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Tackling Loneliness In a Hyperconnected World

Loneliness is a key driver of poor mental health and affects millions of people in the UK every year and, according to The Mental Health Foundation’s Pandemic research, this has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

In this Mental Health Awareness Week Campfire Chat special, we came together to discuss why meaningful connection and having a sense of belonging matters, and how we as individuals and as a community can tackle loneliness in a hyperconnected world.

Key topics covered included:

What does loneliness mean to you?

Loneliness is personal can mean lots of different things to different people. It is important to remember that being alone is different from feeling lonely. You can feel content when you’re on your own, and lonely when you’re surrounded by people. Loneliness doesn’t equate to being alone.

Mental health charity, Mind, describes it as ‘the feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met.’

Loneliness may feel like you don’t belong, or that you can’t have your say because those around you might not understand.

Why is it important to talk about it?

Lots of people never think about the fact that you can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely. It’s not just about physical separation. Farm vets, for example, might not see much of their team, but can still feel connected when they’re alone. Loneliness is important to talk about as it can be hard to recognise

It can be difficult to reach out to someone and admit your feeling lonely for a number of reasons. Some may feel like they don’t want to burden others with their problems, when in fact, other people may be feeling exactly the same way. Everyone needs someone they can talk to. That’s why we need to break down the stigma. We need to look out for each other and be aware of when something doesn’t seem quite right.

When it comes to rural work, it can be difficult to make those initial meaningful connections when you’re spending lots of time alone working with multiple clients. However, once you get to know those clients and start building up relationships with them, things start to become a little easier. Sometimes just asking for a coffee and a chat is all it takes.

In our modern hyperconnected world, we have started communicating a lot more, but is this hindering the formation of meaningful connections?

With today’s technology, we are constantly contactable, but it has become less common to pick up the phone to talk to someone. So much is lost in instant messaging – tone, inference, and spontaneity. This can make it easier to lose touch with reality.

Why is community important?

Community gives people a sense of belonging and is hugely supportive in times of need. It can come in many forms. For example, it could be something wide scale, such as the veterinary practices in the Scottish highland and islands who now work together and can call on each other in times of need. Or it could be something much less involved but still meaningful, such as bumping into clients in the local supermarket who you have supported in the past.

It can be easy to think of community simply in veterinary terms. However, ultimately, veterinary, or non-veterinary, we are all people. This is why talking and sharing experiences is so important. It makes us realise we’re not alone. Being seen and heard matters.

What role does social media have to play?

Social media can be a great way of keeping in touch with friends and family – especially if you are far from home. However, if you don’t know the person you are following outside of social media, you are only seeing a filtered version of their life and it is hard to get an accurate view of what they’re experiencing. As Lucy, the Travelling RVN mentioned, you can post a magical looking photo, but nobody sees the hours of stress which have come before that single moment, so others can’t understand your struggles.

In veterinary terms, it can be a fantastic for people from across the professions who are looking to gain an insight into the different roles within the veterinary world. Pre-social media, this would have been much more difficult. Gaining that insight gives us a greater sense of understanding, which gives us the opportunity to become more connected as a profession.

However, social media is constant, and it can make it difficult to maintain boundaries and switch off.

In person sharing at conferences and networking events is still hugely important, as it allows us to get to know the person behind the screen. It also prevents those who aren’t on social media from being excluded from the conversation.

Do you think the pressure of being a leader can lead to professional isolation?

Leaders and managers have come into the conversation much more since the pandemic hit. Pre-pandemic, as a leader you knew your role and what you and your team needed to achieve. Since the pandemic, people are talking much more about mental health and part of leadership has become supporting the mental health of their teams, but quite often, leaders do not have any prior training to deal with this. By breaking down the stigma at the top and encouraging leaders to be open about their mental health and how to be supportive of others, this then filters down into the rest of the team.

Find out more about the Mind Matters Initiative and Veterinary Management Group’s new joint initiative to train veterinary managers on mental health in the workplace.

From a diversity and widening participation perspective, how can we create a sense of belonging through inclusion?

