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How to Be Resilient: 11 Tips to Improve Wellbeing

Bethany Colaprete, MEd, EdS, LMHC, Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine

June 2017|Peer Reviewed

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How to Be Resilient: 11 Tips to Improve Wellbeing

 

Part 5 of our Wellness Revolution series

Mindfulness has taken off recently, with interest generated by blogs, news stories, and even a special edition of TIME Magazine. (See Resource.) The word mindful is used routinely in everyday conversations, and references to mindfulness can be found in Hollywood movies (eg, Star Wars, Karate Kid, Groundhog Day).

Even though many people may have heard about mindfulness, most might be hard-pressed to define what it means to live a mindful life. Nevertheless, mindfulness has numerous benefits when incorporated into everyday life.

Veterinary care providers frequently multitask, dividing their attention between different responsibilities, often simultaneously. They may speak to a client while thinking about someone or something else, rush surgeries to see their first appointment on time, check their phone for messages between appointments, and read emails and Facebook during lunch, all while struggling to focus on the task at hand. The antidote to this multitasking culture begins with learning to focus by practicing mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is being rather than doing and responding rather than reacting. Mindfulness is many things, including:

  • Living in the present moment rather than worrying about the future (eg, What appointments do I have this afternoon?) or thinking about the past (eg, I cannot believe what that client said to me)
  • Putting down the balls being juggled (eg, returning phone calls, checking email, typing records, filling out paperwork) and embracing monotasking (ie, focusing on one thing at a time)
  • Remaining cool, calm, and collected while speaking to a difficult client or performing a complicated procedure

The Principles

The term mindfulness is of Buddhist origin but is considered ubiquitous (ie, universal, nondenominational, applicable to everyone). Author Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.1

To achieve mindfulness, attention should be consciously self-regulated to focus on the immediate experience and should be driven by curiosity, kindness, and acceptance.

Too often during stressful days the veterinary team is functioning on autopilot, strongly identifying with thoughts or feelings, and reacting impulsively to events, which may lead to conflict and psychological distress. With mindfulness, rather than attempting to assess situations or make changes, team members aim to become aware and accept thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations as they arise instead of reacting automatically out of habit.2

Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness practice is intentional awareness of the present moment while incorporating particular attitudes, including1:

  • Seeing things the way they are, even if they are undesirable
  • A beginners mind: Being open to seeing everything as if for the first time
  • Compassion: Deeply feeling anothers suffering and wanting to alleviate his or her pain
  • Generosity: Giving unselfishly to others
  • Gratitude: Feeling intensely thankful
  • Integrity: Being true to oneself
  • Kindness: Showing concern for others
  • Letting go: Decreasing attachment to people, things, or outcomes
  • Nonjudging: Seeing things as neither good nor bad
  • Nonstriving: Being, rather than doing or trying
  • Patience: Understanding and accepting that events unfold in their own time
  • Trust: Following intuition or gut feelings

How Mindfulness Works

Peoples minds are busy. They are constantly processing memories, making plans, rehashing past events, using senses to take in surroundings, and dealing with thoughts and emotions. The mind must also respond to the challenges of growing technology and connectedness, which bombard everyone with information from electronic devices and social media and increase mental distraction and stress.

Neuroscience research shows that practicing mindfulness regularly can enhance the brains grey matter within the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for holding attention, making decisions, moderating behavior, and solving problems. At the same time, mindfulness shrinks the amygdala, which identifies physical threats and emotional triggers.2

Research in the medical field demonstrates that mindfulness training helps nurses cope more effectively with stress by improving their ability to think clearly and remain focused and calm during stressful situations. Nurses who complete mindfulness training often demonstrate improvement in their clinical performance,3 ability to cope with negative emotions, awareness of their thoughts and feelings during stressful events, and their response to patient needs.4 Mindfulness training also assists medical students, physicians, and nurses by promoting self-awareness and self-care5-7 while reducing the risk for professional burnout.8

Stress Reduction

Stress reduction is the most important advantage of mindfulness because of the significant physiologic and psychological benefits. Stress has numerous personal and professional negative effects, all of which can lead to burnout.

Personal
  • Accelerated cell aging in the body
  • Altered prefrontal cortex function
  • Immune suppression
  • Increased cortisol release with neurotoxic effects2
Professional
  • Altered self-regulation
  • Compromised memory and decision-making
  • Decreased job satisfaction
  • Impaired concentration

Emotional Benefits

Spending a few minutes during a busy day to focus on the sensation of breathing can be refreshing and restoring. Paying attention to the present moment can give a reprieve from anxiety about difficult situations and past or future events. Observing nonjudgmentally allows for curious evaluation of the experience before reacting or exhibiting old thought patterns. Mindfulness forms an emotional buffer that creates space to make choices and adaptive responses during stressful situations. Mindfulness also decreases anxiety and depression,9 which are common among veterinary professionals.10

Conclusion

Most importantly, mindfulness benefits the veterinary team by increasing awareness and decreasing distraction, which in turn can improve assessment skills and the performance of complex technical procedures. Mindfulness also enhances client and team member interaction by boosting awareness of others communication methods. Paying more attention ensures effective communication that leads to better clinical outcomes and fewer medical errors.

A veterinary team that stays in the present and routinely practices mindfulness can better care for themselves and their patients.

References and Author Information

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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