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Embracing Change

Change

Change brings uncertainty, uncertainty gives rise to anxiety, anxiety can lead to lower mood and depression, low mood and depression makes it difficult to cope with change. But without change we stagnate, we do not develop, we don’t learn, we become bored and boredom makes us susceptible to low mood and depression. Change is also unavoidable, so it is vital that we learn how to cope with change and minimise its negative effects.

The first strategy is to accept that change will happen and that it is normal to feel some anxiety about the uncertainty that accompanies change. 

Secondly, have goals that are important to you. This is important as it gives an opportunity to assess how any changes fit in your journey to reach your goals. It also allows you to make changes that will help you reach your goal giving you control over changes, reducing the uncertainty they bring as they are part of your own plan. When changes are forced upon you take time to reflect on what impact the changes are going to have on you, giving a chance to formulate a plan for yourself which may be to embrace the proposed change or to make your own change, whichever fits in best with your plan to achieve your goals.

Thirdly, be true to your own values. When our values are uppermost in our minds we are less susceptible to uncertainty and anxiety, so when change happens we can base our response on if the change is consistent with our values or not. 

Instigate change yourself based on your values and goals, giving you more control of the process of change. By doing this we get used to change being part of normal life, and so when unexpected change happens the familiarity of the process of change will help us cope in a more positive fashion. 

View change as an opportunity to try something different, to learn a new way of doing things, to develop new skills and knowledge. 

Be mindful of what affects change have on you, are they positive effects, if so, go along with them and see where they take you. If the effects are negative or conflict with your values then make your own change to take you in a direction that is more compatible them and don’t worry about what other people think, it is more important to be true to yourself. 

By being true to yourself there is more certainty, less anxiety and more enjoyment in life. 

Make Time for Reflection

Mindful Minutes Expanded: Make Time for Reflection

As we develop our mindfulness practice the process of reflection becomes easier.

Reflection is vital for our personal, professional, emotional and spiritual development. Without reflection we do not learn who we are, what makes us happy, what success looks like for us, what lowers our mood, why things happen the way they do. Without reflection we drift from moment to moment, we stagnate, we get bored, we are more inclined to listen to our inner critics, we exist but we do not live.

There are many models for reflection, and a good place to start is by referring to Cambridge University Library’s Reflective Practice Toolkit at 

https://libguides.cam.ac.uk/reflectivepracticetoolkit/introduction

However, it is vital to realise that there is no formula that must be followed. What is important is to ask yourself the questions;

What happened?

Why did that happen?

How did it make me feel?

What could I have done differently?

These questions are easier to answer if we are living in the moment, paying attention to what we are doing and how it is affecting us both physically and emotionally. In other words, if we are living mindfully in the being mode.

The answers to the above questions will enable us to recognise what works well for us and allow ourselves to take credit for achieving a good result, and where our knowledge and ability are lacking allowing us to formulate a plan to improve and/or ask for help when needed. What will work for each of us and what we need to do to develop are entirely unique to us. Reflection allows us to gather evidence about why things happened so we can respond in a non-judgmental, appropriate and beneficial manner, which will help us get more from every minute of our lives.

Reflection is an opportunity to discuss how we are feeling and why events happened in the way they did with friends and colleagues.

Reflection is an opportunity for us to learn where our thoughts come from and to recognise that they are just thoughts and how these thoughts interact with our emotions and even our physical health.

Reflection gives us the opportunity to answer our inner critics negative thoughts by putting things into perspective, a perspective that is uniquely our own. With our perspective on the world around us based on facts we can react to our environment in a way that makes sense to us.

Reflection is a continuous process of review, exploring the questions of why? how?, and what? Modifying our behaviour on the basis of this exploration, reviewing the results of this modification and so on.

Modifying our behaviour helps to modify our thoughts. With the combined techniques of reflection and mindfulness we learn new behaviours which can lead to a more rewarding and fulfilling life. This is the basis of Mindful Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) a proven and powerful tool in the treatment of mental ill-health.

So, please, Make time for reflection.