There is a big difference between widening participation and inclusion. You can have a diverse workforce, but everyone needs to feel included and like they belong. Even if you have supportive colleagues, it can be difficult if they aren’t subject to the same challenges you are facing. Social media can be a great way of connecting with people who understand and have found themselves in similar circumstances. Seeing people who are like you and being able to talk to those people about your experiences is hugely important.

Organisations such as British Veterinary Ethnicity Diversity Society (BVEDS), Animals Aspirations, British Veterinary Chronic Illness Support (BVCIS) and British Veterinary LGBT+ are all doing fantastic work in this area.

Panellist top tips:

  • Ask someone if they want to go for a coffee. Whether you’re doing it for them, or for you. Connection works both ways so don’t be afraid to reach out.
  • Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. Not only will this help you, but it may well help them. They might be feeling the same way and will give them the courage to reach out to others.
  • Connection is hugely important, but make sure you take time for yourself to decompress and be there for yourself as well as being there for others.

Further resources:

Vetlife – Loneliness and Isolation

Mental Health First Aid England

Loneliness – Every Mind Matters – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Mental Health Foundation – Mental Health Awareness Week 2022


If you’re currently struggling with your mental health, Vetlife is there for you 24/7 and can be reached on: 0303 040 2551. Or if you prefer, you can send them a confidential email.

The Samaritans also provide 24/7 support and can be reached on 116 123 or send a confidential email to jo@samaritans.org.

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Overcoming Self-Doubt and Stressing Out

In this Campfire Chat, we explored Overcoming Self Doubt and Stressing Out.

April marks Stress Awareness Month. It has been held every April since 1992 to increase public awareness about both the causes, signs and coping strategies for stress. According to a 2018 study undertaken by the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of people in the UK had felt so stressed in the last year that they had been overwhelmed and unable to cope…and this was pre-pandemic.

In this chat we discussed the concept of stress, the dangers of perfectionism, self-confidence and self-worth, and the importance of understanding our emotions.

Key discussion points in the Campfire Chat included:

Defining Stress

Defining stress sounds simple, but it isn’t. When we speak about stress in a physical sense, it literally means putting something under pressure.

In the emotional sense of the word, it can be seen in two ways. On the one hand, we all need some level of stimulation, or pressure, to get things done. This type of stress is useful, as it keeps us motivated and gives us a sense of control over our lives. However, too much perceived pressure can make us feel like we are no longer in control. We feel threatened. This perceived threat then triggers our limbic system to produce that all too familiar fight or flight response.

The limbic system is a primitive part of the brain which, when triggered by a threat, sends signals to the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline to help us flee from physical danger. Whilst this can be lifesaving when faced with physical danger, in the hectic modern world, our primitive limbic systems have failed to adapt and cannot always differentiate between genuine threat and perceived threat. Therefore, when we feel under pressure in any given situation, it triggers our limbic system and our adrenaline levels surge.

In animals, the fight or flight response is more of an instantaneous reaction which only occurs in the presence of a physical stimulus. For example, if a gazelle sees a lion, it will get a surge of adrenaline and run away. Once the lion is gone, that stress response will end as the threat has gone. However, unlike animals, humans have the ability to ruminate and can relive stressful situations over and over again and send us into overdrive.

Stress generally relates to our levels of stimulation, but if stimulation levels go into overdrive, this can become dangerous. 

Do we use the term stress too liberally?

When communicating our emotions, use of language is extremely important. It’s easy to say ‘I’m stressed’ without digging further which doesn’t allow you to fully understand or accept your feelings. Learning to understand your emotions is really useful as it helps you to identify the source of your negative feeling. You might be overwhelmed, upset, angry, uncertain. Identifying that emotion can help you regain a certain sense of control in a situation.

The same can be said for answering the question ‘How are you?’ with ‘fine’. ‘Fine’, like ‘stressed’, is another blanket term which can be used to cover underlying emotions. It is important to create a culture where people can feel safe in expressing how they really feel.  

Why do we need to talk about it?

We need to talk about both stress and self-doubt to help people understand that their feelings are valid and normal. Working in the veterinary professions requires compassion and naturally empathic individuals are more likely to be impacted by challenging behaviours and triggering situations than those who are less empathic. Therefore, it is essential to talk about these feelings so we can learn to accept and manage them.

