The Whole Veterinarian

Self-Compassion and It's Role in Sustaining Your Career in Veterinary Medicine

February 27, 2023 Stacey Cordivano, DVM Season 5 Episode 60
The Whole Veterinarian
Self-Compassion and It's Role in Sustaining Your Career in Veterinary Medicine
Show Notes Transcript

Let's be real. Being a veterinarian is hard sometimes. Tune in today to hear why I think that Mindful Self-Compassion work could be key to sustaining yourself in veterinary medicine. I have found such huge benefits from my self-compassion practice that I am excited to share the research and ideas with you.
Much gratitude for the research and work of Drs. Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer in the field of mindful self-compassion and for the co-creation of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. Much of my discussion today is based on their work. Check out their websites and click here to find out more about the courses that they offer!
Here is a link to some of my favorite resources for learning even more about self-compassion.

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Stacey Cordivano:

Hey there, it's Dr. Stacey Cordivano. As a veterinary professional, you can learn to be happier, healthier, wealthier and more grateful for the life that you've created. This podcast is here to help you find the resources to do just that. I will speak with outside of the box thinkers to hear new ideas on ways to improve our day to day lives. Together, we will create a community of veterinarians working towards positive change. Welcome to the whole veterinarian. Why is it so hard to be kind to ourselves? Today, I want to spend some time with you and discuss why I think Mindful self compassion is key to sustainability in veterinary medicine. I put this presentation together for the house call vet Academy, Dr. Eve Harrison puts on a great virtual event, make sure to keep an eye out for that next February. But I'm going to condense that presentation down today and share a little bit because I think it's so important to our profession and to our individual well being that I want to get it out here. And that way you can discover a little bit more if you find it interesting. So I'm going to start with a quote that I love from Dr. Kristin Neff, who is a leading researcher in this Mindful self compassion world. She says to give ourselves compassion, we first have to recognize that we are suffering, we can't heal what we can't feel. I started with that quote, because I think it's so true for most of us veterinary professionals, we are really great at smashing down our feelings and just moving on. But as many of you know, and I very much know, that is not a sustainable way to go about our careers. That is how you get yourself into a period of burnout and compassion fatigue, like I suffered a few years ago, that left me feeling like I wasn't sure I could keep practicing. I used to define myself solely as an equine veterinarian. And now after a lot of work and effort and support from mentors, coaches and mental health care professionals, I am able to say that I am a lot more than just an equine vet. And I certainly don't introduce myself that way anymore. I want to talk today about Mindful self compassion, because I think for me personally, it's been so helpful. But there's also a lot of research out there showing what the benefits are for everyone. Research shows that people who are more self compassionate, experienced greater overall well being, they have less depression, anxiety, stress and shame. And they have more happiness, life satisfaction, self confidence and better physical health. So in Dr. neffs work, she outlines the three tenants of self compassion. The first is self kindness. This is the idea of offering ourselves warmth and unconditional acceptance. The second is common humanity. This is the idea that recognizing that all humans are flawed works in progress. And the third is mindfulness. So this is the idea of being open to the reality of the present moment. We're definitely going to dig into these three in more detail in just a minute. But first, I want to go through some of the nerdy science because if you're anything like me a little bit of science and research helps you start to wrap your head around a new idea. So we have this thing from our reptilian brain called the Threat Defense System. You guys all know about this, it's when our amygdala gets activated hijacked, cortisol and adrenaline are released and we go into flight fight or freeze mode. This works really well for threats against our physical bodies. We are not however, being hunted by saber toothed Tigers any longer. So most of the threats that we face today are actually challenges to our self image or our self concept. So anytime we feel inadequate, that's a threat to our self concept. Habitual self criticism leads to chronic stress, which is why it can be so bad for our emotional and physical well being when we are being hard on ourselves. We are both the attacker and the attacked when we are criticizing ourselves. And this leads to chronic stress, which can then result in anxiety and depression. We also have a system called the mammalian caregiving system. It evolved to keep infants safe during that vulnerable newborn period where they're like little lumps. When it's activated hormones such as oxytocin and other endorphins are released to reduce stress and increase feelings of security. Research shows that the safer people feel the more open and flexible they can be in response to their environment. And so two