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Creating a Culture of Well-being During a Crisis

Jeff Thoren, DVM, PCC, BCC

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Published on April 2, 2020, at 9:42 AM CST

In this time of uncertainty, mindfulness can help us stay grounded and centered. Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware, and not overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

Our human tendency can be to focus on the problems, become anxious, and react from a place of fear. However, when we are in this reactive state, we are less likely to be creative, adaptable, and resourceful. We see fewer options for positive action and are less capable of seeing possible solutions to problems.

A simple shift in perspective can help us slow down, see things more objectively, and make choices from a foundation of strength and neutrality.

Two resources veterinary professionals can use to manage the stressors we are all facing today are the STOP Practice and the GRACE Trail:

The STOP Practice

This 4-step mindfulness practice1 can support members of the veterinary team during difficult moments throughout the day. This practice is helpful for noting intense feelings and setting them aside with the intention of reflecting on them more deeply at a later time.


Literally stop what you’re doing, whether it is typing or rushing out the door. Give yourself a moment to come to rest, pause, and collect yourself.

Take a Breath

After pausing, take a conscious breath or two, allowing yourself to feel the expansion of the belly as you breathe deeply. Notice the sensations of being here, now. As you do so, it may help to bring your attention to the sensations of your feet meeting the floor. Feel the support of the ground and of your own relaxing breath as you do so. Conscious breathing is an effective way to calm the impact of your body’s normal “fight or flight” stress response.


Observe any thoughts, emotions, or bodily sensations (eg, tension, butterflies, tightness in the jawline). Broaden your awareness to take in the circumstances. Notice how you can be in this situation without being ruled by it. Release tension, stressful thoughts, and any judgment of yourself or the situation.


Proceed with intentionality, taking the next step in your day from this place of strength, wisdom, and presence.

The GRACE Trail

This 5-step process2 begins with gratitude and ends with hope.

Gratitude – What Am I Grateful For?
  • What is going right? What can I savor right now?
  • Who do I cherish in my life? What do I cherish about myself?
Release – What Do I Need to Release?

Consider what is currently causing stress in your life. What is within your control? What is outside your control? Release is about letting go of things that you cannot control or that are not serving you and, instead, focusing on what you can control and creating new possibilities. 

  • What do I need to let go of in order to go forward and stop looking back?
  • What fear, resistance, or judgment can I release?
Accept – What Is Calling Out for Acceptance?

Acceptance requires you to stop fighting battles you cannot win. Act only after acceptance, and work with your circumstance, not against it.

  • How can I accept myself and others more?
  • How can I accept what I can’t change?
Challenge – What Is My Next Challenge?

Make a commitment to step outside your comfort zone to grow. 

  • What is draining my energy? What is at stake if nothing changes? What will give me energy?
  • Where am I getting in my own way and how can I change that?
  • Where am I willing to try something different and take a chance? What new choice am I willing to commit to?
Embrace – What Can I Embrace as Possible?

The GRACE model concludes with an opportunity for you to invite your imagination into the conversation and for you to summon hope. 

  • What can I embrace as possible if I move in the direction of the best version of myself?
  • What new story would I like to tell about my life and where I’m headed?

Intentionally using the STOP Practice and the GRACE Trail, either as an individual or collectively as a veterinary team, can help the team develop resilience and build a culture of well-being.

Centering Exercise

Adapted from Presence-Based Leadership by Doug Silsbee

When we’re centered, we are alert, relaxed, and aware. It is an inner state where, regardless of what’s going on around us, we can be exercise choice.

In this exercise, we’ll explore the 3 dimensions common to any physical object. Please stand up. You may close your eyes if you’d like, or keep a soft, steady gaze straight ahead.

Start with length

Feel the weight of your body pressing down, all the way from your head down to your feet. Let your attention follow this downward pull, finding a sense of groundedness and solid support. 

At the same time, extend yourself up. Draw yourself up into the full length of your torso, so that your head and neck are aligned with your spine. Relax your jaw, neck and shoulders and extend your arms upward if you’re comfortable doing so. 

It is through this dimension of length that we access the felt experience of dignity, inherent value, and worth.

Now, focus on width

Breathe into your chest, feeling yourself taking up more space, more width. Bring your shoulders back. And if the space around you permits, feel free to extend your arms out to your left and to your right to whatever degree feels comfortable, palms facing forward. 

Let the left and right sides of your body sense the space on either side of you. Within that space, sense the presence of the other people in this room right now, all around you. Now extend that awareness to the significant people in your life (loved ones, colleagues, friends, your pets) who surround you and are essential parts of your support network.

It is through this dimension of width that we access the felt experience of belonging.

Now, let’s think about depth

Sense the space behind you. Feel the history, knowledge, skills, and experience that live in you, that have made you the only person that you could be. Acknowledge your unique strengths, gifts, and passion to make a difference. Also acknowledge and embrace your brokenness and shadow side as an integral part of who you are. Finally, acknowledge your wholeness, the fact that you are enough just as you are and that you have everything that you need.

It is through this dimension of width that we access the felt experience of fundamental sufficiency.


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