Emotions are a vital part of what makes us human and occasional feelings of stress and self-doubt are natural – it shows you care. However, when stress levels rise, they can become inhibiting, as it is much more difficult to help others effectively if you don’t support yourself first. Talking helps us to support each other and know that we’re not alone in those feelings.

The importance of civility

When pressure builds, it becomes easier to lose your temper and project your emotional state onto others. Civility comes into this in a major way both internally within veterinary teams and externally with client interactions. This again comes back to understanding that all feelings are valid. Once again, communicating openly is so important as it allows people to understand each other better. Quite often, if somebody is being rude or uncivil, the person they are being rude to isn’t the reason that they are acting that way. However, if you are on the receiving end, this can be difficult to recognise. Whatever the situation, being uncivil is never acceptable and can have a hugely negative impact on all those who experience it.

Learning about civility helps us manage our emotions and understand that our feelings are valid. We all need to stop apologising for how we feel.

Civility Saves Lives does some fantastic work on this and have lots of free resources on their website. We are also currently hosting a series of civility training sessions run by VetLed in collaboration with British Veterinary Nursing Association.

Self-doubt and learning to fail

Perfectionism impacts so many of those working in the veterinary professions both in and out of work. It is important to remember that nobody knows everything, and that nobody ever will. It can be very easy to slide into perfectionistic tendencies, but 70% solutions are often better than 100% solutions. It is important to leave yourself space, as doing a good job isn’t always about being right or wrong. It’s about reserving your energy so you can do as good of a job as possible in all areas without putting pressure on yourself to be perfect, as perfectionism can often lead to burnout. Aiming for perfection instead of just doing your best to get the job done is exhausting and often counterproductive.

Learning how to fail is hugely important as there are so many people who are qualified but aren’t confident in their capabilities because they have been so used to being academically ‘perfect’ and receiving validation externally through exam results and hitting targets. It is therefore important to find the validation within yourself and be able to understand that you are enough just as you are, without placing too much value on your measurable achievements.

A brilliant podcast for this is Elizabeth Day’s How To Fail, the tagline for which is ‘learning how to fail, is learning how to succeed better.’

Panellist top tips:

  • Keep talking about stress and self-doubt, as talking about it normalises it. Learn to understand your emotions and look beyond happy, mad and sad.
  • Make sure you show up for yourself and others
  • Keep showing up imperfectly. Say if you’re not okay and give others the confidence to show up as themselves.
  • Make sure you look after yourself first and understand that you are more than your job. You are you, and that’s enough.

Further Resources:

Books:

Links:

Podcasts:

Apps:

MMI Training:

If you’re currently struggling with your mental health, Vetlife is there for you 24/7 and can be reached on: 0303 040 2551. Or if you prefer, you can send them a confidential email.

The Samaritans also provide 24/7 support and can be reached on 116 123 or send a confidential email to jo@samaritans.org.

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Celebrating Diversity

In this Campfire Chat, which took place on Zero Discrimination Day, we came together to discuss what celebrating diversity means to us, explore how this links to mental health, and shared our thoughts on why – and how – we should all be working towards greater inclusivity, both in and out of the workplace.

Zero Discrimination Day was launched on World Aids Day in December 2013 by UNAIDS, a UN programme set up in response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Since then, it has grown into an annual opportunity to celebrate diversity of all kinds, while championing everyone’s right to live a full life, with dignity.

It was fantastic to see so many people engaging in such an important topic which impacts our entire workforce.

Key discussion points in the Campfire Chat included:

What does diversity mean to you?

Diversity can mean so many different things to different people and can be hard to put into words. Given their various backgrounds, each of our panellists had slightly different takes on this, but ultimately it came down to one common thread: diversity is the inclusion of difference.

