Life Boost with Dr. Amelia: Changing your mindset to become a happy, healthy vet
By Amelia Knight, VMD, cVMA, INHC
Last month, we talked about quick hacks for decreasing stress. This month, we’re diving deeper into a topic that can truly transform your health and happiness: your mindset.
As a veterinarian, I reached a point of burnout. I woke up already yearning for the end of the day, lived in a constant state of anxiety (even when I didn’t know what I was stressed about), and at rock bottom, once I got home I’d often burst into tears.
On the outside, I appeared totally calm and collected. The inside was a completely different story. I don’t want that to be you.
My journey led me to where I am now: happily breaking the norm balancing two careers as a health coach and an Associate IndeVet. One of the most impactful changes I made was a shift in mindset. Here are eight simple mindset shifts to help you to stay a happy and healthy vet!
Mindset shift 1: Everything is temporary.
You know those days that snowball? When no case is simple, the walk-ins are never ending, your stress level is rising, and it feels like there’s no end in sight? No matter how crazy things are, you’re going to get through it one way or another. Unpleasant emotions and stressful days will pass.
When you find yourself in the middle of a difficult situation or experiencing an emotion you’d rather not be dealing with, take a moment to remind yourself that you won’t feel this way forever. You will eventually make it to the final appointment of the day and eventually into your cozy bed. The stress, anger, or sadness you’re feeling will pass.
The simple act of reminding yourself of this can help to give you a second wind and a feeling of hope. For other tips on making the situation you’re currently in more tolerable, keep reading!
Mindset shift 2: You don’t have control over situations, but you do have control over how you react to them.
When you’re stuck in one of those snowballing days, it’s overwhelming to feel like things are out of your control. Focus on the one thing that you can control: your mindset.
Negativity is contagious, but positivity can be, too! When you find yourself in those situations, complaining about scheduling or the client that saunters in 20 minutes late isn’t productive. Ultimately, it will only make the experience more unpleasant and that kind of complaining spreads as rapidly as kennel cough at daycare.
As IndeVets, we have an opportunity to lead by example. Take a moment to regroup. Remember that this is temporary. Tell your team what they’re doing well, and thank them for their hard work. Come up with a game plan, and remember that you’re in this together.
Mindset shift 3: Assume it’s going to be a good day.
When you tell yourself it’s going to be a bad day or say, “nothing is going right,” you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’ll automatically make note of every piece of supporting evidence that proves you right during the day.
Here are two ways of looking at the same scenario: You’re driving to work and suddenly you’re stuck in traffic. Your favorite song starts to play on the radio.
- Scenario one: You’ve already labeled it a “bad day.” Your stress level mounts as you realize you might be late. You wonder why nothing ever goes your way and you don’t even notice that your favorite song is playing.
- Scenario two: You’re planning on a good day ahead. Suddenly, traffic comes to a stand still, and you realize that you might be late. You hope that if there was an accident, everyone is okay. You realize this is out of your control, so you call the scheduling department to update them that you might be late. Suddenly, your favorite song starts to play on the radio. You turn up the volume and have a little dance party to start your day.
The more you focus on the good moments during the day, the more good days you’ll start to have. Challenge yourself to see how you can make each appointment positive.
If you have a disgruntled client, that’s a great opportunity to practice constructive communication skills to defuse the situation! If it’s a hectic day, take a moment to live in the moment and hug a sweet puppy.
We all know that schedules and circumstances can change in a second. The day you’re assuming is going to be terrible could end up being an amazing day! Make sure that you’re leaving opportunity to see the good in your day.
Mindset shift 4: Avoid storytelling.
We’ve all had the client who comes in with the designer purse and luxury car, but claims that they don’t have money for the diagnostics you’re recommending. It’s easy to instantly whip up a story in your mind complete with judgments and assumptions about their priorities. Not a very uplifting story, is it?
If you’re going to make up a story, let it come from a place of understanding. Financial circumstances change. Regardless of someone’s priorities, the fact that they have shown up for their appointment is better than not even scheduling one. Set judgment aside, try to understand their goals for the visit and hesitations behind tests, and focus on what you can do for your patient.
We tend to be really good storytellers throughout our day. Whether it’s the person who cut you off in traffic, your spouse, kids, or a client, try to catch yourself when you’re making up stories and negative assumptions. The fewer stories you tell, the less frustrated you’ll be day to day.
Mindset shift 5: Stress isn’t always something to run away from.
Ever feel stressed out before a big, deep-chested dog spay? I used to start worrying about them a week in advance when I saw one on my schedule. To make things worse, feeling the stress made me even more anxious and stressed! On the outside, I looked totally calm, but on the inside I would be a wreck.
This mindset shift made a huge difference for me: I realized that it was okay and helpful to feel stress during my surgery. Stress prepared my body to be alert, so that I could think clearly and be focused. Embracing that it was okay to feel stress helped me to lean into it instead of fear it. With that realization, I felt much more in control.
On stressful days, I also like to remind myself that at least my job isn’t boring! I appreciate that as a veterinarian, my job challenges me. I worked in retail long enough growing up to know that, while sometimes it may seem super appealing to have a job where you just get to wander around a store folding clothes, that gets old real fast!