With reflection we learn what works for us and what choices we need to make to improve.

Without reflection we tend to make choices that are a quick fix but not necessarily the best fix.

Reflection allows us to develop, both in our professional and personal lives. 

Mindful Minutes Part 2

Why is so much importance placed on breathing in mindfulness?

First of all, breathing is always available for us to focus our attention on. By practicing exercises such as the three-minute breath we can train our mind to concentrate on one thing at a time. By training our concentration in this way, we can start to pay closer attention to what is happening to us and more importantly how events are affecting us.

Secondly, our breathing is affected by our hormonal and nervous systems. When we are anxious or stressed our bodies respond without us being aware of what is happening. If these responses go unchecked, they will eventually have a detrimental effect on our well-being as stress hormones build up in our bodies. Our breathing is affected early on in the stress response, it becomes faster and more shallow. When we develop an awareness of this we learn to recognise the causes of our stresses at an earlier opportunity then we otherwise would.

This early awareness of our stressors is vital in our efforts to stay well. If the early changes that stress brings are left unnoticed and unaddressed, they will build up, but eventually they will become too much and we will end up being adversely affected by them. How we react in such situations will vary from individual to individual, but whatever the reaction it will be detrimental to our wellbeing. And if we have allowed stressors to go unnoticed when these adverse reactions occur, we are likely to blame them on the situation in front of us at the time, which is unlikely to be the true root cause of our discomfort. In this situation we are more likely to make inappropriate decisions which will lead to more stress.

An awareness of our breathing, and more importantly changes in our breathing patterns, will give us a profound understanding of how our bodies are reacting to any given situation. This understanding allows us to question whether or not these reactions are appropriate, and so we can develop plans to allow us to feel less stressed by these situations in the future.

The final reason for using breathing as an aid to concentration is the feeling of calm and peace that you will feel at the end of your three-minute breathing exercise. This is something to remember, a safe place if you like, a feeling that you can return to at any time where your mind is relaxed and quiet, where you can let thoughts wander off wherever they will go without following them and being distracted by their random associations, a place where you are truly you.

Mindful Minutes Expanded Part 1

Breathe

Just as it is fundamental to life, breathing is fundamental to the practice of mindfulness.

We cannot help but breathe, but we are most often unaware of our body’s effort involved in moving air in and out of our lungs. This is unfortunate as our breathing can give us an indication of our emotional state which in turn can help us understand how we react to particular situations. When we are calm our breathing is relaxed and efficient, as is our body. When we start to get stressed our breathing rate tends to increase and becomes shallower as the sympathetic nervous system kicks in releasing “stress hormones” into our blood. So how can an awareness of out breathing help us in our practice of mindfulness?

The first exercise in mindfulness practice is the “Three Minute Breath”, a simple but powerful skill which can be used anywhere, anytime to restore calmness and allow us to react more appropriately to a situation. 

As we start our mindfulness practice it is best to set aside a time and place where we will not be disturbed for a few minutes and give yourself permission to have this time to yourself, it is important. Sit comfortably on a chair, feet flat on the floor and hands resting on your lap. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing. Watch as your body moves air into and out of the lungs. No conscious effort is required. As you sit watching your breath you will notice thoughts popping in and out of your mind. Do not allow these thoughts to distract you, let them wander off wherever they may go, don’t follow them, they are unimportant. If you find that thoughts are distracting you, bring your attention back to your breathing. Watch as your breathing finds its own rhythm. As you practice this exercise you will start to feel a calmness spreading throughout your mind and body. Be aware of relaxed state of your body and the quietness of your mind and remember this feeling and then bring your attention back to where you are sitting, noticing sounds and when you are ready, slowly open your eyes. Take a moment to sit quietly and feel the effect of this exercise before resuming whatever tasks that you are doing that day. 

For the best results practice the Three Minute Breathing exercise twice daily to begin with. Do not expect anything from the exercise, just accept whatever you notice. If you start off with the thought of a specific goal you will become distracted with thoughts such as is what I am supposed to feel and notice? Am I doing this correctly? What is the point of this? If you accept that whatever happens happens then you will reap the benefits of this exercise more quickly and begin to notice the benefits it can bring to everyday life, which I will discuss in my next post.