Within some organisations, diversity has become a box ticking exercise. However, simply having a diverse scope of people as part of your workforce isn’t really diversity. Diversity is about accepting people for who they are and everything that they can bring to the table. It’s an existence free of prejudice. It’s not just seeing different people in the workplace and being able to recall the right stats. It’s actively celebrating that diversity, giving everyone a sense of belonging, and actively listening to those in minority groups. It’s about recognising the fact that we’re all different, but that we can work and thrive together.

What does equity mean to you?

We cannot talk about equity without first talking about equality.

Equality and equity, whilst often used together, are inherently different. An image used to illustrate this was first designed by artist Angus Maguire, which shows two images side by side of three people of varying heights standing on boxes to watch a baseball match over a fence.

The first image depicts equality and shows three people standing on equal sized boxes. Meaning that whilst all individuals have been given the same tools to help them watch the match, the smallest person still can’t see over the fence.

The second image depicts equity. This time, each individual has been provided with a different sized box to suit their specific needs. The smallest individual has been given the tallest box, and the tallest individual the smallest box, meaning they can now all see over the fence and have the same vantage point. So, whilst the tool provided is slightly different, it is tailored to the individual need of each particular person to allow them to achieve the same outcome. (See this illustration here on the Interaction Institute for Social Change website) 

Everyone needs support and should be met where they’re at. It’s an iterative process in working towards a fairer world.

Diversity as a movement, not a moment

This is the idea that we should all be continually learning and be open to growth. As society evolves, we need to be open to continuous adaptation. This means embracing the fact that we don’t know everything and never will, and becoming comfortable with asking questions, doing the work, and knowing that we won’t always get it right.

If a challenging situation presents itself, it can be easy to be supportive in that moment, but it’s the continued learning and commitment to improvement which is vital. This is why we need to keep these conversations going, so that they become common place.

Diversity and mental health

Diversity and mental health are inextricably linked. Speaking specifically about the veterinary professions, we know that burnout, anxiety and depression are more prevalent compared to most other professions and there are further studies showing how lack of inclusion is also linked to burnout and other mental health issues. We can’t talk about one without addressing the other.

By creating a working culture where people feel empowered to be themselves, we can reduce instances of burnout. Recently, the Mind Matters Sarah Brown Research Grant funded research into the impact of racism on mental health in the UK veterinary sector. Whilst the research is ongoing, so far, the study has shown that racism negatively affected BAME people’s wellbeing both within and beyond their workplace. You can view a summary of the research in the Mind Matters Initiative Research Symposium Report and a recorded presentation of their findings so far, here.

People who are neurodivergent or have a chronic illness, often mask their symptoms in order to fit in. The surplus energy needed to keep up this constant façade, has also been shown to negatively impact mental wellbeing. When speaking more specifically about neurodiversity, this is shown to be more common amongst women. Many people don’t even realise they’re doing it. Many women are neurodivergent but become so good at masking that they never get diagnosed. They struggle in silence never knowing why. Find out more about masking here.

Unconscious bias

We all have unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is an unconscious favouritism towards or prejudice against people of a particular ethnicity, gender, or social group that influences our actions or perceptions.

Unconscious bias is difficult to address as we don’t know what we don’t know. We have all said or thought things in the past which, upon reflection, we probably shouldn’t have said or thought, or didn’t really mean. But rather than immediately recoiling and regretting our actions and then forgetting about it, it’s important to look into what made us say it in the first place and the thought process behind it. We all have blind spots, and we need to keep them in check.

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) was developed by Harvard University to identify and measure an individual’s implicit biases. The tests indicate where we have differing levels of positive and negative connotations with different groups of people and can help us understand how our unconscious bias may be impacting our interactions and treatment of others. Once we are aware of our biases, we can find ways to mitigate their impact on our behaviour and decisions.

Whilst it can be useful to learn where your own sociological blind spots are and which areas you need to work on, this isn’t enough. It’s about learning what we do with that information once you have it and being able to implement strategies to improve our own unconscious bias and that of those around us.

(If you wish to take the test, please ensure you read the ethical considerations before doing so. You will not receive support or feedback on the test results, so you may wish to consider this before proceeding).

Learning from a diverse workforce

When we talk about differences amongst individuals, the focus is often on the challenges people face and the specific label which marks them as different. Not only is this degrading, but completely misses the point about how we as humans relate to one another.

