at WellVet Weekend 2019 delivered by Dan Tipney a former athlete, coach, now a pilot and founding member of VetLed. Although the title refers to what to do in a mid-air emergency its message holds true when we are talking about looking after ourselves- if we do not look after ourselves we are not in a position to help others.
I was asked during the weekend how can we help others? I think that it is a challenge to give appropriate advice to others without proper training in counselling. However, by looking after our own physical and mental health we build up our own resilience and by adopting a non-judgemental approach as discussed in previous posts we put ourselves in a position to be able to listen to those in difficulty when they feel able to talk. Being there to listen to people when the feel ready to talk is quite possibly the most helpful thing we can do, and puts us in a position to “fit their oxygen mask” by advising them where to get help for example at Vetlife.
Another way of helping others is for those of us who have experienced health issues to be open about them and what measures have helped us, demonstrating that life can get better with the right support. This where initiatives such as the WellVet Weekend and Vetled are invaluable and we can build resources to help all within the profession, but remember each and every one of us is responsible for our own wellbeing.
Sometimes it can seem selfish when we give ourselves time for ourselves but in reality it helps everyone. By being well, we encourage others to be well too.
The WellVet Weekend 2019 has been an inspirational event full of positivity showing that there is a growing movement of change within the profession. I was a member of the panel in the first plenary session where we asked the questions how do we learn to identify our emotions and their causes and how we can manage them for ourselves and in our teams. Here are my thoughts, not a word for word presentation of what we discussed, on this subject.
WellVet 2019, Learning to accept, acknowledge and manage emotions in practice.
Why is this important?
Emotions are an important part of being human, they help us appreciate what we like and what we do not.
In our everyday working life we experience a wide range of emotions, from happiness to a successful treatment outcome, to sadness when a patient has to be euthanised, anxiety when faced with a busy consulting session or anger when a client complains.
These emotions create thoughts which will lead to feelings which in turn lead to impulses and reactions within our bodies.
Strong emotions are often associated with the generation of negative thoughts which if allowed to can lower our mood and increase our stress levels. Left unaddressed this can lead to more stress.
The thoughts that arise as a result of the experience of emotions will largely be based on our past experiences and not necessarily on the reality of the situation in front of us and can lead us to impulsive actions which will not necessarily be the best way to deal with that situation.
Giving ourselves time to accept our emotions gives us a chance to identify what is the true cause of the emotion can help us deal with situations more effectively. It will also help us identify areas of stress and anxiety and with practice this gives us the opportunity to understand what the stressors are and how to manage them for the better.
Let us look at examples of how emotions can affect us in practice and some ideas of how we can deal with them.
We cannot avoid emotions and we must not be tempted to ignore them.
It is vital that we become aware of our emotions and the thoughts that lead to these emotions. This is best done by taking a little time out, creating a moment of quietness and looking at how we feel, what made us feel this way and how these feelings are affecting our bodies. If we can do this and incorporate it into our everyday lives we will become better able to identify what enhances our mood and what affects it negatively and importantly allow us to identify negative thoughts before they start to spiral downwards dragging us down with them.
This is one of the cornerstones of mindfulness, something you will hear more on this weekend, but I want to talk about two aspects of mindfulness which have helped me deal with emotions.
First of all treat all clients the same. Offer them the same gold standard treatments, never make a judgement on their ability or willingness to follow your advice. Listen to your clients carefully, be empathic towards them, be interested in their pets and don’t jump to conclusions without discovering all the facts required.
The benefits of this approach are that you will develop a better relationship with you clients, they will be more likely to take your advice, they will come to you for advice more readily and they will build up a feeling of trust in their relationship with you. This trust is particularly important when you are unsure of what the problem with their pet is, you will be more able to have an open discussion about the options available. I firmly believe that this trust extends to the relationship we have with ourselves, it gives us confidence to not be correct all the time and to admit when we need help.
Secondly, treat your colleagues with respect. Never make judgements on their actions, especially in the situation of second opinions. You may think that they are way of the mark, but you do not know the full facts of their dealings with the client, or indeed what is going on in their life that may influence their decision making. Rather approach the patient and client without any preconceptions and make your own recommendations. If you see a that a colleague is making lots of questionable decisions have the courage and compassion to have a private word with them, never berate them as this will always be counterproductive both to them and to yourself.
Thirdly, don’t be judgemental on yourselves.
Live in the moment.
Undoubtably this is the cornerstone of mindfulness. Simply it means exactly what it says, developing an awareness of what you are doing at any moment, fully concentrating on what you are doing. Although I use the word doing in that last sentence, mindfulness encourages us to be rather than to do. Adopting the “being” mode of life means paying attention to what is happening right here right now. With practice this allows us to become aware of our thoughts and emotions and their effects on our bodies. Importantly this applies to the positive emotions thoughts as well as the negatives because all too often we give the negative emotions more attention than the positives. Being aware of the positives helps us by allowing us to build up the resilience we need to deal and cope with difficult and challenging situations.
Emotions are part of life.
Learn to be aware of your emotions and the thoughts associated with them both positive and negative.
Observe what thoughts and events are associated with your emotions and accept them in a non-judgemental way and be kind to yourselves.