Take care, stay well and don’t judge.

WellVet Virtual 2020: &Me panel session

I was a member of the &Me panel session at this year’s WellVet Virtual event which was well received and is still available to view by attendees of the event and tickets are available for those of you who would like to view the event from www.wellvet.co.uk

Time was limited meaning some of the proposed questions could not be answered, so I thought I would answer them here.

Question:  You say that you have learned how to monitor your thoughts and recognise that are just thoughts as well as how to recognise the voice of your inner critic so you can ignore it. What are your top tips for doing this in your daily life now?

Answer: 

The simple answer to this is mindfulness.

When I started to explore mindfulness, I found that the simple idea of “living in the moment” helped me enormously. It helped in the following ways:

By being aware of how I was feeling at any given moment I could recognise when I was feeling anxious, when I was feeling uncertain about how to proceed and indeed when I felt happy. In this context, the relationship between thoughts, emotions and body must be recognised and with practice this becomes automatic. This gave me the opportunity to identify unhelpful thoughts and to question their legitimacy and look for the evidence to debunk them and quieten my inner critic who was , and still is, quick to make knee-jerk reactions and to tell me that I am not good enough, that I am not up to a task etc. 

This takes effort and is slow at first, but the results speak for themselves, I wish I had understood this earlier!

Question: You say that after therapy you allowed yourself to explore other creative interests of fine art photography and poetry, and that this outlet balances your work life. What held you back in the past, and what has changed to make those outlets more accessible to you now?

Answer:

I always felt that I had a creative side, but I thought that this was incompatible with being a vet, a scientist effectively. This attitude stems back from secondary school where the sciences and that arts were considered polar opposites and so I thought, wrongly, that I was not allowed to be creative. 

During therapy I found my creative side manifesting itself. I had the courage to share my work with other artists and gallery owners which in turn lead me to start exhibiting my work. This helped enormously in boosting my self-esteem and also helped me understand that it did not matter if someone did not like my work and this in turn helped me when I returned to work.

Since returning to part time work, I have continued to pursue my artistic adventure and the relaxation that it brings to me helps m cope better with the stresses of work life.

I would encourage everyone to find an interest which is not related to their work and to explore it to bring a balance to their lives.

Another question that came up in the panel session was; “what is your mantra to help you through the day?” My mantra which I think would serve everyone well is “Don’t Judge”, which is fundamental to mindfulness practice and helps to bring a balance perspective to every situation.

Mindful Minutes

Created for WellVet Virtual 2020 these mindful minutes highlight the essence of mindfulness practice. The accompanying photographs each represent a moment of mindfulness where time expands and I become completely involved in the taking of the picture.

The original idea was to present these between the presentations at the event but unfortunately technical issues prevented this from being possible.

I hope that you enjoy them.

Breathe

Live in the Moment

The Doing Mode of Life

The Being Mode of Life

Don’t Judge

Don’t Let Your Inner Critic Hold You Back

Time For Reflection

You Cannot Change the World

I have sets of A6 cards available with the pictures on one side and transcripts of the scripts on the reverse side for £15 +£1.50 p&p. 10% of the sales will be donated to Vetlife.

Acceptance

Acceptance in mindfulness

In rapidly changing times as we are now facing the importance of acceptance is greater than ever.

Acceptance is an important concept in mindfulness and emphasises the concepts of living in the moment and practicing the being mode of living. We must accept that events happen outside our control and that everything that has happened has brought us to where we are now, this moment. We cannot change the past so there is no point in dwelling on “what ifs” and “if onlys”, however if we acknowledge where we are right now, we can develop and understanding of how we got here. 