If we turn the tables, there are so many positives to be found in difference. For example, those living with a disability are hugely resourceful and fantastic problem solvers because of the challenges they have had to learn to navigate in order to lead their lives. This ability to problem solve translates across many situations, not just in relation to their disability. They have a more flexible mindset and can bring a greater level of understanding and empathy to clients. This translates across all aspects of diversity. Embracing diversity makes the entire workforce stronger.

For more on how diversity, equity and inclusion matter, you can access a 2020 report by McKinsey & Company, via The Leadership Library. This report demonstrates link between high levels of gender and race diversity and enhanced organisational performance. It also suggests that other kinds of diversity are also likely to bring some level of competitive advantage for companies that can attract and retain diverse talent.

Creating a culture of belonging

Acceptance is hugely important. All anyone wants is to be accepted, to be happy in who they are, be able to go to work, and enjoy life. We all have a duty to keep learning and make people feel accepted for who they are. We are all leaders in our own way but there are people who have more power within organisations to ensure this becomes common place. There are so many people out there who are doing fantastic things and changing things for the better, but we all have to be prepared to listen.

As the leader of an organisation, you have to listen to those around you. Having an EDI policy in place is one thing but putting it into action is quite another. Leaders need to commit to listening, reflecting and speaking out and find the power within themselves to be vulnerable. To be open when they don’t know something and give others the power to educate them in the areas they are less clear on. This applies to us all, but ultimately leaders are the ones who can create real systemic change. It can be lonely being in a position of leadership, but compassionate leadership will create room for growth and meaningful change.

Further resources:

If you’re currently struggling with your mental health, Vetlife is there for you 24/7 and can be reached on: 0303 040 2551.

The Samaritans also provide 24/7 support and can be reached on 116 123.

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The Joy of Creativity

In this Campfire Chat, we explored the Joy of Creativity!

Creativity is everywhere. It’s what makes life interesting, what keeps us all moving forward, and provides an invaluable source of escapism. But how can creativity be used to help support our mental wellbeing? Are we all creative? And why is creativity so important?

Key discussion points in the Campfire Chat included:

What does creativity mean to you?

When you research the term creativity, there are hundreds of different definitions. It can mean so many different things to different people, but it ultimately comes down to imagination – the ability to use your imagination to create. Innovation comes from creativity, and we cannot hope to move forward without it. It gives us confidence in our convictions and is a vital form of self-expression.

To explore this further, there is a fantastic article by Peter Connolly and Aoife Raleigh, Imagination and its role in innovation and wellbeing, which perfectly brings these concepts together.

Why is it important?

Challenging perceptions

Creativity is a highly effective tool for challenging our perceptions. What you might see as beautiful, someone else might not be able to stand. Creativity allows space for communication, discussion and progression. It gives us the freedom to explore new things, do something different, think outside the box and build self-confidence.

Self-development

As humans, we don’t like ambiguity. Our lives are based around goals and deadlines. All this structure leaves little room for imagination. As we get older and gain more responsibility, we lose that imagination and capacity to dream that we had as children. We start to focus on what is realistic and productive.

In today’s world, there is a certain pressure to constantly be ‘doing’ and we have become fearful of boredom. In a world of smart phones, there is no longer capacity for boredom. We’re no longer used to just sitting with our thoughts. It’s unfamiliar and unnerving but is extremely useful when it comes to exploring new ideas and concepts. The best ideas come from giving our imaginations the time and space to flourish.

Switching off

Creativity allows us to switch off. Doing something you enjoy and that is meaningful to you allows you to become completely absorbed and takes you away from the worries of the outside world.

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s flow theory explains this concept.

When we start making creativity an obligation, it no longer serves us. Implementing creativity into your life is an active decision, but once it becomes a ‘must’ rather than a pleasure, it loses its power. It is therefore hugely important to find something that makes your heart sing, rather than latching onto what you think creativity should be. If it isn’t meaningful to you, it won’t be beneficial. We each need to be brave enough to be curious and experiment, in order to discover what’s truly important to us.

