How do you cope with no resources?
As you know, this is not a rhetorical question. Many of the resources needed to provide proper care for patients are either in short supply, or almost non-existent. Examples abound: PPE in the early days of the pandemic, continuing shortages of LTC staff and home care workers, disappearing elective surgery times. This question brought to mind a related one: How do we cope when our inner resources have been worn to a frazzle? Answer: self-care! In other words, attending to our inner resources is at least as important as advocating for external ones.
Unfortunately, many of the traditional ways of caring for ourselves are currently unavailable or feel insufficient: meeting with a friend, downtime for hobbies, vacation, sports or exercise, reading for pleasure, or having a measure of control in our work. As a collective society, we are lonely, Zoom-isolated, fatigued, weary and left questioning the meaning of it all and the effectiveness of our efforts.
So what then could self-care look like in pandemic times? Perhaps it's going to the bathroom more than once in an 8 or 12 hour shift. Taking a short break to eat. Sitting down to take a phone call. Making sure you and your PPE partner are taking the proper measures to stay safe. But these are just my imaginings - what you might need is both common to humanity and unique to you.
First and foremost on the list of needs is the acknowledgement that we are human, not automatons or superheroes. And when we acknowledge that, the shoulders-by-our-ears tension subsides. Followed by a sense of vulnerability. Possibly confusion too. How can I strengthen and fortify myself?
You may already know what you need to feel stronger and more resilient. Or maybe you don’t have a clue, and if that’s the case, carve out a little thinking time on this. What are your strengths right now? You may be sleeping enough, or eating well, or perhaps you have laughed every day in the last week. What needs attention? Perhaps you’ve lost your compassion, your fuse is shorter than usual, or you are really lonely (having an honest conversation with someone who knows you well may help here). Whatever is coming up for you, take a moment to celebrate the strengths you have, and treat yourself with compassion for the areas that are hurting right now.
What are the impacts of those tender areas, on you, your loved ones, and your work? Please remind yourself that you are not alone in all of this. Many others are sharing the same struggles. Try talking to yourself as if you are your own best friend. How would you respond if someone confided these personal struggles to you? You might listen deeply and non-judgmentally, so they feel heard and supported. You might share: ‘Hey, that’s happening to me too.’ You might ask what the person needs to feel better, be a sounding board for ideas, and help them get help if that’s what’s needed.
What would change if you looked after your own internal resources with the same level of care you give to your patients? More resilience, more ‘gas in the tank’, more optimism, more connection, more fulfillment? A more even-keeled perspective? These are just some guesses based on my own experience.
There are many frameworks you can use to generate ideas to strengthen your resources. Two that I like are:
Psychological capital, a construct which encompasses hope, efficacy, resilience and optimism (H.E.R.O). If you are interested in learning more, download my HERO workbook.
The six dimensions of wellness: emotional, occupational, physical, spiritual, intellectual and social.
Once you have some ideas, select 1 or 2 that are priorities for you and make a goal around each. We are more likely to attain goals that are SMART, so do your best to make them Specific, Measurable, Action-based, Realistic, and Time-bound. For example:
I will play the kazoo for 5 minutes this Monday, Wednesday and Friday
I will take 30 seconds to ‘box-breathe’ before moving on to my next patient, for two mornings this week
I will watch a comedy show on YouTube on Tuesday and Saturday this week
When you are already running on empty, setting a new goal may feel Herculean, so take your energy and capacity for effort into account when making a goal. The good news is, even a little progress will help you feel better, and small efforts really do add up over time.
Treat each goal or action step as an experiment - something to track, evaluate and reassess. There is no pass/fail. Set yourself up for success by considering ahead of time what challenges you might encounter, how you’ll overcome them, and who and what can support you. Enlist yourself or someone you trust to help you with accountability.
What we’ve just stepped through is health coaching. Some people have the ability to enact this process on their own. Others are more successful when they have a skilled guide helping them figure out what they want, why it matters, how to do it, and more importantly how to sustain those positive changes. If you’d like to find out more about having a guide, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a free discovery call or ask questions.