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Veterinary Industry: things I'll need.... 3. Optimism & Resiliency - one and the same?

Posted in 1. Mental health resources @ Mar 8th 2016 - By Nadine Hamilton, Positive Psych Solutions

What does it mean to be more optimistic or resilient..and aren't they both the same anyway?

In a recent Small Animal Talk blog post 'Can resilience inoculate against burnout, depression and suicide?' Nadine discussed why some people seemed to be affected more severely by the common stressors within the veterinary industry than others. She suggested it came down to an individual's coping skills, personality, optimism and resiliency all of which seemed like great topics for Blog Posts. 

We often hear about being more optimistic or resilient, but what does this actually mean?  And are they just the same thing and derive from just thinking positive thoughts?

The answer to this is no.  While optimism is the basis of positive thinking, there are different levels of optimism. 

Generally, optimism is described as expecting the best – as opposed to pessimism which is generally described as expecting the worst. 

However, while being optimistic is healthy, and various studies have linked optimism to being healthier and living longer, it is important to understand that in order for us to have a healthy level of optimism we need to also be realistic.

As an example, I am a hugely optimistic person (in fact, it is my number one character strength), however, I am also realistic.  Expecting that I will be a billionaire in six months and being very optimistic about this does not mean this will happen, because I am not really being realistic.  However, if I was hoping for my financial situation to improve in six months, then this is being optimistic AND realistic, as this is absolutely possible.

Optimism is the expectancy that one will succeed in their endeavours, and gives the will to realise your goals. 

And the great news is that you can learn to be more optimistic!  In fact, Martin Seligman (coined the father of Positive Psychology) has written a book on this exact topic!  Strategies such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and/or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be beneficial in helping to deal with the unhelpful/pessimistic thoughts and redirecting them to something more helpful/optimistic.

When we look at resilience, it is evident that individuals who are resilient are those who encompass a set of attitudes or assumptions about themselves that have an influence on their developing skills and behaviours. 

Resilience is not necessarily only gained by experiencing some unfortunate event – it is possible to create psychological fortitude and strength by undergoing events that are positive as well.  These behaviours and skills influence the assumptions the individual has, so there is a constantly operating dynamic process.  This set of assumptions is referred to as a mindset. 

Therefore, an individual with a resilient mindset is said to have several main characteristics:

  • feeling as though they have control of their life;
  • possessing and being a person with empathy;
  • knowing how to strengthen their hardiness for stress;
  • exhibiting interpersonal capability and effective communication;
  • learning from failure and success;
  • forming realistic expectations and goals;
  • having decision-making and problem-solving skills that are solid;
  • living life responsibly based on values that are thoughtful;
  • acting as a contributing and compassionate society member;
  • helping others to feel special, while feeling special themselves.

Resilience can also be described as the “ability to bounce back”, and can actually be found in both the brashest people and the quietest people.  

It is reported that resilience is more about how you bounce back or respond to events in your life, rather than what actually happens to you at the time of the event, and is about establishing a level of acceptance and flexibility in relation to life events.

While being in possession of a resilient mindset does not infer that an individual is free from conflict, stress, and pressure, it can imply, however, that the individual is able to successfully cope with problems as they surface.  It is also reported that some people seem to have a genetic influence of resilience.  That is, when faced with separation or grief, some individuals are able to naturally resume their former mental shape without disconnection, while there are other individuals who seemingly spend most of their lives trying to find their peace of mind and lost confidence.

When we are able to accept that our life is going to involve a mixed bag of experiences that will be both positive and negative, it places us in a much better position to be able to deal with the life events that will undoubtedly be thrown at us from time-to-time.  By being able to accept the things that we can and cannot change in our life is said to be one of the most important factors in being able to understand resilience. Essentially this means accepting and learning not to put our energy and focus into the things that are not working so well for us, but instead being able to grow and work with the things that are right in our lives. 

There are ten easy ways you can use to build a resilient life:

  1. Rewriting your negative scripts and changing the words of life

  2. Rather than a stressed-out path, choose one that is stress-hardy

  3. View life through the eyes of other people

  4. Practice effective communication

  5. Accept others as well as yourself

  6. Display compassion and make connections

  7. Effectively deal with mistakes

  8. Build masses of competence by dealing well with success

  9. Develop self-control and self-discipline

  10. Maintain a resilient lifestyle

If you would like to ask Nadine any questions about optimism and resilience, why not ask them in the comments section below?

Click here to read the previous blog posts in the series:

Veterinary Industry: things I'll need... 1. Coping Skills

Veterinary Industry: things I'll need....2. Understanding my Personality

About Nadine

Nadine has an extensive background in psychology and training, and has worked in a variety of organisations and industries for over 30 years. Her university training predominantly focused on organisational psychology and human resource management, and she is one of few known practitioners on the Gold Coast to specialise in positive psychology.

In addition to her qualifications as a psychologist, Nadine has a Master of Training and Development degree, and has just completed doctoral studies (Doctor of Education) focusing on veterinarian wellbeing.  Part of her doctoral research included the development of a psycho-educational intervention program, which returned promising results for treating anxiety, depression, and stress!

Due to the success of her research, Nadine is now specialising in wellbeing and suicide prevention, with a special interest in veterinary professionals.




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