Creativity doesn’t have to be conventional

Creativity takes many forms, and it doesn’t have to mean sitting and painting a masterpiece, writing a novel, pottery, or anything artistic. It simply has to involve your imagination. Whether that be coming up with an inventive way of treating a particularly difficult patient or simply sitting and looking out the window on the train rather than reaching for your phone, creativity can be applied to a whole manner of circumstances.

Panellist top tips:

  • Ask yourself the question, what if?
  • If you can, block out time in your diary to do nothing. Don’t label it as self-care, as by doing that you place an obligation on yourself to do something and it then becomes an inconvenience. Just spend time with your imagination.
  • Comparison is the thief of joy – there is no hierarchy when it comes to creativity so do whatever you want to do for you. Not for anyone else. It’s about the process and doing something that you find meaningful. Keep going until you find something that works for you.
  • Have fun, take baby steps, and just do it and trial it!

If you’re currently struggling with your mental health, Vetlife is there for you 24/7 and can be reached on: 0303 040 2551. Or if you prefer, you can send them a confidential email.

The Samaritans also provide 24/7 support and can be reached on 116 123 or send a confidential email to jo@samaritans.org.

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Working Through Winter

Winter can be challenging for many for a variety of reasons and connecting with others is a fantastic way of beating the winter blues. This is why our Campfire Chat on Working Through Winter was so important and meaningful as it gave us the opportunity to create our very own little community for the evening. As with our other Campfire Chats, it was brilliant to see so many people come together to engage in such an important topic.

Dr Claire Gillvray began the evening with an interesting statistic: 1/3 of us suffer from the winter blues and mood drops at this time of year. There are a number or psychological and physiological reasons behind this, but the good news is that there are many practical tips we can use to make the winter period that little bit easier.

Key discussion points in the Campfire Chat included:

Loneliness and the Importance of Community

Loneliness is tough any time of year but in the winter, this can be exacerbated. Reaching out can be tough but there’s always a community to be found whether that be in person or online. The chances are there will always be someone else who is feeling the same way as you so finding and connecting with those people can make you feel less alone.

Taking that first step is the hardest. If you go to a community group on your own and everyone knows each other it’s easy to start judging people and to assume they will be judging you, but 90% of life is turning up. Initially go for yourself and for the activity to take the pressure off connecting with new people, but overtime connections will form organically as you get to know people. It’s not just that first step which is hard but having the courage to keep taking those steps to form those new relationships.

Online communities can be a really great place to meet new people and form connections, especially if you work irregular hours or live in an isolated location where physical community can be hard to come by. There are plenty of groups out there so it’s worth keeping an eye out. These include veterinary specific online communities like Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify (VSGD), and non-veterinary ones such as Side by Side set up by the mental health charity, Mind.

There are many useful resources on loneliness and social isolation on The Loneliness and Social Isolation in Mental Health Research Network.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder is more than just having the winter blues. It is a formal diagnosis which includes loss of functionality. Symptoms include social withdrawal, losing interest in activities you previously enjoyed, and a drop in energy levels. Research shows SAD may be genetic – you’re much more likely to suffer from it if it is prevalent in your family. We need to be careful to separate SAD from the winter blues. If you suspect you are suffering from SAD, you should contact your GP.

Listen to panellist Dr Claire Gillvray speak more about SAD in a WellVet webinar from last year which can be accessed here.

SAD Lamps can be useful in helping with SAD. SAD is caused partly by a lack of vitamin D, which we normally get from sunlight. Nothing can replace sunlight (which is roughly 20x stronger than SAD lamps) but SAD lamps are better than nothing as they can still be used to trigger the cortisol melatonin cycle which will help you to sleep better. It’s all about regulating your circadian rhythm and SAD lamps can help upsurge your internal body clock in the mornings. (Interesting study here).

Owning your mindset

When you’re in a difficult situation it can feel as if the whole world is against you, and it becomes easy to adopt a victim mentality. Naturally, this can lead to negative thought spirals.

The first stage in addressing this is to recognise when that victim voice appears in your head. Finding the positives in bad situations can sometimes be near on impossible, especially when working in extremely challenging circumstances, as our primordial brains are naturally programmed with negative bias.

