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Turn down the churn - getting your mind off your veterinary work

Posted in 1. Mental health resources @ Jun 29th 2017 - By Dr Cathy Warburton, Make Headway
Turn Down The Churn

Mind churn... it's a common occurence in the veterinary industry.

You go to work, work hard, do your best and head off home to rest and recover in preparation for repeating the process the next day. You get home, change into clothes that don’t smell of manure or anal glands and are animal hair-free – nice! You sit down to relax, phew - but this is where it starts to go wrong, as thoughts of work jump into your mind. You try to take your mind in a different direction, only to find yourself back at work, pondering on the cases you saw today, how you handled them, what you could have done better, what you should have said to that person …. on and on, around and around it goes.

Welcome to mind churn!

Mind churn is a common occurrence for many of us in the industry. For some of us it only happens every now and again, when a particular case or situation gets under our skin. But for others, this is a frequent occurrence. And it is exhausting! The churning thoughts take up cognitive space and can prevent us from seeing and enjoying what is in front of us.

  • When we are in mind churn, we can have conversations and agree to things (apparently) that we can’t even remember. “Remember”, your partner or friend will say, “remember that we organized to go to see such and such on that day?” And for you it is a blank.
  • In mind churn, we can read a book to our child using the appropriate tone, pausing in all the right places and having absolutely no idea what the story was about.
  • In mind churn, we can eat a bar of chocolate and not even taste it.
  • In mind churn, we can drive to a friend’s house without being able to recall any of the landmarks on the way.

Coulda....shoulda...

Sound familiar? When your mind is churning with what you coulda shoulda done, your family, friends, pets and health may only be getting the crumbs of your attention….and it is very likely that they know it.

When our mind worries away at problems, we are continuing to deplete our cognitive resources. Our so-called rest and recovery periods are no longer restful and they certainly don’t promote recovery! Instead, we continue to take fuel out of the tank, meaning we have less available for the next day and week and ….

And, the extra sad thing is that mind churn is rarely productive. Brooding on things in this manner is very unlikely to lead us to a place of insight, a place where we go, “Aha! I see what I need to do", and allowing us to happily leave the problem behind. Instead, what it does is focus us on ourselves and our problems as we relive the pain and worry.

Is this a place you recognize? Is a churning mind impacting on your life? And what can you do to turn down the churn?? Here are 3 tips for slowing an overactive mind.

1. Understand how your mind works

To a certain extent mind churn is normal – it is our brains way of trying to keep us safe. Unless your mind is actively engaged in the present, it will scan the horizon looking for potential threats to your well-being and then reacting as required to create safety. This is called default mind network and it is normal. This function of our brain has allowed us to survive all the way from the hunter gatherer days. But, in the relative safety of our current existence, the same pathways can be set off by little things that are more at the level of a niggle than life-threatening.

And, the rules of neuroplasticity tell us that any neural pathways that we use frequently become strong, fast and habitual. When the neural pathway is creating a healthy habit, this is fantastic news. But when the strong, habitual pathways are the ones creating mind churn – things are not so rosy.

2. Utilise strategies to turn down the churn

When our mind is actively engaged in what we are doing, the churn calms right down. It is really hard to be in mind churn when you are surfing or running or making an intricate mosaic or singing or doing a crossword or playing a computer game. Aim to cultivate a hobby or sport where you lose sense of the time – this helps to reset your mind and takes you out of the churn.

Learning to be mindful is another great strategy. You can do this formally by attending yoga or meditation classes, with the help of an app such as smiling mind or head space, or informally by consciously bringing your mind back to what you are doing – maybe using 5 senses experiencing, where you think about what you can see, hear, taste, touch and smell.

3. Ask for help

Why would you want to spend your precious time doing something as unproductive and potentially damaging as mind churn? When overuse has turned mind churn from a pathway to a freeway, it is going to take time, effort and persistence to change it. Enlisting the support of a professional to help you retrain the brain pathways is a really good idea. You could consider using a coach, counsellor or psychologist depending on the impact it is having on your life. There are many other strategies they can teach you in addition to the ones above and they can make a difference.

Just imagine for a minute what your life might look like if your mind was like a calm stretch of river surrounded by beautiful gum trees rather than a seething sea? Wouldn’t that be amazing! You can get there with some time, effort and support.

Image source: FreeImages.com/Nida Rehman

About Cathy

Cathy is a coach and well-being consultant/educator with Make Headway.  Prior to this, she worked as a veterinarian, trainer and manager in private, university and corporate practices for 25 years.  Please visit her site at www.makeheadway.com.au to make an enquiry about coaching or to find out more. 

In association with VetPrac, she runs a 6 week interactive on-line course on success and well-being that provide heaps of information, tips and strategies to improve well-being at home and work. 

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