Be Here Now

Finding normalcy amid the ongoing changes is difficult, and can cause anxiety, stress, and frustration. Learn from Veterinary Wellbeing Program Director Debrah Lee, LCSW, about how to check in with yourself and establish meaningful connections.

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There are many different reactions that we may be experiencing as our “new normal” continues to unfold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Feeling a little out of control is normal right now. It is an uncomfortable reality. Sometimes we react to that discomfort with avoidance or by trying to assert control into more areas of our life—feeding into the idea that we can control the future. When we are in a more balanced space, we may be able to recognize that at times, even if we do everything “right,” things don’t always turn out the way we planned—sometimes heartbreakingly and other times to our delight. Human brains crave information and they want the security of a known future. Ambiguity is perceived as a threat and can leave us feeling anxious, afraid, and frustrated.

Anxiety has a way of robbing us of our experiences in the present moment. It tends to bring up thoughts and worries from the past when we wish we had used our control differently, or take us to the future, to try to predict and create the perfect outcomes. These thoughts and feelings that arise are a part of the processes that have evolved with us over time to help us survive. There are times when anxiety’s tendency to push us to focus and re-experience can be helpful. There are also times when getting stuck in overly negative thoughts does not serve us and leaves us feeling more hopeless and depleted.

It’s important to acknowledge that our emotions and the way we experience them are multifaceted. One of the frustrating realities of human cognition is that we not only react to the world around us, but we also have internal reactions to our reactions. That supplementary reaction often looks and sounds like judgment, which can further push us out of the present moment.

Yet one of the things that I know about empathy is that it is a driver of connection. Empathy has allowed me to deeply connect with others in a shared understanding of the ways that life is challenging, sometimes devastating, and also wonderful and joyous. Veterinary practice is driven by connection. It works intimately with the profound bond between humans and animals. The veterinary profession is one that calls for empathy in the service of the work, attending to patients within the context of their humans, who arrive with their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences that inform treatment options.

 

When I have a moment, day, or week where empathy has left me feeling overwhelmed or tired, there are some reminders and practices that I have to help me keep moving forward authentically with my full presence. With everything going on in the world around us, it is more important than ever to keep these things at the forefront of any work that is driven by empathy.

Practicing mindfulness is a valuable way to connect with our present moment. In our fast-paced and complex world, cultivating mindfulness is a way that we can check in with ourselves in the present moment. Jon Kabat-Zinn, known for his work on mindfulness-based stress reduction, has described mindfulness as “the awareness that comes from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” 1 Rather than a specific activity, mindfulness is a state of being. It has been shown to have benefits associated with reducing rumination and stress, decreasing emotional reactivity, improving focus, and increasing cognitive flexibility. 2

 

Meditation is one well-known practice that can cultivate mindfulness, and there are also practices that can be utilized throughout the day to engage in this practice.

  • Take a moment to notice your breath. When you are alive, your breath is always with you and can serve as a helpful anchor to the present moment. Maybe notice the quality of your breath—if it’s deep or shallow, warm or cool. Notice the rise and fall of your stomach with each inhale and each exhale. Simply notice without changing it.
  • Use your senses. Use your senses to recognize what you can see, feel, hear, smell, or maybe taste in the present moment. Take a moment to notice the sensation of your shoes cradling your feet and how it feels where your feet press into the ground. If you’re having a snack, notice the flavors, textures, or colors of your food.
  • Enjoy and connect with nature. Sometimes the wonders found in the natural world can ease our awareness of the present moment. This can include taking the time to notice which flowers are blooming or the way the branches are swaying in the wind.
  • Understand that your mental processes are just thoughts.Understand that your mental processes are just thoughts; they aren’t necessarily true, nor do they require you to act. Mindfulness is about simply being, and about being relaxed in accepting things around you as they are. This applies internally, too—it’s part of knowing your mind.
  • Notice if your mind has drifted towards judgment. Notice if your mind has drifted towards judgment. It’s normal for our mind to shift into judging our thoughts. The practice of mindfulness is built by learning to recognize when we’ve shifted into judgment and can improve over time.

 

It can be valuable to build mindful “pauses” into our day—not with the intention of eliminating stress or negative thoughts and feelings, but to provide more space to make balanced choices in the present moment. Acceptance of the here and now does not mean resignation. Letting go of what we can’t control doesn’t mean that we’re giving up—it clears a path forward.

 

Resources

  1. Moore, Catherine. What Is Mindfulness? Definition + Benefits (Incl. Psychology). 19 May 2020, https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-mindfulness/.
  2. Davis, Daphne M. and Hayes A. Jeffrey. What are the Benefits of Mindfulness. 2012, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.
  3. Moore, Catherine. What Is Mindfulness? Definition + Benefits (Incl. Psychology). 19 May 2020, https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-mindfulness/.
  4. Smith, Marian A. What’s the Buzz about Mindfulness? 2013, https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/whats-buzz-about-mindful

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