Changing this negative bias is difficult but not impossible. Scientific research has proven that you can train your brain to balance out the negative bias in your brain to make you feel more positive about difficult situations. Regularly reciting positive self-affirmations, for example, have been proven to change the way our brains look and function. In the past, positive self-affirmations may have appeared wishy-washy, but they do work. (Self-Affirmation Improves Problem-Solving under Stress (plos.org), Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation (nih.gov)).

Back in the summer our panellist Mark gave a webinar on Managing Stress with the Right Brain which includes additional useful tips on reframing negative thoughts and avoiding victim mentality.

Mark also mentioned a book by Sean Acorn called The Happiness Advantage which also covers this. A summary of the book can be found here.

Find what works for you (self-appraisals and motivation)

Find something you enjoy and that will motivate you to get out of your own negative head space. If you find something you like, you’re much more likely to stick at it.

Having an activity to focus on outside of work and home life which is just for you can be hugely beneficial and can help prevent burnout.

Taking time to check in with yourself is also hugely important and different things work well for people at different times. One day that might be reading a chapter of a good book, another day it might mean taking a bracing winter walk or taking a bath. Some people respond well to healthy competition with friends and colleagues to motivate themselves whilst others might find that idea horrifying. Listen to your body and find what motivates you and what allows you to reset.

The Christmas period can be extremely challenging so remember that selfcare comes from self-empathy. Veterinary professionals are fantastic at being empathetic towards others with many giving up their family Christmases to look after their patients but can often find it hard to be empathetic towards themselves. Winter is highly challenging with reduced daylight hours, isolation and unwelcoming weather, but there is some good to be taken from every situation and pride in every achievement (even if it doesn’t always feel like it!) When we speculate about how others are thinking or feeling we are rarely right, so don’t be afraid to ask for help or reach out if you need support – you may end up helping that person as much as they will be helping you.

If you’re currently struggling with your mental health, Vetlife is there for you 24/7 and can be reached on: 0303 040 2551. The Samaritans also provide 24/7 support and can be reached on 116 123.

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Men’s Mental Health

According to Mental Health Foundation, in England around 1 in 8 men has a common mental health problem. However, these are only the cases which get reported. Research shows many cases go undiagnosed and unreported. This is why we wanted to mark the end of Men’s Mental Health month with this very important chat about breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health.

Some key points highlighted in the conversation included:

Starting conversations about mental health

It’s important to ask people more than just “how are you?”. This is because quite often people will say they’re fine, even if they’re not. It’s important to sit down with someone and have a proper conversation. We need to make it normal to talk about feelings from a young age. It’s also important to respect that some people will not feel comfortable talking face to face. Find out about people’s preferred modes of communication, be that phone, video call, email, text or in person. Everyone is different and we need to approach these conversations in an open, caring manner and be there to listen.

A useful article on How to Start a Conversation About Mental Health can be found here.

Tackling self-stigma

There are always going to be people who are better off or worse off than you are. Don’t put off getting help because you think there are people worse off than you. Mental health is personal, and someone else’s situation doesn’t make your struggles any less important.

Student Mental Health

According to a survey carried out by the Association of Veterinary Students, around 82% of students experience mental health or wellbeing issues within their studies. This makes student life hugely difficult so there is a need to have conversations about mental health early on in people’s careers so we can break down the stigma from the start. The wider profession needs to set an example for those entering the workforce, so the next generation can feel comfortable and confident talking about their mental health.

Language

The language we use when talking about mental health is hugely important. Phrases tend to be thrown about frivolously such as “Oh I’m really OCD today” or “It’s raining – I’m so depressed!”. It’s important to reflect on how we express our feelings as using these terms incorrectly to express a passing emotion can be hugely damaging for those experiencing these mental health problems. This is what’s referred to as a microaggression. It’s not the intent with which things are said that matters, but the way in which these comments are received.

