Growing the Essential Strengths of Resilient Well-Being
by Fiona Douglas-Crampton
Nurses face unique stresses and high-pressure situations as they provide care to patients under highly complex circumstances. As a result, we know that nurses are at particularly high risk of anxiety, burnout, depression, and general unhappiness. Building resilience and the capacity for a sustained sense of well-being is vital for nurses to cope with those work-life issues and respond to the inevitable challenges in life.
At the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education in Vancouver, we believe that nurses who can increase their resilience may well improve their physical and mental health. We understand that a sense of resilience helps people feel stronger, calmer, happier, motivated, and better able to manage work situations in a more positive way. Furthermore we think well-being is contagious and that relationships with resilient people can create an indirect positive influence on the wellbeing of patients and co-workers.
So where do nurses start? What are the key ingredients for building resilience and creating a lasting sense of well-being and personal happiness?
Psychologist Rick Hanson has spent 40 years helping people build well-being in their daily lives and replace deficit and disturbance with fullness and balance. A Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, drawing on his expertise in psychology and brain science, Dr. Hanson has reached the conclusion that if you can change your brain, you can change your life. “The brain is the final common pathway of all the causes streaming through us to make us happy or sad, loving or hateful, effective or helpless,” he says.
In his new book, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness (co-authored with Forrest Hanson, and scheduled for release March 2018), Dr. Hanson offers practical ways to grow what he considers the 12 essential strengths of resilient well-being.
He argues that resilience comes from having inner strengths such as grit, motivation and love. These are the resources we draw on to handle work stress, frustration, or disappointment. Resilience is not static, but is something that can be developed over time. Hanson notes that most research related to resilience focuses on identifying and using inner strengths. However, this is not sufficient. The key question, he says, is “where do these inner resources come from and how can we get more of them?”
This is where the neuropsychology of learning comes in. “To grow more empathy, mindfulness, self-worth or any other psychological resource, first you must have an experience of it. Second, that passing experience must be installed as a durable change in neural structure or function,” says Hanson. In this journey, one must be aware of the brain’s negativity bias, a concept nurses will most certainly relate to. “We over-learn from stress, worry, irritation, sadness and hurt, while under-learning from moments of confidence, determination, calming, kindness and realization.”
Hanson offers practical and easy suggestions that nurses and others can follow every day to foster resilience and well-being. One involves focusing on an enjoyable experience at least half a dozen times a day, feeling it in your body and noticing what feels good and meaningful about it. This practice helps the experience become more installed in long-term memory systems. The other strategy nurses can use is to pick an inner strength that they feel would really help them if they had more of it. It can be calmness, gladness, or just the sense that personal needs matter. From there, says Hanson, “look for opportunities to experience this strength each day and take these experiences into yourself.”
“The benefits of caring for your inner self are huge,” says Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center. His new book published this January, The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in your Child, explores practical strategies for caregivers to better support children and teens on the path to a positive way of living in the world. His tips for building resilience have application to adults as well, including health care professionals.
Siegel reminds us of how our “inner self” interacts with our “inter self” — the relationships we have with other people, at work, and with the planet. For Siegel, the opportunity to develop a Yes Brain approach to life is worthwhile. “It reinforces this inner and inter state of connection, receptivity, and growth,” he says.
At the Dalai Lama Center, we have tremendous respect for the distinctive contribution nurses make to society through their specialized work with those who are vulnerable, suffering and in need. By integrating some of these easy strategies in their lives, we think that nurses can build up this sense of resilience, feel themselves becoming stronger and enjoy more confidence in their body and mind. We invite nurses to consider these practices as one way to help them thrive in their work and throughout their lives.
About Fiona Douglas-Crampton
Fiona Douglas-Crampton is the president and CEO of the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, a charitable organization focused on "Heart-Mind Well-Being." (https://www.dalailamacenter.org).
February 23-24,2018: Drs. Rick Hanson and Dan Siegel are among the featured speakers at Heart-Mind 2018, a conference hosted by the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education that will take place in Langley, BC. The conference explores the latest science related to promoting personal well-being, and introduces practical strategies that you can apply to your everyday life. Heart Mind 2018 makes the connection between taking care of yourself, and being more present for the children and adults in your life.
For information and to register for Heart-Mind 2018: Take Care of Yourself – the Science and Practice of Well-Being.