If we can continue to incorporate these three key lessons from the pandemic into our work and personal lives, we will find ourselves better able to flourish in the future.
My colleague and friend, Dr. Travis Mickelson, often talks about the different ways we respond to stress. There’s the usual “fight or flight” response that we’ve all heard of. But he adds a few more potential responses that add so much more dimension: feel, forgive, and flourish.
During the pandeic I’ve gone back and forth between all of these responses – sometimes in the space of just a few minutes. In a recent Wellbeing Grand Rounds several of my colleagues and I reflected on what we’ve learned over the past two years, and I heard the same range of stress responses in their experiences. We have all felt deep and difficult emotions, forgiven ourselves and others for things we might not have before, and found ways to flourish amidst one of the most stressful periods we’ve ever been through.
I also asked them what they are hopeful about, and in this post I want to highlight three key opportunities the pandemic has given us that, if we embrace them, will allow us to flourish – now and in the future:
In healthcare we have been trained to work beyond the point of exhaustion and to be emotionally and physically tough. The pandemic pushed so many already burned out clinicians to our breaking points, personally and professionally. For some, self care became critical to their survival.
I’ve talked a lot about self care, and what I know and heard from my colleagues on the Grand Rounds, is one of the most important self care practices we can do is to actually FEEL our emotions. Not just feel them, but name them.
Feeling emotions can be uncomfortable. So we distract ourselves from what we’re feeling in the moment. We check email; we clean out a drawer; we pick anything to distract us. But those emotions will come out one way or another: choosing to name them and feel them is the ultimate act of self care.
See the Humanity in Each Other
What has always been true is now crystal clear: the parts of us that make us human go well beyond work, and those things impact our ability to do our best work in caring for patients. Before the pandemic, the line between work and home was often clear and wide. But the unprecedented stress we’ve faced in our personal lives directly impacted work in so many ways – being separated from at-risk family members, dealing with school or daycare closures, and even weathering the COVID infections in our homes.
This has given us all opportunities to forgive our colleagues when they simply can’t show up in the ways they could before. We’ve also learned to forgive ourselves when we make mistakes or can’t keep up the pace.
Reorient Your Leadership
This is something that is key to doing good work going forward. The culture must help people feel these statements are true: I matter. My colleagues/leaders know who I am. The work I do is meaningful and important. I am safe to be who I am and to ask for what I need. Leaders who may have once been focused on key metrics, quality measures, and clinical results, are reorienting their leadership styles to focus on the people who do this important work: fostering that culture and providing the tools, resources, and safe environment for their teams to flourish.