Resilience and Self-Care

Resilience isn’t just for dealing with the tough times.  We can learn and build new ways of facing personal and professional challenges.  Consider these strategies…

How to Build a Stronger Work Life: Reconsider Resilience

Dr. Marla Gottschalk

I’ve often wondered why building resilience isn’t a key business imperative. Because being human, is often at odds with work life. Our work can routinely bring stress, negativity, setbacks and outright failures — and we are challenged to employ strategies to combat the effects.

We often frame our conversations about resilience with stories of extreme hardship or extenuating circumstances. However, resilience could serve as an ever-present, daily mentor — helping us to rebound from the collected pressures of work life. Most of us forge on, taking little note of the collected toll.

This can be a serious mistake.

Through all of the trials and tribulations, we rarely notice that our psychological resources are waning.We muddle on. We develop idiosyncratic mechanisms to bolster our mood and maintain motivation. However, the damage can accumulate and we become less able to bounce back. Months later, we may realize that we still lament the project that has been cut, laid off co-workers or failing to land an important client contract and our energy levels are affected. When the next event unfolds, we find ourselves essentially bankrupt. Devoid of the necessary resources to meet the challenge.

There have been a number of discussions on the topic, including protecting ourselves from overload, banking positive currency and practicing self-compassion. However, what if we could take resilience one step further? Could we effectively build our skills (and our team’s skills) in this area — just as we challenge our muscles in the gym?

Can we learn to think and act more “resiliently”?

Well — yes. There is evidence that resilience can be learned. The work of Dr. FredLuthens (who explores the construct of Psychological Capital) has completed research examining this area which could be fostered by organizations and shared with their employees. Supporting research completed completed by Ann Masten also provides foundational elements. This includes addressing 1) asset factors (elements that enhance our resilience, such as a stable home life or a healthy way to examine failure), 2) lowering risk factors (for example, a lack of a mentor) and 3) altering our perceptions concerning the potential to influence work life circumstances.

Here are a just few ways to apply this knowledge to our daily lives:

  • Facilitate network building. Building long-term asset factors, provides a stable foundation to help us deal with stressful work situations when they do arise. Consider losing a job for example; stronger networks can help employees move on more effectively by providing access to critical information concerning roles and growth needs.
  • Clarify strategy and goals. Reducing risk factors — elements which weaken our psychological safety net, is also vital. For example, knowing “why” we are completing a task and how our role contributes to outcomes is critical. If we fail to believe that our actions have meaning, we are less likely to forge on.
  • Utilize the “staunch reality” viewpoint. One scenario that quickly depletes psychological resources, is sticking to a game plan that is simply not working. Understanding that we have the ability to influence outcomes by embracing realistic assessments of workplace situations — can help us to prepare. This honest view is necessary to review history, properly identify setbacks, evaluate potential impact and brainstorm possible responses before they occur.
  • Aggressively focus on strengths as a “vaccine”. We can mitigate the negative after effects of stressful events, with a focus on positive elements. This includes the identification and utilization of an individual’s stronger vs. weaker skill sets. A focus on the latter, can quickly deplete our psychological reserves.
  • Explore the sources of “drain”. The elements that drain our psychological reserves can be varied (and often surprising). Consider the sources that affect you and meet with your team to determine where the leaks are occurring. Brainstorm actions to stem the tide.

How do you build (and protect) resilience for yourself or your team? Share your strategies.

Health Professionals as Patients: Collaborating for Our Holistic Health

A new advocacy client of mine is a MD.  His stress levels have been off the chart, and his self-care skills negligible.  As a RN Patient Advocate, I helped navigate his 1.5 week hospitalization, and was present for his discharge to home.  I’ve suggested an anti-inflammatory diet, acupuncture, and guided imagery.  He’s agreed to everything, and is researching other complementary modalities.  Keep an open mind, and recognize that “other” licensed providers have ethical modalities that aid in our whole-person well-being.  Connect and collaborate for our collective health!

