The 6 steps that bring you from survival to success in the pandemic

FirstlineFirstline October 2021
Volume 16
Issue 5

Taylor Miller, DVM, breaks down the step-by-step process for resisting fight-or-flight and confronting conflict head-on in the troubling times of the pandemic.

tomertu /

tomertu /

With all the obstacles this pandemic has thrown at us, it’s no secret that our stress levels have increased, and everyday challenges have become much more difficult. “When we’re stressed, our decisions become reactionary...and we might try to avoid the situations that require decision-making,” said Taylor Miller, DVM. “But you need to move out of this survival mode in order to take action in a positive and deliberate manner—and the steps to doing so are very accessible.”

At the 2021 Veterinary Meeting and Expo, Miller explained the necessity of self-care and organization to eliminate the perilous pandemic panics.

Assess your mental state

What do your thoughts look like when you’re stressed? What behaviors do you exhibit? Simply evaluating your stress level and emotions can play a large role in pushing you through and beyond your current situation. “You have to recognize the ways in which stress is impacting your decision-making and your ability to cope, so you can start correcting those effects,” Miller said.

Recognize your mental state and what roadblocks are keeping you from moving forward. Are you afraid? Anxious? Tired? Understanding where your feelings are coming from can help you determine the best approach to take.

Use deliberate self-care strategies

Miller listed specific activities that aid in stimulating the mind, relaxing the body, and reducing stress.

  • Movement. Something as simple as a short walk or a few minutes of stretching releases tension and clears your mind. Don’t choose an activity based on its intensity or how many calories it burns; instead, prioritize how it will positively influence your mental state.
  • Sleep. Getting enough rest each night decreases our stress levels and strengthens our willpower, patience, and energy. Sticking to a consistent bedtime in your daily schedule is ideal.
  • Breathing. Not only is breathing easy and accessible, but it also helps release tension from both the mind and muscles. “By slowing down your breathing, you are signaling to your body that you are calm, which means that there is no threat. By tricking your body, you, in turn, get yourself to relax,” Miller said.
  • The natural world. Immersing ourselves in nature has both physical and mental benefits. Circadian rhythms (processes that regulate our sleep-wake cycle) stabilize with consistent nature exposure, ultimately making us feel both grounded and energized.
  • Mindfulness. When we cultivate an awareness of our thoughts and our bodies, we become fully engaged in the present. Connecting to our surroundings allows us to be alert and aware of the decisions we make.
  • Self-care illusions. The benefits of some activities cease as soon as the activity itself ends. Examples, such as a glass of wine or screen time, may be a temporary distraction, but should not be used excessively.

Although these self-care strategies may sound easy to implement, “they should still require energy and focus to accomplish,” Miller said.

Survey and catalog your available resources

Identifying our resources gives us a foundation to keep us grounded and is mentally reassuring. It can be hard to remember that we aren’t alone when we subject ourselves to negative thoughts, but reaching out to reliable resources automatically reduces the intensity of the situation. These resources may include the following:

  • Friends and family
  • Personal skills and strengths
  • Self-care options and strategies
  • Counselors, support groups, community groups, and professional groups
  • Books, webinars, YouTube videos, blogs, forums, Ted Talks, and podcasts
  • Formal time management and decision-making tools
  • Paid-for services, like housekeeping, meal kits, and childcare

“Sometimes in the midst of stress or [a] crisis, we can forget how intuitively successful we can be just by listening to ourselves and accessing our own skills and strengths,” Miller said. Because we know ourselves best, we know what we need in times of stress.

Identify where action needs to be taken and make deliberate decisions

A key ingredient to solving a problem is focusing on the factors that need the most attention. “Times of crisis can be an unlooked-for opportunity to reevaluate your values and priorities, as crisis has a way of sharpening our focus,” Miller said. As we pay attention to what matters most, we’re not wasting our energy on trivial things. By being forced to act, we recognize where our priorities lie.

Miller recommended several approaches, such as decluttering your brain with a mind map, Eisenhower Matrix, or a values and priorities assessment. You can also create decision strategies using a pro and con list, a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis, or a decision matrix.

Formulate and execute a plan

Forming a thoughtful plan provides us with structure that will ensure success when it is executed. Although creating this step-by-step plan doesn’t necessarily make reaching your goal easy, it does make it more achievable. Create a broad, overarching goal and objectives that specify the steps needed to accomplish it. Miller recommended stating your decision in the form of a SMART goal, that is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Because a SMART goal revolves around balance and achievability, it brings stress to a minimum and provides us with the tools we need to move forward. “For the decision to truly make a difference, you need to make a careful plan for it to become an action,” Miller said. “And the easiest way to make your decision is through a goal that defines its boundaries.”

Evaluate your results

“The end is never really the end,” Miller said. “The most important step might be to reflect on your results.” Reflection helps us understand which points in the process should be tweaked. Did you achieve your goal? What went well? What worked and what didn’t?

Noting the results after executing the plan is important. It closes the loop and finishes the project just as deliberately as it was started. It can be tempting to skip this step once the plan is executed. However, reflecting on the process offers a better chance for future success and instills a sense of satisfaction and positivity after the goal is finally achieved.

After you have results:

  • Welcome feedback. Learning how others view your progress can help not only in revision for a better second run but also in future projects.
  • Make necessary changes. We must be willing to adapt and revise accordingly. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance.
  • Celebrate the wins. Success is sweet, and too often we fail to celebrate so we can quickly move onto a new project. However, successes need to be acknowledged so we know what works, and we must be willing to put in the necessary effort the next time around.

Editors note: All veterinary technician content for this month is supported by Banfield Pet Hospital.

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