You are a top performer. You’ve got this. You are an experienced physician, RN, or student killing it in med school. You hear the talk about burnout, resilience, self-care, work-life balance. You understand that it is important, but you are different. You don’t need to indulge yourself the way others do. At the end of the day, you feel good about yourself and your work. You can relax later, when you’re not so needed. You are looking forward to that vacation at the shore . . .
Nice! We are thrilled to have you in our midst! And that is not said with tongue in cheek. Thank you for your service and your ability to carry on in a way that most of us find untenable in the long run.
A lot of us in the “service” professions strive to be a top performer. We want to be “tough” enough to not need to figure out how to maintain balance in our lives. We lean toward perfectionism and attend to the details. We know that we need to leave work, but we just need to finish this one last thing . . . We imagine we can do it all. And to a degree, we can. But eventually we feel the confines of stress and succumb to our personal version of overload. And if that weren’t enough, we might then chastise ourselves for not being able to handle it all!
So how do we develop the ability to do what we need to do, even in the face of internal or external pressure?
We practice developing tools that we know will help us develop more resilience. Hone our ability to bounce back when we get off track, as we all do. It’s not about getting off track, it’s about getting back on with increasingly agility.
I hear you saying:
So try embodied awareness. You can work on it little by little, anywhere you are, with just the tools you have at hand: your body-mind system. By tuning in to your sympathetic nervous system in the moment, you will be able to get an immediate sense of your automated reactions. In this way, you can then learn to shift those reactions into desired responses. You can do this starting right now. It can take as little as 1 minute.
Breathe in. Feel your feet on the ground. Sense the inhale up through the top of your head. Exhale your breath out your front, to your left, right, and behind. Feel where the most tension is in your body. The most relaxation . . .
This practice builds your skill of embodied awareness. As you become more skillful, you will be able to engage your awareness during difficult interactions or when you are facing something unpleasant or challenging. You build your practice by taking only a minute or so of your time interspersed throughout your day. As your practice builds, you may notice yourself being able to shift to a more relaxed state, even in the face of discomfort. You may notice that you are more able to recognize your boundaries, follow-through with your intention to take a break, stop attending to the details that are impeding your time to connect with your loved ones.
As a foundation, yoga and tai chi, mindfulness, guided imagery, body scanning and qi gong — to name a few — are all invaluable tools. And by supplementing whatever mindfulness based practice you have with the ability to engage your embodied awareness in the moment, you will become increasingly skillful at navigating low-grade threats. We face low grade threats multiple times a day. They trigger our sympathetic nervous system: the flight, flight, fawn or freeze reaction. If even slightly or briefly. But these little t “traumas” build up in our system. They can create an untenable situation.
Wendy Palmer, pioneer and master of leadership embodiment and skilled mindfulness practitioner puts it this way in her new book Dragons and Power:
The nervous system is at the heart of our ability to be resilient in challenging environments. We are not able to fully engage our beautiful frontal lobe in all it’s glory when our nervous system is feeling threatened. That is when our sympathetic nervous system is activated. Interestingly, one person’s threat might be another’s no big deal. Our nervous systems are utterly unique, finely tuned from our personal history. When we are aware of what our system finds threatening, we are better able to calm it. If we remain unaware, our body tends to run us.
So are we not tough enough? Tough enough compared to what? Let’s work with what we have at hand, where we find ourselves in this particular moment in time. It is unhelpful and counterproductive to compare ourselves to some perfectionistic construct that has nothing to do with our own unique set of circumstances.
We got this.
Working for an organization interested in resilience training? Contact us at RISE | Resilience in Service.
Looking for a way to improve your personal resilience? Visit bodycomestomind.com
Kimberly Woodland is the founder the non-profit organization RISE | Resilience in Service. RISE uses embodied awareness as an adjunct to creating sustainable change in healthcare. Individual change powered by resilience to decrease burnout and moral injury, and improve the patient experience. The RISE approach complements existing programs. It also serves as a practical tool for developing organizational resilience training.