As a veterinary mentor and wellness coach, I regularly speak with veterinarians who are impacted by negative self-talk. Veterinarians often get into the habit of judging their abilities/performance and ruminating over their actions. Frequently, we are our own worse critics.
Being a vet comes with great responsibility. We are often faced with life or death situations as well as the need to counsel clients on grave medical issues. Evaluating the pros and cons in a case is an essential part of practice, so is reflection on the outcome. Too often in situations with less dire outcomes, we are susceptible to unproductive self-talk:
“I’m so dumb. What am I doing? I don’t even know what I’m treating.”
“Why does Mrs. Jones want to speak to me? I must have messed up with Fluffy.”
Negative self-talk is common during times of stress or when we’re overwhelmed. It can be the first indicator that you need to evaluate your current situation. It’s totally normal that we accept these thoughts as reality. After all, how many of us are used to debating that little voice in our head? However, that is exactly what needs to happen. Challenge the thoughts or statements that pop-up in your head! Don’t let them affect your confidence, feelings, mood, energy or behavior.
It’s easy to inadvertently develop a habit of over thinking – or more importantly, judging our own actions. When you buy into the “story” in your own head, you start down a slippery path of self-doubt, often to the point that impacts confidence or you become too anxious to act.
The high incidence of veterinarians who suffer from “perfectionism” and “imposter syndrome” are well documented.(Perfectionists aim to be flawless, have incredibly high standards for themselves and tend to be self-critical. Imposter syndrome (IS) has more to do with feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness despite having accomplished significant achievements requiring hard work and competency.) Individuals with IS have a huge fear that others will discover their perceived deficiencies. It is interesting to consider the involvement of unbridled negative self-talk in the development or persistence of these conditions.
The first step when the voice in your head starts to criticize is to challenge it!
How true is it? Other than the feeling or emotion it creates in you, what is the true evidence? (We are scientists after all.) I find writing a list of daily successes, accomplishments, activities or simple “whatever has gone right that day,” is a quick tool to discover reality, bolster your confidence and refute your thoughts. Write it down – it’s not as effective listing things in your head. Firstly, one doesn’t realize the number of items in each list over several days. Visualizing these accomplishments is powerful. Secondly, when one is facing a barrage of unproductive thoughts it is helpful to get “out of your head” and engage your prefrontal cortex, that part of your brain responsible for logic and reason.
Don’t succumb to negative thoughts. Catch this cycle early and question the reality of what is going on in your head. Awareness is helpful in preventing the escalation of negativity that is draining. Creating behavioral change can often be difficult or feel strange, uncomfortable and impractical. There are numerous resources available to support and guide you. There are too many incidences in the veterinary field of mental illness, burn out etc. to sit back and think “it won’t happen to me”. The best way to ensure you will never become a statist is to act now!
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
Dr. Kimberley Khodakhah is both an established Small Animal Veterinarian and a Veterinary Mentor and Wellness Coach. She is passionate about veterinary medicine and works with others in the field to make this a satisfying and sustainable career. (www.vetopia-inc.com) She works part time per diem in New York were she lives with her 2 and 4-legged-family.