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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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