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Feeling overwhelmed? Try mindfulness...

Updated: Oct 5, 2019

Mindfulness has been around for some time, and is widely used in different ways such as meditation, relaxation, yoga, well-being, and within the context of psychological therapy.

My personal therapy of choice when working with clients is "Acceptance and Commitment Therapy", which uses the concept of mindfulness and values.

What is mindfulness?

Essentially, mindfulness is about being 'in the moment', the 'present', or the 'here and now'. Typically we are so caught up in the past and ruminate over things that have happened (but obviously can't be changed as they have already taken place), which can leave us feeling depressed. Or, we may be so caught up worrying and catastrophising about the future (that is, things that haven't happened yet), which can leave us feeling anxious. We can get so caught up in the past and future worrying about things we can't change or control, that we totally lose sight of what's in between that - this moment, right here, right now.

Effectively, the only thing that is in our control is our own behaviour - right here, right now. The past can't be changed, and the future can't be controlled. We also cannot control anyone else (unless they allow us to do so), nor can we control the environment, or other external circumstances (such as the weather, interest rate rises etc). Again, all we can control is our own behaviour. The more we are aware of what we are thinking and feeling right here, right now (ie. the present moment), the more we can choose how to respond. Ideally, we want this to be aligned with our values, so we have long-term benefits or consequences, as it is the long-term consequences of our own actions that we have to deal with.

Think about this scenario - there is a packet of chocolate biscuits (or something else really yummy, but not very healthy, that you like) sitting in the fridge, but you know if you eat them all you will probably feel sick afterwards and regret it. Normally, you may just see the biscuits, think or say "yum! choccy biscuits - you beauty!" and eat them, only to wish you hadn't done so a little while later when you are feeling sick. It is most likely you have let your thoughts control your behaviour without considering the consequences (ie. you haven't acted mindfully). But, take a step back and now consider this scenario in a different way (by the way - sorry if this is making you feel hungry and crave chocolate biscuits!). You think about those choccy biscuits again, but now mindfulness kicks in (which is really about being proactive, not reactive). Your mind tells you that you'd love to eat them, but then you consider the long-term consequences that you'll have to deal with if you do eat them (ie. feeling sick). So you now mindfully make a decision (based on your values) as to what consequence would make you feel better in the long run (ie. NOT feeling sick). Then you act/behave/respond in this way - proactively - rather than on autopilot in a reactive manner (so you would choose not to eat them, despite still having the thought that you'd love to eat them, resulting in you not feeling sick in the long run).

So, how do you be mindful?

There are many ways of being mindful. One of the easiest ways I find to be mindful is to take a moment to ground yourself (maybe by taking a nice deep breath, or sitting in a comfy position), then just take a look around you and notice or name all the things you can see (or you can limit this to 5 or 10 things if you prefer). Then repeat this again, but this time notice all the things you can hear. (It is also important to note here to not get caught up analysing these things such as noticing the long grass and then panicking because you don't have time to mow it today - rather, you just want to NOTICE them.)

When you do this (ie. noticing what you can see and hear), it reminds you that you are in the moment, because you can physically see and hear these things (you can't be in the moment if you can't physically see or hear them). Take a moment to really reflect on the things you can see, such as the different colours of the flowers you can see, or shapes of the clouds, or all the different kinds of birds singing. Usually we are so caught up in the past or future that we don't even notice these simple things.

Many people find mindfulness to be relaxing (myself included) because you can just STOP and BE, rather than getting caught up and buying into the past or future (which are things outside of your control).

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy uses mindfulness as a technique for noticing thoughts and feelings, and responding to them in more helpful ways to enable us to have that sense of well-being and vitality, rather than suffering.


About Dr Nadine Hamilton

As a leading authority on veterinary wellbeing, Dr Hamilton helps veterinary professionals get on top of stress and conflict to avoid burnout and suicide, and also works with practice managers and owners to increase wellbeing, productivity, and retention in the workplace. Additionally, she provide workshops to small and large groups within the private and corporate sectors, and speaks at conferences and symposiums both nationally and internationally.

Her book "Coping with Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian - An Evidence-Based Solution to Increase Wellbeing" was released in March 2019 through Australian Academic Press, and is already making a positive impact within the profession - both here in Australia and internationally.

As an advocate for the veterinary profession, Dr Hamilton founded the charity "Love Your Pet Love Your Vet" and partnered with Royal Canin to reduce stigma in veterinary professionals seeking help, raising awareness within the community about the realities of working in the profession, and providing psychological and educational support to veterinary professionals.

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