Resilience is the buzzword everyone in the wellness world seems to be using. It’s something everyone has in varying amounts and is essential for well-being. We talk and talk about ways to build resilience and even make it part of wellness models for health systems because, well, burnout is out of control. (Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2021. January 22, 2021; https://wb.md/3ImhJLQ.) Perhaps, it is thought, you wouldn’t burn out if you were more resilient.
But if we take a moment to really consider what resilience is, we can solve some problems by making it the focus of personal well-being. Resilience as a function of personal well-being means the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad has happened.
Read that definition again and really think about what it means. Resilience becomes strong again after something bad happens. If resilience is at the heart of hospital wellness efforts, can we assume that working in hospitals is bad for us? It’s a grim idea for the future of medicine.
If lifestyle medicine has taught me anything, it’s that medicine focuses too much on what we do after things happen. By design, through our medical training, we are healers of diseases that have occurred. We are not naturally inclined to be forward-looking healers. Preventive medicine does not have the same prestige as intensive care. We should know; EPs do both.
Resilience, however, is a backward trait. Something bad happened to me, like being on the front line during a terrible pandemic that only happens once in a century, and I survived it so far. What offers a more forward-looking approach? I posit that courage is key to explaining why we are all still involved in emergency medicine after being beaten for two years.
Courage is looking to the future; it is the mental or moral strength to venture, to persevere and to resist danger, fear or difficulty. Courage is what you need to head into something unknown that is probably dangerous. Everyone knows how it was in March 2020. We all had courage, an incredible amount of courage. We had no idea what was going to happen to us. As the days passed, the resilience began to show, but if you really think back to what we went through, the predominant characteristic that we had to possess to keep coming to work was courage.
Courage and resilience are not opposites but exist on a fluid continuum. We have endured a lot, but we also continue to show ourselves. Celebrate that courage that keeps you showing up. Support and celebrate your colleagues. As new models of wellness begin to take hold and the focus increasingly shifts to the mindset of physicians, reflect on your own courage and encourage others. (Mayo ClinProc. 2021;96:2682; https://bit.ly/3IhjtFZ.)
Think about what gives you the courage to walk through the door as the waiting room is packed and the pandemic continues. Meditate on it. Share it. Your source of courage probably has more to offer you than you’ve given them time for. Stress reduction and social connection are essential pillars of lifestyle medicine. (American College of Lifestyle Medicine. https://bit.ly/3dmtwfg.) Spending time reflecting on your courage and the source of your mental strength will reduce stress and allow you to share and connect with others.
Courage can flourish from many different sources. Like a Marine charging into a combat zone, there’s something worth it. Courage can come from values, ideals, family, friends, nature, motivational quotes or books and faith, anything that is deeply personal and makes you who you are.
It is often something that connects us to something that we identify as greater than ourselves. It can help you identify your source of courage if you consider what gives meaning and purpose to your life, essential elements of success in positive psychology. (Seligman M. Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being; Sydney: William Heinamann; 2011.)
I keep a prayer card in the sun visor of my car that my mother sent me at the start of the pandemic. It’s a tactile reminder to me of what gives me courage: my faith and the unwavering support of my family. Yes, build your resilience, but don’t forget to celebrate your courage and spend more intentional time with your sources of courage.
Dr. Harrisonis board certified in emergency medicine and lifestyle medicine, and practices emergency medicine at Bridgeport Hospital-Yale New Haven Health. Learn more about the intersection of emergency medicine and lifestyle medicine by visiting his website atwww.acute2root.com. Find more information about the American College of Lifestyle Medicine athttps://www.lifestylemedicine.org. Follow her on Twitter@acute2root.