How to Overcome Painful Events With Resilience
Welcome to Mindfulness in Medicine, a monthly column by bestselling author Anne Bruce designed to cultivate leadership and collaborative relationships among hospital leaders, nurses, providers, and ancillary staff. Mindfulness is a powerful leadership tool that enhances emotional intelligence in medicine. It is a tool that, when practiced, can help us develop and implement relational coaching skills and illuminate various ways to improve hospital operations and cross-departmental performance. Mindfulness also improves our capacity for decision-making and participatory medicine, all while enhancing our own health and well-being. Your comments and insights on these postings are greatly valued.
Every day, people lose their jobs, battle life-threatening illnesses, and suffer through natural disasters like the recent Hurricane Harvey.
When disaster strikes, it's natural to feel frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed. But why do some people bounce back more quickly than others in the same situation?
The answer lies in the concept of resilience, which is the ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune and change. And according to Stanford Medicine, it's one of the most important qualities that healthcare providers can possess.
This month, I’m pleased to welcome fellow author and keynote speaker Anne Grady as my co-contributor to this piece. Anne is the author of Strong Enough: Choosing Courage, Resilience, and Triumph and 52 Strategies for Life, Love & Work. Here's her story.
How Important Is Resilience When You’re About to Lose Everything?
If anyone knows a thing or two about resilience, it’s Grady. She travels the world speaking at mental health organizations, healthcare systems, and Fortune 500 companies. She shows audiences how to ramp up their resilience while sharing her conviction that every person is indeed "strong enough."
How can she be so sure? Well, because she's been there.
Grady's son Evan has a serious mental illness. At the age of three, he actually tried to kill her with a pair of shears. (Grady recalled this painful incident in the opening of a TEDx talk.)
Over the next several years, the Gradys endured multiple hospitalizations, violent outbursts, and self-destructive behavior. A calm and happy family life seemed completely out of reach.
During Evan's first extended hospitalization, Grady and her husband, Jay, spent two months living in the Ronald McDonald House in Houston. Then, just after Evan’s release, Anne was diagnosed with a tumor in her head the size of an avocado.
She underwent six hours of surgery and spent several months undergoing radiation therapy. Her career as an author and professional speaker took a nosedive.
So how important is resilience when you are about to lose everything? Very important.
Somehow, Grady hung on. In fact, she began to write a second book about resilience and the importance of bouncing back after a fall.
Through this process, she went from radiation to radiant. How?
“It all comes down to mindfulness,” Grady says. She knows from experience that when we live in the present and accept ourselves without judgment, we can work magic on our bodies and our brains.
As part of the research for her recent book, Grady did a great deal of study on how to cultivate mindful resilience in tough times. Knowing that mindfulness has helped so many medical professionals fight stress and burnout, I invited her to share her findings in this month's column.
Here are her three top tips:
1. Choose your expectations wisely
Texas singer and songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard sums it up thusly:
And the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations
Well, I have really good days.
We can’t control what’s happening to us in the moment. But we can mindfully change our expectations.
2. Make healthy choices, and help your patients do the same
Grady has experienced periods of depression throughout her life. So, when trouble struck her family, it would have been easy to spend days in bed and let the pain eat away at her.
Instead, she focused on improving her health through diet, exercise (she swims almost every day), counseling, and mindfulness practice. These lifestyle changes have made all the difference in her mood and helped her to bounce back from many difficulties — even brain surgery.
3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable
When life gets tough, it's natural to retreat inside our comfort zone. Unfortunately, this is where a lot of people get "stuck" in their pain instead of learning and growing from it.
If you're caught in a rut, challenge yourself to take action. It may feel scary, but it's better than years of complacency.
What to Do When Trouble Strikes
Every life has its share of tough times and setbacks. But medical professionals have unique challenges.
They regularly deal with others' pain and distress. And they shoulder a huge responsibility for their patients.
So how can they cope when something goes terribly wrong?
First, it's important to look at recovery as a process. Right after a painful event, it seems like we’ll never feel better again. We feel overwhelmed with fear, grief, pain, and sadness. It's normal.
But eventually, it dawns on us that there's no going back. The past is over. The future hasn't yet happened. All we have is the here and now of mindful behavior.
At first, we may not feel able to make big strides forward. But soon, we begin taking baby steps and find ways to carry on.
Another key to mindfulness involves accepting our experiences — even painful ones — without judgment. Instead of denying or minimizing what's happening, breathe deeply and face your difficulties head on.
Ask yourself what you can learn from the experience in the very moment it's happening. Is there a way that you might use this adversity for good? Will it inspire you to become stronger, wiser, kinder, or more resourceful?
When you face adversity with mindful openness and acceptance, you’ll really start to grow. Adversity inspired Anne Grady to walk a pathway of renewed passion and purpose. And she's confident that you can do it too.