Resilience is not a 4-Letter Word
Physicians today are being asked to be more productive, document more thoroughly on user-unfriendly EMRs, meet quality metrics, achieve outstanding patient satisfaction scores, and do all this with a smile. But medical practice is stressful, whether you're in the office, the operating room, or on the floors of the hospital. It takes time to see your patient, and then do your computer orders and electronic charting. Gone are the days of scribbling a note and telling the nurse to give your patient Tylenol; now you have to sit down, log in, find the patient's record, find the orders for Acetominophen: what dose, how often, prn or not, prn what? (fever, pain, other), how many doses, starting when, ending when? It's exhausting. It contributes to physician burnout. No amount of yoga is going to remedy this scenario that is happening repeatedly day after day, hour after hour, and indeed, after-hours at home.
Physician resiliency has gotten a bad rap lately. Overwhelmed physicians often argue that they are already resilient enough, and don't need any woo-woo physician wellness programs. (Well, maybe not, although these can be very helpful). But what if there were a set of tools or techniques that you could use, in the moment, to help diffuse your stress, calm your mind, help you focus, help you communicate better, and improve your performance? Would you call that woo-woo?
Well, we do have such a set of tools and techniques, and it's called HeartMath ™. HeartMath is a scientifically-validated way to align your heart rate variability with your brain and your emotions to achieve a "coherent" state. When you are coherent, you are not relaxed, but your mind is clear, you can communicate better, and you can tap into your intuition and creativity. Practiced regularly, HeartMath can help you manage stress more effectively, improve your sense of wellbeing, help you sleep better, and decrease the negative effects of excess cortisol on your system. HeartMath is being taught to first responders, police and military, students, and top athletes to help them manage stress and improve performance. Physicians, and other caregivers, can benefit greatly from learning how to utilize these techniques. In turn, you can teach these techniques to your patients and their families.
Several HeartMath techniques exist, but the simplest one to learn and use is called Quick Coherence. It involves the basic first step of "Heart-Focused Breathing". By pacing your breathing (in for 5, out for 5) and focusing on the breath going in and out of your heart area, you will notice an immediate slowing of your heart rate. Doing this alone will help you regain composure in a stressful situation.
The next step is to incorporate into your thoughts a "regenerative emotion". This can be something like appreciation or care for a loved one. Think of something specific in your life that brings up this emotion, and do your best to experience it again in that moment. It could be your child graduating, your pet snuggling with you, or a memory of you doing something pleasurable. This is the KEY to getting into the coherent state. And it only takes a few minutes.
Imagine using this before a stressful conversation, before going into the operating room, before knocking on the door of your least favorite patient. Practicing Quick Coherence will allow you to deal better with the little stressors that add up each day. As you get better at it, you will be setting a new baseline for your heart and mind. You will find that sitting in traffic doesn't bother you as much anymore. You will perform better in the O.R. , on the tennis court or on the golf course. You will concentrate better, and sleep better. You will communicate better with colleagues, patients and family members. And, yes, you will become more resilient.
To learn more about HeartMath, go to Heartmath.com. And to learn more about the science and research, go to Heartmath.org.