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What goes on in our minds?

Think back to prehistoric times when our predecessors were out hunting and gathering. If they heard a sound, or saw a shadow, their minds likely would have perceived it as a threat - ie. a predator coming to eat them (unless they were being mindful). They had to act pretty quickly, and basically would have had two options - stay and “fight” for survival, or take off in “flight” for survival (known as the “fight-flight response”).

Based on the fight-flight scenario above, our predecessors would have automatically assumed “worst-case scenario” and acted on this (regardless of whether their perception of threat was correct or not). So the assumption would be along the lines of a predator being there to eat them.

As we have evolved, our minds have much more to worry about than whether a predator is going to eat us! We have financial concerns, relationship concerns, work concerns, environmental concerns, and so-on. Here's a few little snippets to help put things into perspective:

  • Our minds are like story-telling machines....constantly telling us stories. However, not all of these are true, and if we are not mindful of it, we will get “hooked” right into the stories our minds are telling us. Before we know it, the thoughts are controlling our behaviour.

  • Our minds are also like problem-solving machines...they perceive a trigger (or threat, or problem), grasp on to it (or get “attached” or “fused” or “hooked” to the thought), and then believe it without question. If this thought is unhelpful (or unrealistic or not logical) and we act on it, chances are the response will be unhelpful or distressing in some way.

  • We cannot control our thoughts, but we can control what we do about them (ie. our behaviour). Ideally we would like our behaviour to be in line with our values to enhance our chances of well-being.

  • Our minds are also very powerful - they believe whatever they perceive!

  • Our thoughts are like boomerangs - they keep coming back!

  • Try asking yourself - is there any evidence for this thought? Is it logical to have this thought? Is it realistic to have this thought? Is it helpful to have this thought?

  • Also ask yourself - does my worrying, crying, anger, happiness change the reality of the situation? The answer is no, yet we still continue to let these behaviours control us!

  • The thought is not so much the problem - it is our actions (or what we do about it, or how we respond to the thought) that is the problem.

Remember - just because we are thinking it, it doesn’t mean it is true! And even if the thought IS true, it is our behaviour that will have the consequences.

If you want to learn more about how to deal with your thoughts and feelings using evidence-based strategies, check out our e-book "Introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy" or register to attend our "Reach Out Wellbeing Conference for Veterinary Professionals" in March 2020.


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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