Wellness: Take Action

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Welcome to the culmination of our Wellness™ Revolution series. Throughout 2017, we asked wellness experts to share their wisdom and scholarship to encourage an exploration of ways of caring for yourself in the midst of daily challenges. We examined a variety of elements that contribute to personal and professional wellbeing.

Although reading articles about improving wellbeing is valuable, putting new practices into action is genuinely transformational.  We urge you to revisit our articles and commit to integrating at least one principle into your daily repertoire. We tell clients that health starts with preventive care. This is as true for ourselves as for our patients.  

We began our revolution by exploring what living well truly means. The World Health Organization defines wellbeing as the ability to realize your own potential, cope with the normal stress of life, work fruitfully and productively, and make a contribution to your community and society.1 These elements provide a blueprint for creating an existence that, day by day, contributes to a state of personal wellbeing. Throughout 2017, we shared powerful strategies aimed at helping you improve each dimension. Let’s briefly recap what we have learned over the course of this year. 

1 Our Wellbeing Year in Review 

In article 1, we explored the ability to reflect on our own self-care. Outward attention is essential for carrying out everyday tasks; inward attention helps us slow down and make sense of why we do what we do.2 With the fast pace of our daily lives, reflecting on whether we are living and acting in sync with our values and priorities keeps us balanced. This introductory article included a self-care list to help assess personal wellbeing.   

2

In our second article, we examined the 9 dimensions of wellbeing. Purposeful reflection on how each element manifests in our lives allows us to see which life dimensions may benefit from focused attention.

3

Article 3 introduced the concept that calming our stress response begins with quieting our brains. Most of us inadvertently exacerbate our anxiety levels when we inwardly judge our thoughts and actions negatively, which colors our moods and impacts our confidence. Learning to reshape our internal dialogue is an integral step to improving wellbeing.

4

Strengthening resilience (ie, the process of adapting well in the face of adversity or bouncing back from difficult experiences) was the article 4 theme. The goal is to increase resilience, which, like marathon training, is best nurtured with daily workouts.

5

In this article, we paused to recognize that, even with a toolbox full of positive coping strategies, we may need an outside counselor’s help to regain our balance or to cope with emotional distress. Finding a compatible professional is not easy, so we included guidelines to help with the search. 

6

We explored mindfulness (ie, the practice of being rather than doing) in article 6. We introduced the practice of being aware of what is going on around us so we can choose our response rather than reflexively reacting. Adopting and practicing conscious behaviors (eg, acceptance, kindness, patience, letting go) increases our coping repertoires when we are stressed and frustrated.  

7

Next, we switched from brain to body and explored how to pay special attention not just to our patients and clients but also to ourselves as physical beings. Article 7 taught us to see ourselves as “human animals” and to use our diagnostic ability to evaluate our own wellbeing rather than let overwork lull us into neglecting our physical selves. Sufficient food, sleep, and healthy exercise provide the strong foundation we need to thrive, no matter what we face.

8

Perfectionism, which was examined in article 8, is a common malady among healthcare professionals. The work we do has grave consequences, and we often hold ourselves to impossible standards. Recognizing this destructive tendency and treating ourselves with the same compassion we would give to a good friend who is struggling is important.

9

Finally, we were introduced to the power of focusing daily on gratitude (ie, the thankful appreciation for what life gives us, whether tangible or intangible). Practicing an awareness of grateful acceptance helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals—whether to other people, nature, or a higher power. Setting aside a few minutes each day to reflect on the positive aspects of life is worth the investment toward improving our own lives and, ultimately, the medicine we practice.  

Conclusion

We hope this series, while not all-encompassing, has inspired you to begin a new, active, reflective daily way of living. Mental health and emotional wellbeing are often elusive in the ever-increasing stressors in our lives and practices, so each of us needs to take immediate, conscious steps to strengthen ourselves, navigate challenges, and celebrate the positives.  

None of us will be spared adversity or pain, and although we can never plan for difficult times, we can begin training every day to strengthen our emotional, physical, and spiritual selves now so we have the endurance and fortitude to weather such times. Also, when we find ourselves overwhelmed with stress, depression, anxiety, or problems that do not seem to have solutions, we must give ourselves permission to reach out for professional support and guidance.

Veterinary medicine can be a taxing career, and the changing landscape of new information, changing legislation, evolving technology and social media, and challenging people can leave us struggling. The ideas we have shared this year are research-based building blocks that contribute to increased emotional health. Let us heed the call throughout the veterinary profession for a heightened awareness of the necessity to guard our personal and professional wellbeing. 

Which step will you take today?

1Decide which topics addressed in this summary most intrigue you.

2Read the corresponding articles.

3Prioritize your top 3 articles.

4Use the article action plan to schedule the accomplishment of each behavior change you want to adopt. Focus on only one each month.

5Make a personal commitment to incorporate the new practices into your daily life. Put a daily reminder in your phone appointment log, or tape one to your computer monitor.

6Share your progress with a friend or practice colleague.

7Celebrate your small steps each month.

References and author information Show
References
  1. Mental health: a state of well-being. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/mental_health/en. Updated August 2014. Accessed October 2017.
  2. Immordino-Yang MH, Christoudoulou JA, Singh V. Rest is not idleness: implications of the brain’s default mode for human development and education. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2012;7(4):352-364.
Author

Kathleen Ruby

PhD Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine

Kathleen Ruby, PhD, has been the director of counseling and wellness and a faculty member at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine for the past 18 years. She was the cofounder of the Veterinary Leadership Experience, an experiential retreat geared toward building personal leadership skills and a wellness mindset for veterinary students and practitioners. Additionally, she was the founding editor in chief for Exceptional Veterinary Team and Veterinary Team Brief. Kathy is a member of the AVMA Wellness Task Force and has helped launch a professional group for veterinary mental health practitioners. She speaks and writes about wellness and well-being issues throughout the profession. She is also a member of the Veterinary Team Brief advisory board.

FUN FACT: Kathy recently returned from an 18-month sabbatical in New Zealand, which had been on her wellness bucket list for 2 decades. She especially recommends long beach walks and flat whites as prime soul-quenchers.

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