reliable ways of activating this mammalian caregiving system, our physical touch and gentle vocalizations. So just think of a cat sitting on your lap making biscuits. There's not many people on this planet who wouldn't be calmed by a purring, needing cat sitting in their lap. By practicing self compassion, we can learn to provide that feeling of safety for ourselves. And we can then deactivate the Threat Defense System and activate our own care system when we are feeling times of distress. If we think about the fight flight or freeze mode, and we compare them to the three tenants of Mindful self compassion, they actually line up really well. When considering fight mode, that would be things like self criticism. So research shows that self compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing and experiencing life's difficulties is inevitable. So these people tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences, rather than being harshly critical when we notice our own personal shortcomings. When we practice self kindness, we aim to be supportive and encouraging even when life falls short of our ideals. This is where we start to treat ourselves like we would treat a good friend. If we consider the flight reaction. This turns into things like isolation. The counteraction part of self compassion for this idea of isolation is the idea of common humanity. The very definition of Being human means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Self Compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy are part of this shared human experience. Many different people are going through the same difficult situation that you are. I also like to point out here that this is where perfectionism and veterinary medicine come into the equation. It's a generalization, but I'd say it's one we can all kind of agree on. Most of us are perfectionist. If we set these unrealistic goals for ourselves, and then we don't meet them, we are then considering ourselves worthless. And this is where striving becomes counterproductive. By realizing that it's human nature to struggle to fail and to be imperfect. It then allows us space to grow and learn. Finally, we have freeze mode. This might also be considered over identification or rumination and a great counteraction to this problem is mindfulness. Mindfulness is where we try to take a balanced approach to our negative emotions. It's really important here to try to make sure that our feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. So mindfulness is a non judgmental, receptive state of mind in which a person observe their thoughts and feelings as they are. We can't ignore pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Although trying to ignore pain is a natural human tendency. At the same time, mindfulness requires that we also not over identify with the thoughts and feelings so that we're caught up and swept away in this big cycle of negativity, because we all know that that happens often as well. So why is Mindful self compassion so important for veterinary professionals? Here's another quote from Dr. Neff that exemplifies why I think it's important. Sustaining empathy for others begins with compassion for ourselves. Our typical mode of operation as veterinary professionals is to experience the client stress as our own. This is empathic resonance, we then move into empathic distress, which is the distress that we feel when we try to block out these feelings of compassion that we're having for our clients. We understand what it feels like to have a pet get a terrible diagnosis, and we start to feel that every time we give one, the constant struggle of blocking these distressing feelings is then what leads to fatigue and burnout. The key takeaway here is that if you don't meet your own needs, by giving yourself compassion, you will become so depleted, you will have less to give to others. I don't have a person to quote for this, but it's too good not to share what we resist persists. It's also important to note here that this is where some self care practices can fall short. Self Compassion is something that can be done in the moment of suffering, or as self care is done after the fact. Self Compassion can be given to yourself in the direct moment of empathic pain or distress. And while both are certainly important, and self care is not something that should be ignored. It is an important difference between the two and another reason I find it so helpful. Another important thing to note is the idea of tender versus fear, self compassion. Dr. Neff actually has books on both the fear self compassion book is her most most recent. Sometimes the most compassionate thing we can do for ourselves is to soften our hearts and treat ourselves with the same tender care we would offer to a friend who is suffering. At other times, though self compassion may require us To become fierce or protective, and this involves acting in the world to alleviate suffering. Fear self compassion tends to involve protecting, providing for and motivating ourselves. It has the same three tenants. But the kindness portion is where you are strong, brave and courageous for yourself. The sense of common humanity becomes a key source of empowerment. And the idea of mindfulness helps us to see clearly without turning away from the truth. One final thing to mention about the practice of self compassion is the idea of Backdraft. This is the pain that may arise when we give ourselves kindness and compassion, especially for the first time. When we open our hearts to kindness, we