Do you sometimes wonder why some colleagues seem to cope better with difficult situations than you? Perhaps they have thicker skin? Or maybe they have learned to manage these situations so that they are not so deeply affected by them? Find out how to increase your resilience in order to better manage your emotions and respond to stress.
What is a resilient person?
The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress.”
You’re probably reading this definition and immediately thinking of natural disasters or armed conflict. However, you don’t have to experience these extreme situations to be affected, do you?
Veterinary practice is also emotionally tough. As professionals, we deal with the cumulative responsibility of decision after decision with high levels of mental and physical self-demand. And this commitment is not always acknowledged or rewarded. We often deal with the death and bereavement of families who trust us with their pets. We feel helpless when we cannot do more for our patient or when the families cannot afford it. Sometimes we see animals die too young. We deal with abused, neglected or abandoned animals.
It’s okay to feel sad at times during the work week or to cry at the loss of a patient. It’s healthy and very human. The important thing is how you deal with it. You can either give in to these emotions and let them affect you, or you can embrace them as part of your life and work. The good news is that resilience can be learned.
Veterinary practice is emotionally tough. Resilience is learning to adapt to the variety of situations we experience on a daily basis and embracing them as part of the profession.
How to learn to be a resilient veterinary care worker
1. Put the facts into perspective.
The facts are what they are and you cannot change them. However, you can change the way you think about and respond to them.
For example, the way you deal with a case that has gone wrong in a complicated family situation. It is very human and shows great sensitivity to feel that it is unfair, to come to think that perhaps you have not done enough and to feel partly responsible.
Or you can approach it in a more rational way: you have done everything you could possibly do with the cards you were dealt and you accept that sometimes you win the battle against the disease and sometimes you don’t. You accept that these challenges are an inherent part of your life. Accepting that these challenges are an inevitable part of the profession will help you to develop more balanced and rational thinking patterns.
2. Accept change as a part of life.
Sometimes we have career goals and dreams that can be derailed by life’s circumstances. If you can’t change it, accept it and focus on those things you can change.
3. Learn to be more positive.
It’s difficult to be optimistic when everything is going wrong, but don’t lose hope that good things can happen. It has been proven that most of the time we worry about future events that will probably never happen. Visualise what you want to achieve instead of worrying about all the what ifs.
4. Learn from your past.
Recall what you did or who you turned to for the strength to cope with a difficult situation in the past, and ask yourself what you’ve learned from those experiences.
Often, getting through difficult life situations brings with it a sense of personal empowerment. These situations can improve our self-esteem and we can learn to appreciate aspects of life that we didn’t pay attention to or didn’t stop to consider before.
The facts are what they are and you cannot change them. However, you can change the way you perceive and deal with them.
5. Be proactive.
It’s good to acknowledge and embrace emotions, but it’s also important to get to know yourself by asking what you can do about the problem you’re confronted with. If it is too big, learn to break it down into more easily manageable parts.
Take as much action as you can in difficult situations to try to change their course, rather than avoiding them and trusting that they will work themselves out. But if from time to time you can pick another less emotionally complicated path, protect yourself and do so.
6. Nurture your personal relationships.
Good family and social relationships are an excellent source of acceptance, help and support, thereby enhancing resilience. They also provide us with the opportunity to help others, which will boost our personal wellbeing.
7. Other useful ways to build resilience.
Some people find it helpful to journal their deepest thoughts and feelings about the situations they’ve experienced and are emotionally distressed about. Reflect on the positive aspects of your life and career and remember the things you are grateful for.
Meditation, yoga or spiritual practices can also help.
Self-care is also a very useful practice for mental health and building resilience, as stress affects both physically and emotionally: eat well, sleep well, hydrate, and get regular exercise to strengthen your body.
For many people, taking charge and acquiring the resources cited in this article may be enough to build resilience. If you feel you are stuck or struggling, don’t hesitate to contact a psychologist to help you establish an appropriate strategy for moving forward.
- Southwick, Steven M et al. “Resilience definitions, theory, and challenges: interdisciplinary perspectives.” European Journal of Psychotraumatology vol. 5 10.3402/ejpt.v5.25338. 1 Oct. 2014, doi:10.3402/ejpt.v5.25338
- American Psychological Association. The Road to Resilience. https://uncw.edu/studentaffairs/committees/pdc/documents/the%20road%20to%20resilience.pdf
- American Psychological Association. Building your resilience. https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience/building-your-resilience