“Resilience” is a word you may not have come across at all. It’s not a commonly used word, and possibly not in the particular context we will discuss on this article. However, recently “resilience” has become a buzzword in many areas, including veterinary practice.
So what is resilience?
When you start looking for definitions of resilience, you will find some available. We are talking about psychological resilience, in other words, the ability to recover from setbacks and persist in your path. You can now start to understand why “resilience” is talked about in a veterinary context – because you do need to recover from stressful events that you may not control and keep doing what you are doing to the best of your abilities, without letting those past events negatively affect you.
Or to put it into a practical context, you have to be able to do a pyometra surgery to the best of your abilities even though the day before you lost your patient during anaesthesia because you failed to diagnose a heart condition.
Why is resilience important?
As we have seen in previous articles (such as this one), mental health is an important struggle veterinary surgeons face. Resilience seems to play a significant role in mental health and is therefore a good quality to have!
What do resilient people do?…
Initially it was thought that resilience had a lot to do with the way you were born. However, it is now perceived as something you can actually learn, as you will also get from the many courses available, some of them in the veterinary field.
Although there are no clear “recipes”, it looks like different qualities are associated with resilience. When looking at different studies, it seems like there is an overlap on three main areas:
Maybe you thought that resilient people are super optimistic and see all the positives… however, being too optimistic means you don’t see the real impacts of the situation you are in and leaves you vulnerable to them… so it seems like what matters is being real about reality. By seeing the reality, you can prepare for it and when it’s needed you already have the tools to endure.
Believing in a deeper meaning
So this also sounds buzzing, but really we’re talking about this… when you go through a difficult situation, do you play the victim role and ask yourself “why me? Why now? Why this?” or do you find meaning in it? Because the latest is associated with resilience! By “finding meaning” you see how the situation brought you where you are and how it impacts you and is fundamental for the person you want to be. It connects the hardships of the present with the possibilities of the future. It is also possible to learn how to find meaning in things even if you don’t typically do it, although it’s not necessarily easy!
This may actually have more to do with creativity than resourcefulness. It’s about seeing opportunities and possibilities, but we may be talking about something very specific, such as using a toy skateboard to allow an amputated turtle to walk around on 3 legs (and a skateboard!). This skill is useful for many other situations and not just as a quality associated with resilience.
Tools to improve your resilience
This is not easy and it’s not immediate. It’s a long process of creating small habits that you repeat. A lot is to do with becoming more self-aware. Afterall, without knowing who you are and how you think you will struggle to make change.
- Meditation: this is a habit that can be life-changing, but requires a time compromise. However, meditation is not necessarily about sitting down with your legs crossed mumbling “ohhmmmm”. It is simply about being present in the moment without judging yourself. And you can do this at any moment of the day by observing how your body feels and what the voice inside your head says. The key is to understand that you are neither of them – you are the one feeling the body and hearing the voice!
- Journaling: this is the method that works for me best. Over the last year and a half I’ve developed the habit of journaling on a daily basis. There are many ways to do this and I have tried a few, from gratitude journals to bullet points. Right now I just jott down my thoughts to clear my mind, usually in the morning before doing anything “important” during the day. Having a gratitude practice is also important – it helps you give meaning to what you previously haven’t noticed.
- Recharge: there is a very interesting article about resilience by Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan where they argue that resilience is not about enduring, but about recharging. And this makes a lot of sense – many of the times, we as vets are very good at enduring, but that doesn’t mean we’re happy about it! If you are going to bed thinking about that case you saw two days ago that you haven’t yet heard from, you’re not recharging, you are still enduring. And just like with physical exercise, the period where the muscle grows happens after the exercise. If you don’t recharge properly, you will build up the exhaustion and that will create room for other mental issues to creep up and develop.
Do you think this should be taught at university?