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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.

Anxiety and Mindfulness

Anxiety and Mindfulness

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.

Don’t Let Your Inner Critic Hold You Back

Don’t Let Your Inner Critic Hold You Back

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

Imposter Syndrome

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.

A great source of advice and help with imposter syndrome can be found at https://www.katiefordvet.com

Spreading The Word

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.