With an understanding of how we arrived at where are right now, we can see more clearly what we need to do make the most out of our lives. There will be past events and actions that we are unhappy with which we can accept, leave them in the past and use them as reminders to guide our future actions, or we can dwell on them and fill our mind with regrets and allow our inner critic to use them as evidence of our inadequacy. The latter approach means that we will have a tendency to be depressed, to have low self-esteem and to be unable to see a way forward to time when we will be happy and content. Acceptance is a much healthier approach and clears the way to making better decisions.

When we accept where we are can understand that there are an infinite number of external factors influencing where are at this moment. Just like the past we cannot change these factors and it is better to accept them and not dwell and ruminate on them. 

With acceptance we consign the past to the past, we savour the moment of infinite possibilities that we are in and move to the next moment unrestrained by negative thoughts and regrets, we develop a curiosity and give ourselves the opportunity to try something and to find out if it works for us or not. We accept that there are too many variables for us to control them all, we cannot change the world, but we can ensure that we can make the choices that lead to our own contentment. 

In this present time of rapid change, it is better to accept that we are where we are, we cannot change it. We can, however, view such times as opportunities to adapt, to learn new skills and approaches which will help us move towards our own individual goals and at the same time help others through the uncertainty. Don’t let bad past experiences of change and failure hold you back. Don’t be afraid to fail. It is only by trying something that we will find out if it works or not, and even if it does not work for us it may well work for someone else. Take time to breath, to sit quietly and just be and accept where you are now, this minute, that there is no other place that you could be and make the most of this unique moment of infinite possibilities.

Fleeting Moments

Mindfulness in the time of COVID19

Mindfulness is more important than ever in these changing times. The American army coined the term VUCA for situations that are;

Volatile

Uncertain

Complex

Ambiguous

The present situation certainly fits this description.

Uncertainty is perhaps the biggest challenge we face and it is this that sets up thought processes that can drag our mood down. We start asking ourselves questions beginning with what if…? These questions do not have an answer as the situation is ever changing, the parameters that need to be considered are not clear and we can feel helpless and unable to do anything. We revert to the doing mode of life, we listen to our inner critics telling us we are not in a position to do make changes, we try to protect ourselves with familiarity and hope we can get through the situation. But if we do not adapt and make changes the situation is likely to overwhelm us.

If we adopt the being mode of living, paying attention to what is happen around us we can identify what is helpful and what we can do differently to help us adapt to these changing times. We can recognise that we cannot change the world, but we can adapt to make the situation better for ourselves and in turn those around us. We must not be afraid to make changes, and must accept that not all of them will work, but if we do not make any changes, we will not learn what works and what does not. We must be prepared to “fail fast and carry on”. If we dwell on the what ifs we will fail, and the world will move on and we will have lost our place in it. To find our way in an unfamiliar world presents us more problems and difficulties, it is better to attempt to understand what is happening to us as individuals and adapting, reassessing and adapting again so we can make our way through these changing times. And when we get to the other side of this the world is not going to be the same, but by adapting we will be in a better position and mind set to find our place in it.

So be well, be curious, be prepared to adapt, be unafraid to fail, be open-minded.

Just be.

# Be kind

#Be Kind

The #Be Kind movement is gaining some momentum recently both in the veterinary profession and the wider community. 

Being kind to those around you and to yourself is a fundamental principle of mindfulness in the development of a non-judgemental outlook. 

Every one of us has their own, unique experiences in life which have created our values, behaviours and outlook on life. Nobody else knows what others have experienced in their past, all we can know is how we are interacting with them at any given time. Rather than making snap judgements regarding the behaviour of others it is better to accept it and when required make efforts to understand it. 

The same applies to our own values and behaviour. 

By developing awareness of our own values and behaviour, we develop an understanding of why we react in the way we do. This is the being way of living rather than the doing way of living. We can then understand what our needs are, be it rest, food, talking to others and we can then allow ourselves to obtain these needs, we can be kind to ourselves. 

By being kind to ourselves we place ourselves in a better condition to be kind to others. 

The practice of mindfulness involves a non-judgemental approach and getting the most from every minute of our lives by “being” rather than “doing” and goes a long way to help us to be kind to all around us. 

Being kind benefits everyone, give it a try.