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Wellness 911: Taking Responsibility for Your Emotions (AKA W… : Emergency Medicine News

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well-being, adulthood

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The best years of your life are when you decide that your problems are yours. You don’t blame them on your mother, the ecology or the president. You realize you control your own destiny.

—Albert Ellis, American psychologist

Mature people don’t try to steer the river, they steer themselves.

—Maxime Lagacé, founder of Wisdom Quotes

A first-year medical student – we’ll call her Shannon – examines a human brain and points out its anatomical features to her lab partners. One of the other students questions him, saying, “Show me the corpus callosum.”

She points to the cerebellum. Another student we’ll call David mocks her: “You mean you want to be a neurosurgeon, and you don’t know the difference between the corpus callosum and the cerebellum?

Shannon’s eyes narrow and her upper lip curls. She screams in frustration and hurls the brain across the lab, slamming out as the abandoned brain bounces off the floor, skidding to a mortifying grisly halt.

What just happened? What happens when surgeons throw instruments, emergency physicians throw paintings, or medical students throw brains? When we yell at our colleagues or spouses or even our children? When we have a tough shift and we’re sinking into a six-pack, a pint of ice cream, or a “Real Housewives” marathon?

The definition of emotional maturity by the APA Psychology Dictionary is “a high and appropriate level of emotional control and expression”. (American Psychological Association. 2022; https://bit.ly/3St7QSf.) We modulate our thoughts to achieve this level of control, by regulating our responses to environmental stimuli.

Freedom of choice

Something went through Shannon’s brain when David commented. She felt threatened, embarrassed and furious. These feelings were in response to a thought she had about what David had said. David didn’t have his brain thrown out. Maybe his words triggered a thought like “I can’t believe I mixed this up, people are going to think I’m an idiot!” This thought then created the shame, anger, and fear she felt, causing her to kick the brain. Ironically, discarding the brain, not confusing two anatomical structures, has led colleagues to question its suitability for medicine.

But the exciting and wonderful part is that she didn’t have to have that thought in the first place. A person who has entered emotional adulthood can recognize problematic thoughts before they lead to destructive action.

What if she chose to think, “Dang, I misspoke. Oh, well, I won’t mix them again,” he then continued the session. She could have kept her cool and avoided the embarrassment of his inappropriate response. The feeling associated with that thought might have been mild embarrassment, but not the humiliation and rage triggered by the original thought.

American Behavioral Clinics have listed 10 characteristics of emotionally mature people (2022; https://bit.ly/3zJqZH8), and it almost sounds like they are describing EPs:

  • Be flexible (if doctors who work all shifts, sometimes a single week, aren’t flexible, we don’t know who is) and seek learning opportunities (“I wonder how she manages to that she gets her records as quickly as I do.”
  • Knowing that they don’t know everything (thanks, UpToDate and EM:RAP), but also asking their colleagues how they made their decisions and asking to know more.
  • Seek multiple points of view, such as calling four consultants about a patient with a mysterious illness.
  • Keep calm. (Check! There are no fresher cucumbers on the planet than EPs.)
  • Have a good sense of humor (a survival skill for ER life).

Get out of your head

Relatively few people reach full emotional adulthood. This is not surprising since most of our parents also operate from emotional childhoods. We talk all our lives about how others control our feelings with their words and behavior, saying, “You hurt my feelings” and “You made me feel small (or sad or unrecognized).” Guess what? The other people who hurt our feelings are in our heads. Having our feelings hurt is completely optional.

What? It’s true. Hurt feelings happen between our ears, and we don’t have to feel them. We will know that we have reached full emotional maturity when we accept full responsibility for our emotions. It means we recognize that no one can make us feel something we don’t choose to feel and accept responsibility for our own happiness, success, joy and the results we achieve in our lives. No one else can create them for us.

Some thoughts don’t serve us well, like Shannon’s. We may think that others are hurting our feelings, but that’s not true. We give all our emotional power to others if we allow them to take charge of how we feel.

Growing up

You can let it ruin your shift if a consultant talks to you in an uncivil and condescending way. You may think, “What a jerk. I can’t believe I have to put up with this. Why can’t he be a decent human? But these thoughts will drain your energy and make it harder for you to enjoy the work. Some alternative thoughts are:

  • “His behavior is 100% about him and not about me.”
  • “I’m so glad I don’t have to live with this guy!”
  • “I will always do what I think is right for my patients.”

Another option is even to not allow him to occupy your thoughts once the interaction is over. Just see the next patient. You don’t want to give someone like that the power to know if you have a good shift, do you?

Understanding emotional adulthood will certainly help us in our interactions with families, friends, consultants and patients. Operating as adults gives us the freedom and power of knowing that we can choose and create what we want in our lives. Pretty awesome, huh?

Clockwise from top left:Drs. Cazier, Dinsmore, andMorissonare board-certified emergency physicians and life, wellness and mindset coaches. Together they own The Whole Physician, a company dedicated to the well-being of doctors (www.thewholephysician.com). Their podcast, Drive Time Debrief with The Whole Physician, is available on all podcast apps. Follow them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/thewholephysician), instagram@thewholephysician, LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-whole-physician/), and Twitter@WholePhysician. Read their previous columns onhttps://bit.ly/EMN-Wellness911.