may experience a flood of pain and discomfort that has been shut off for years. You may recognize this by feeling emotions, such as shame, fear, grief, or sadness, and even physical aches and pains. If you are trying to do self compassion work, and you start to feel this, please just ask yourself, what do I need in this moment? What do I need to do to feel safe? Most importantly, I want you to go slowly, or take a break. And honestly, by even asking yourself these questions, and by taking a break, you are reinforcing the habit of self compassion, because you're giving yourself what you need in the moment. So if you are recognizing these feelings, please, you know, take refuge in normal activities, take a break from your practice, get outside, watch your favorite show, play with your puppy, do what you need to do for yourself and come back to it at another time. All right, so you know, I like to be actionable, I want to leave you some steps for actual self compassion practice, there are a couple of quick and easy practices for the busy veterinarian that I like to recommend. The first is called the self compassion break. This is literally a couple of sentences, and you just have to say it to yourself in a time of distress. So number one, you just say to yourself, This is a moment of suffering. Next, you say suffering is a part of life. And then you say, I'm going to extend myself as I am. If possible, offering yourself a gesture of soothing touch while you were saying these things can be very beneficial. I like to put my hand over my heart, you can even just clasp your hands together, you can rub your own arms, give yourself a hug. It's harder to do if you're in public, anything that would feel good to you in the moment as a soothing touch. And if you're having trouble saying these three things to yourself, imagine saying them to a dear friend, and it might be a little bit easier. This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. I accept you as you are. A second practice that I really like is called labeling emotions. So if you've just experienced a difficult situation, take a step back and relive it. Notice what emotions arise. For us, it's often fear, sadness, grief, frustration, anger, name, the emotions, and then try to come up with the strongest emotion that you felt during that situation. Repeat the name of that emotion to yourself in a gentle understanding voice. And that's it. It gives you a little bit of space from that emotion and gives you the time to have a mindful view about it. A third practice that I love, you've probably heard me talk about it before, but I can't not include it is a gratitude list. It can be something formal, like a journal entry. I love the five minute journal, you can find that on Amazon. It can also just be something as simple as writing five big things you're grateful for in life and five small things that are important to you. You can do it sitting at your desk at work, or when you hop in the truck after a crazy appointment that didn't go the way you want it to go. So jotting down a couple quick things on a piece of paper or in a note app. That's all it takes. The research shows that doing this a few times a week will increase your overall well being for the next six months, so don't disregard the easy things. Another option to dive into self compassion practice is to check out longer Guided Self Compassion meditations, I will link to a list of guided practices that I particularly love. I pulled out three that I absolutely love. I will link to those in the show notes. I will also link to a bunch of other resources that I find helpful, both free and paid for finding out more about Mindful self compassion or finding other free guided meditations. So I want to leave you with a challenge a little bit of homework. I want you to take out a pen and paper or pullover and build up that note app on your phone. I want you to write down something that you can do today to be self compassionate towards yourself. What is one small thing that you can do as an act of self compassion? This could be something As simple as taking three deep breaths in as a moment of mindfulness after your next difficult interaction, or it could be your gratitude list. I also want you to write down something that you can put into place as a monthly habit. And then finally, I want you to write down someone who is going to hold you accountable for that monthly habit, and send them a text or email today, and ask them to check on you in 30 days to see if you've accomplished that. I spent the last four ish years diving into personal development and self care practices. They're still a struggle for me many weeks. That is why I'm asking you to find someone to hold you accountable to this action plan that you've created. I'm going to leave you with this quote from Dr. Chris grimmer, who is a co founder of the Center for Mindful self compassion organization, which is where I've taken both of my online self compassion courses through. He says, a moment of self compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life. I hope that by listening to this someone out there might find some benefit in self compassion in a way that helps to change the course of your life as it has in mind. Thank you so much as always for tuning in. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding the idea of self compassion or anything else. Of course, no, I'm always available. either send me a message on Instagram or shoot me an email but I hope you are well and I can't wait to talk to you again soon.