Stress in the moment is helpful and normal, but living in a chronic state of stress is not. For more long-term stress management options, you can visit my blog for tips on reducing stress, improving sleep, yoga, meditating, and more.
Mindset shift 6: Think of 3 things you’re grateful for.
Practicing gratitude can seem as fluffy as a Pomeranian walking out of the groomers. I get it. How big of an impact can simply thinking about a few things you’re grateful for really have? Mastiff-sized.
This one simple act had a tremendous impact on my overall outlook when I was personally struggling with burnout. For just one week, humor me and give this a try!
Each morning, before looking at your phone or thinking about all the things you have to do, take a moment to think about 3 things you’re grateful for. They can be small (like the smell of coffee) or big, as long as it’s something you’re truly grateful for. Think of them in your head, write them down in a gratitude journal, or even find a gratitude buddy!
If there’s a friend or family member who lives far away, commit to sharing your gratitude list with them each day. My sister and I did this during some of the pandemic. It not only was a positive moment in my day, but it also ended up being a great way to hear highlights from her life that I otherwise never would have heard about. As a bonus, this serves as a sense of connection, which can help to boost happiness and well-being.
For bonus points, practice gratitude at the end of the day, too. Think of 3 moments you’re grateful for as you wind down and prepare for sleep.
Mindset shift 7: Treat your body and mind like a patient, and check in with yourself.
We are a profession of high achieving, people-pleasing, care-givers. My guess is that you are very good at taking on a lot and wanting to take care of everyone…except for yourself. When was the last time you asked yourself, “How am I holding up?”
Pay attention to subtle signs that you’re “ADR.” Is your fuse shorter? Are you waking up on the wrong side of the bed every morning? Are you exhausted throughout the day? Are you ending your day with a few too many glasses of wine? Are you starting to feel apathetic about everything? Your body is giving you a signal that something isn’t working for you.
Think of some of the signs your patients show when they’re “ADR.” These apply to you, too! Are you “hiding” more (avoiding social connections), experiencing GI signs, brain fog, or frequent headaches? It’s time for a check-in!
You know the owner whose dog has been vomiting and not eating all week, but now that it’s 5 o’clock on Friday it’s an emergency? Don’t be that person. Don’t ignore the subtle signs that something isn’t quite right until it becomes a bigger problem.
Here are some places to start:
1. Journal. This is a great way to sort through the jumble in your head to gain clarity on what’s out of balance. Not into journaling? Try a SOAP format if that’s more in your comfort zone! Seriously.
- Subjective: How are you feeling? What has been going on in your life? What are you eating? Has there been a change in your routine? How are you sleeping? Just like with every exam, a thorough history is crucial to identify the underlying cause.
- Objective: Are there signs in your body that things are out of balance? Go through your body systems. If you want to multitask and relieve stress at the same time, do a body scan. Close your eyes and slowly move from head to toe, paying attention to one body part at a time, noting if you’re carrying tension there, and then release it.
- Assessment: Write out your problems and possible differentials. If you’re feeling exhausted, take a holistic look at stress, sleep, diet, etc. to get to the root cause.
- Plan: Now the fun part! Write yourself a prescription for the self-care you need to bring things back into balance. When you prioritize taking care of you, you’ll have much more sustainable energy to take care of everyone else!
2. Picture yourself 20 years from now. What advice would that future version of you give to you right now? You might be surprised at the wisdom that Future You already has.
3. This circle of life exercise can be a really helpful way to visualize areas of your life that are out of balance. Taking a step back to take a holistic look at the different pieces of your life will help to bring clarity on the areas of your life that aren’t getting the attention they need.
Mindset shift 8: There’s a difference between a positive mindset and happiness.
There are some days when you may not feel super cheerful or happy. That’s okay. It’s important to give yourself space to process how you’re feeling instead of burying it with a fake smile. Always being “happy” isn’t realistic or healthy. If we were happy and cheerful 100% of the time, happiness would lose its charm!
While you shouldn’t suppress negative emotions, you don’t have to feel stuck with them either. Practicing a positive mindset helps to build resilience to stress and difficult emotions so that they don’t consume you.
A positive mindset doesn’t mean you always have to be happy, but it does mean that you’re more in control. It’s a way of reprogramming your mind, so that it’s easier for you to bounce back and to look on the bright side.
The best part is, you can start working towards a more positive mindset today! It’s not something you’re born with; it’s something you practice. Just like a muscle, the more consistent you are with flexing a positive mindset, the easier and more natural it will become!
To get started, pay attention to any time you have a negative thought. Every time you catch yourself, reframe your thought into a positive one.
For example, if someone cuts you off in traffic, your immediate thought may be along the lines of “@%^**&#”. That’s okay. Just reframe your reaction. Take a deep breath. Try again. Tell yourself, “Yikes, they must be in a rush. I wonder if they have an emergency they’re trying to get to. I hope they make it safely,” then let your anger go. Remember, the situation and emotions are temporary! The situation is over, so you can release the negative emotions associated with it.
Ready to conquer the day? Start flexing your positive mindset muscle, and see how many of these mindset shifts you can put into practice today!