Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” ~ Oliver Goldsmith
Listen to today’s post on the go or continue reading below …
Last week we touched on the challenges of medical training and the need for trainees to ask for help when needed. In reality, this concept applies to not only people who work in medicine, but anyone who faces difficulties that may impact their emotional wellness. Having said this, medical training poses a unique set of cognitive and physical demands that focuses on the healing of others, not the healer.
What are the warning signs of emotional distress?
It ‘HELPS’ to be able to recognize the warning signs of emotional stress so one can take action. Take time to consider the acronym I created below and reflect on your responses.
H – Hopelessness
Do you feel a sense of hopelessness, as though you have lost your purpose and passion for what you are doing?
E – Exhaustion
Do you continually feel exhausted, as though you cannot recharge your batteries despite periods of rest?
L – Lack of Accomplishment
Do you feel a sense of lack of accomplishment, as though you can never get ahead of your workload?
P – Pessimism
Do you feel pessimistic, as though you are increasingly cynical about work (school) and life in general?
S – Social isolation
Do you feel like you are pulling away socially, as though you are detaching from yourself and people around you?
One thing is for sure – it HELPS to talk with other people who understand what you are feeling and going through. In the medical community, you may look to colleagues, student affairs, preceptors, mentors, or your provincial health program. In your personal life, you may look to your significant other, family, friends, spiritual leader or personal physician.
How can you care for your emotional wellness to avoid distress?
As I am in the midst of preparing a couple of physician health talks for later this week, I am once again emphasizing the ever so important strategies of mindfulness, gratitude and creativity. All three of these are proven to be truly beneficial to caring for your emotional wellness.
Although changing our cognition, or how we think, isn’t easy, it is another way for us to try to care for our emotional wellness. Consider the following easily tangible strategies that you can incorporate into your life starting today.
#1 – Reframing
This is an effective resiliency training technique that involves stopping to consider alternative outcomes when we start to think things couldn’t be worse. In fact, in the practice of medicine, we are faced with the option of reframing regularly. For instance, just the other day my husband was having an overwhelming day reading CT scans (1000’s of images per case!) and he knew he was going to be at the hospital later than expected. One of his cases was a young man with fulminant metastatic cancer. He quickly reframed his workload to consider what this man will now be faced with and that he was able to help in some way by taking the time and attention needed to interpret the study throughly.
#2 – Self-compassion
Consider this scenario – you are having a bad day; you failed an anatomy exam and from what you can tell, you are one of the few. Your first reaction is to beat yourself up – I should have studied more, I will never get through this course, they are going to kick me out of medical school. What would you say to a friend that just went through the same thing? We are often too hard on ourselves as opposed to accepting our personal limitations. In the article Building Physician Resilience, Jensen et al. talk about self-forgiveness, self-awareness and accepting personal limitations. When consciously practiced, self-compassion can radically change how we approach situations that don’t go as either we hoped or planned.
#3 – Let go of perfectionism
Personally, I have never truly struggled with perfectionism, but it is a very common trap among high achievers such as medical trainees. As Brené Brown1 says:
“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
Affirmations, messages we tell ourselves quietly or out loud (even in front of the mirror), can be powerful ways to help us shift our own thinking. An affirmation about perfection could be:
“I am good enough in this moment and in my life. I am doing my best to be the best version of myself”.
Can you think of an affirmation that applies to you, such as showing yourself the compassion you deserve?
1. Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.