What it feels like to be a patient from a doctor’s point-of-view

Anonymous | Conditions | November 3, 2016

For the first couple of years of medical school, the constant stream of exams and the anxiety that came along with each one seemed never-ending. I told myself that it was worth sacrificing my personal health to better the lives of others.

I put off addressing my own mental health needs to keep advancing to the next level of education. I let stress manifest itself in new ways that my body wasn’t used to. I compulsively ate away my feelings with total disregard to both my physical and mental health. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and became pre-diabetic by the end of my first year. I thought to myself “everyone goes through things like this during medical training. I’ll lose the weight next year”.

Another year went by and along with it came a new diagnosis. I started having terrible headaches that were different from the migraines I had become used to. I became preoccupied with my headaches. If I wasn’t in overwhelming pain, I was having anxiety about when my next headache would occur. After going through months of diagnostic imaging studies and to various physicians, I finally found a cause to my pain. By the end of my second year, I developed a medical condition known as idiopathic intracranial hypertension or pseudotumor cerebri.

My neurologist said that if my headaches weren’t well controlled, I could lose my vision. The pressure in my head could even get so bad that it could cause my brain to herniate if severe enough. It was a huge wake-up call. It’s hard to say how much medical school played a role in the development of my condition, but my headaches and instances of increased intracranial pressure have correlated highly with my stress level.

Making steps towards leading a healthier life by implementing exercise into my daily routine and identifying stressors has improved my symptoms greatly. The process of being a patient has taught me empathy for the patients that so often feel dismissed in our health care system.

A physician recently took the time to research the effects of the anti-inflammatory diet to augment the medications for my condition. The fact that he went above and beyond to provide me with an alternative to the medications that have been failing me for the past few months made me feel cared for. I invite health care professionals to take the extra 5 minutes to examine the current research and alternative modalities to medicine being used to treat your patient’s condition. It can make a huge difference in their quality of life.

My call to action to other graduate students struggling with chronic diseases and mental illnesses during their training processes is this: take care of yourself. You can’t take care of anyone if you’re dead. Your health is worth saving. Ask for help when you need to and advocate for what you believe in.

The author is an anonymous medical student who blogs at Naked Medicine.

American Holistic Nurses Association

I’ve been a member of the American Holistic Nurses Association since the 1980’s, an organization that grew out of the need to heal the healer and prevent nursing burn-out.  AHNA emphasizes the holistic needs of the health professional – through self-assessment, personal development, and stress management.  Holistically caring for ourselves (body, mind, spirit) is an absolute prerequisite before effectively caring for others.


“The nurse owes the same duties to self as to others, including the responsibility to promote health and safety, preserve wholeness of character and integrity, maintain competence, and continue personal and professional growth”.  That’s Provision 5 of the Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (American Nurses Association, 2015 revision).  Holistic self-care (mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, environmental, social) is an ethical and professional responsibility equal to a nurse’s professional development.

You’re probably acquainted with nurses who focus on caring for others (patients, family, friends) more than caring for themselves.  It would be preferable to see them as role models for wellness, having balanced lives, emotionally healthy, and practicing personal safety.  If you’re a health care leader, there are ways for you to help and support nurses engage in self-care practices.  For example, are you offering flexible scheduling, adequate staffing, liberal PTO, continuing education, no mandatory overtime, professional recognition, pay raises, and well deserved break times in comfortable break rooms?  Nurses don’t work in a vacuum, and other health fields encounter similar problems:  burnout, stress and fatigue, bullying, lack of focus/motivation, compassion fatigue, and increasing hierarchical demands.  What are each of us doing to promote and support the health and well-being of ourselves and others?  Remember!…when caregivers are cared for, employers and patients benefit, too.

Stephanie Frederick M.Ed., RN and Jennifer Reich PhD, RN offer retreats for health professionals:  Shifting Our Spirits: Balancing Our Lives Through Creative Strategies.