Many people are suffering right now. Job loss, grief, family and community turmoil. While we are all in different boats…different levels of privilege, different socioeconomic circumstances, different options…we are all in the same storm and the pandemic is affecting everyone. I am aware that the trials facing our health care providers are not fully unique, or even the worst faced in our society. They are, however, difficult, and the people facing them: doctors, nurses, physician assistants, have had to learn how to adapt and deal with stress in unique ways to survive long before the COVID pandemic. What can we learn from those that are adapting successfully?
Exercise is the number one coping mechanism for health care providers. Yoga, group cycling, Crossfit, weightlifting, running and meditation...you name it, and you’ll find healthcare people doing it! Apart from the clear health benefits to exercise, clinicians use exercise to balance their moods, reduce stress, and improve focus and endurance. Providing medical care can be a strenuous, exhausting task and clinicians need to be at their best. Because scheduling is tight, clinicians build in structure to ensure they can exercise as often as they want. Structure beat motivation every time.
Health care providers remember the mission. It is one of the joys of practicing medicine that the mission, your reason for showing up, for doing well and for staying engaged, is right in front of you every time you go to work. Our communities, our patients and their families ARE the mission and connecting with them, seeing our impact on their lives and knowing that giving our best makes a difference supports us as well. A thank you from a patient, or the look of relief in a family member’s eye, can fuel an entire shift. Most of us go into medicine, train long hours to learn the skills, and defer free time and financial stability for a decade for that mission, and it continues to sustain us.
Finally, the most successful clinicians at fostering a sense of professional well-being find time to reflect. They write, podcast or journal about their experiences to put them in context and process them. They meditate and calm their bodies and minds. They find peace and meaning in their faith communities, in nature, and in the moments (seconds sometimes) between caring for sick and dying patients. If you scratch a physician, you will find a philosopher, because facing tangible evidence of the mortality that awaits us all forces reflection or despair.
So, what can we learn from these resiliency pros?
1. Structure beats motivation. Build in time for your priorities.
2. Remember the “Why”. When things get tough, that’s what will keep you going.
3. Reflect and learn from your experiences.
Finally, remember that our health care workers around the world are laying it all on the line for our families and communities. Please be patient with them, say thank you, and remember that they are human beings doing their best in a flawed system.