Self-compassion is more than just self-care - Veterinary Practice
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Self-compassion is more than just self-care

When we are truly self-compassionate, we relate to our feelings in an accepting manner to defuse their hold on us

A pandemic has enveloped the world, changing the way we live so dramatically and chipping away at our inner strength bit by bit until we were left anxious and on a rollercoaster of emotions aptly named the COVID-coaster. It’s difficult to maintain the inner strength we have spent so long cultivating right now.

It is often said to “treat yourself the way you would want others to treat you” – so, how would you treat a friend who is struggling, and how can you extend that effort towards yourself? Do you find yourself gagging for a coffee and then, when you get it, slugging it down while typing your notes frantically? Do you run yourself a bath and then spend your time in it scrolling through your long list of emails? Do you wonder why, if you are exercising self-care by making yourself a coffee and running a bath, you’re not feeling the benefits of it?

Ask yourself this. If a friend were struggling, anxious and exhausted, would you place a cup of coffee in their hand and then walk away, job done? Would you sit them in a comfortable seat and then scroll through your emails, ignoring them? No, of course you wouldn’t. So why do we do this to ourselves?

Why do we pay so little attention to ourselves and think that the material external aspects of self-care are enough to “fix” us? Why does looking after ourselves and offering loving kindness to ourselves end up on the long list of chores we really don’t have time for? So, we half-heartedly do it to “get it done”.

Self-care is so important if we are to maintain a stable mindset during challenging times. This pandemic has presented us with a unique set of challenges, the like of which we’ve never seen before and hopefully will never experience again. You may have children, colleagues and clients all depending on you to help them and it’s difficult not to experience emotional fatigue.

This state of sympathetic overdrive coupled with the knowledge that there is really no easy way out of this can send us on a downward spiral into a state where we are no good to anyone.

Taking time out to stabilise and to recharge is essential if we are to survive. Ironically keeping our heads just above water by running a bath and hoping that’ll be enough for now, is simply not enough.

The three elements of self-compassion


Mindfulness helps with self-awareness in a balanced way. As we know, mindfulness is focusing on the present moment on purpose, as if your life depended on it. And yet, focusing on the present moment, when it’s nothing short of horrific, seems counterproductive. However, avoiding feeling what you’re feeling, in order to feel it a bit less, will allow those emotions to grow into something truly unmanageable before they come back to haunt you at a later time. So, we need to deal with them as they happen.

It’s easy to ruminate and to get lost in the drama especially when the current situation is so overwhelming. Mindfulness helps us to relate to what we are feeling in an accepting manner. For example, “I feel anxious that the mental health fallout of this pandemic will be too enormous for me to bear.”

Rather than analysing the anxiety and the origins of the anxiety, instead of justifying it, instead of judging it, simply accepting that anxiety is the thing I’m feeling, and allowing myself to feel it, can defuse the hold that it has on me.

Have you ever noticed that, sometimes, when you talk about what’s upsetting you to a friend, they immediately begin a sentence with “well at least” or “never mind” or even “it could be worse”?

This is a genuine effort by a kind friend to help you. But active listening doesn’t respond with unhelpful comments. Active listening means being there in the moment with your friend, silently understanding, pausing to digest what they’ve said, relating on a deep level to what they’re expressing. True empathy doesn’t sweep your friend’s uncomfortable feeling under the carpet in an effort to jolly them up. No, we pause, reflect and share the load by staying quiet.

So, can you do that with yourself? When you make yourself that coffee or run that bath for yourself, can you then spare yourself the time to just be there with yourself in that moment? Like you would with a friend in need? Truly listening instead of scrolling through your messages. Accepting and understanding that it hurts. Taking the time to just be and to breathe.

A sense of common humanity

By that, I mean taking some solace from the fact that we are not alone in our experiences and feelings. This awful suffering is part of the human experience. We have horrific pandemics every 100 years or less. This is the norm for humans. I’m not saying that it doesn’t hurt. It does. Enormously. But knowing that we are not alone, understandably eases the added anxiety associated with loneliness. And loneliness is rife at the moment due to social distancing and isolation. Repeatedly saying in your head “this shouldn’t be happening” is a judgement which is rarely helpful.

Loving kindness towards yourself

What does this mean? We need to cultivate a strong motivation to relieve our suffering. It’s vitally important. You can make it OK for you. You can make it better than OK for you.

But it needs to be deeper than just physical well-being if it’s going to weather the long storm we have ahead of us in the post-pandemic phase. It needs to be hand-on-heart meditations and more.

A mini meditation for vets and vet nurses during times of anxiety

Hold your right hand on your heart as if to say to yourself “I’m here for you.” Like a close friend offering comfort. Close your eyes. Taking normal breaths, concentrate only on the in-breath for a while. Imagine you are breathing in strength, loving kindness and calm. Imagine it as a valve mechanism and the in-breaths “inflate” the inner well-being. Every in-breath adds to the strength, love and calm inside you. Feel the solace growing inside of you.

When you feel a calm, warm sensation within, when you are fully “inflated”, stay focused on it for as long as is comfortable.

Laura Woodward

Laura Woodward has been the surgeon at Village Vet Hampstead for over 10 years. Laura is also a qualified therapeutic counsellor and is affiliated with the ACPNL and the ISPC. She runs – a counselling service for vets and nurses.

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