(For more on microaggressions, visit the BVA website where you can find resources as part of their #GoodWorkplaces campaign)

Honesty, taking pride in emotion and shared experience

Being honest about how you’re feeling is really important and expressing emotion is healthy and natural. Emotions connect people and sharing your emotions and experiences with others creates strong bonds between people. If you are willing and able to share your experiences, then you never know how big the impact will be – you could help many others realise they’re not alone. However, it’s important to note that disclosing personal feelings and thoughts is a very personal decision and everyone is different – not everyone will want to share their feelings with everyone else and that’s completely fine.

Shame

Sometimes people feel ashamed to ask for help when they need it, and this is sadly associated with suicidality. We shouldn’t see shame as an internal problem that needs to be fixed, but rather as a systemic issue which has been created by society and workplace environments. As Makenzie Peterson from AVMA said in our symposium last week ‘Organisations can put in place whatever they want, but you can’t downward dog your way out of a bad boss’. (Recordings of all symposium sessions will be available on our website in the next few weeks).

We need role models who we can all look up to when it comes to mental health. Whether that be older colleagues, younger colleagues, friends or family. Role models come in all shapes and forms, and we all need to be able to learn from each other and support each other depending on where we are in our lives. This is why we need to work together to break down the mental health stigma and build each other up rather than using our emotions to tear each other down. So thank you once again for becoming a part of this vital conversation.

If you’re currently struggling with your mental health, Vetlife is there for you 24/7 and can be reached on: 0303 040 2551. The Samaritans also provide 24/7 support and can be reached on 116 123.

Graphic of a a log fire on a green MMI background

Combatting Climate Change Anxiety

Climate change has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds this year. We’re constantly told about the physical dangers posed by climate change, but only recently has attention started to turn to the impact the climate crisis is having on people’s mental health. This is why we felt it was vital to run this session on Combating Climate Change Anxiety.

The chat began with panellists offering a definition of the term climate change anxiety – what it means, and the ways in which it can be defined. The panellists discussed the fact that climate change anxiety is known by several different names and can all mean different things to different people and can vary in intensity. Terms include eco-distress, environmental melancholia, eco-anxiety, and pre-traumatic stress disorder due to environmental threats.

The panel went on to discuss the ways in which we can combat this feeling of anxiety and what we can do both on an individual and collective level to improve the situation.

Key points included:

Balance staying engaged with self-care

You don’t have to be constantly engaged as this can lead to burnout. Often taking a break to do something you enjoy, will refuel you and prevent you from becoming disengaged. Don’t feel guilty for detaching once in a while.

Connect with likeminded individuals

A problem shared is a problem halved. There are lots of fantastic Facebook groups including panellist Alex’s The Sustainable Vet Nurse, and the Veterinary Sustainability Forum.

Vet Sustain has lots of useful resources for practical action.

Communication

Bringing up a conversation on climate change and environmental issues can be difficult. Sometimes just being heard or listening to others can really help with the conversations – especially when they are such emotive topics. Panellist Dr Catriona Mellor sign posted some useful climate communication toolkits which can be accessed via the following links:

  1. Positive Communication Toolkit – Conservation Optimism
  2. Six ways to change hearts and minds about climate change (onroadmedia.org.uk)

Shop local and support farmers

Imported food may be cheaper, but shopping local is a key way of reducing our carbon footprint. Farmers are part of the solution both in terms of animal welfare and sustainability, and wider stewardship of the countryside, and we need to work with them to continue to develop sustainable farming practices.

Feeling anxious shows you care

Being anxious, fearful, or worried is never a good thing, but it means you care.Caring makes you a bigger part of the solution than those who remain disinterested.

Be kind to yourself

Start small and build your way up. It’s often the little things that can make the biggest changes. You never know what impact you may be having.

A list of useful resources created with the help of our panellists can be found below::

General:

Activists and environmental accounts to follow on Instagram:

@mikaelaloach @jessicakleczka @envirobite @ayisha_sid @ninagualinga @climateincolour @greengirlleah @toritsui_ @vanessanakate @lizwathuti @intersectionalenvironmentalist @futureearth

If you’re currently struggling with your mental health, Vetlife is there for you 24/7 and can be reached on: 0303 040 2551. The Samaritans also provide 24/7 support and can be reached on 116 123