Staying Strong: Strengthening your Relationships

This is the second article in a series created to support front-line clinicians wellbeing as they navigate the COVID 19 Crisis. The First element of the STRONG model of building resilience is S- Strengthening your relationships.

Strengthening your relationships

In the midst of challenges and pressure at work, nothing is more critical to our success than staying connected to the people around us. Yet when the pressure gets dialled up, a common reaction is all too often to withdraw and try to go it alone, and as a result we end up isolated and overwhelmed.

Building a supportive network of friends and colleagues who understand you and will empathize with you is probably one of the most important ways frontline healthcare workers can stay resilient. Having people you can call on when in difficulty, having colleagues who will cover for you, swap shifts and help out is vital in a high pressure job when most are balancing this with family and social commitments. This works best when the whole team is flexible with each other, fostering a mutual supportive network allowing all members of the team to combine their non-work and work lives to the best effect.

High levels of social support have been associated with improved psychological and physiological health:

·      Reduction in stress-related illness

·      Increased self-confidence

·      Improved problem-solving

·      Release of the hormone oxytocin – the bonding chemical that is released when we are around people who care about us and we them. This chemical has also been shown to reduce anxiety & fear and buffer the negative impact of the stress hormone- cortisol.

Resilient clinicians have learned to hold tighter to their social support in times of pressure. Instead of retreating they lean towards their colleagues, friends and loved ones. They create opportunities for connection and they are intentional and deliberate about creating time to receive and offer support and share learnings and best practices. Not only does this contribute to their wellbeing and happiness, but they are more productive, engaged and have more energy available to them and their patients and colleagues.

I am currently working with frontline teams facilitating check in sessions with them to enable them to stay well and connected during this crisis. Below is a structure that I have created. Please feel free to use this freely and share with anyone you think could benefit:

  • General wellbeing check in 

Ask the team how they are doing, inviting everyone to have a turn to speak. Remind them that feelings of anxiety and worry or concern are entirely normal experiences to be experiencing. Invite people to share a strategy that they are finding helpful.

  • Reviewing successes 

Invite the group to recall one thing that has gone well in the last shift/ 24 hours. This could be a success, or an obstacle that was overcome.

Ask, “What can we learn from these experiences?” “How can we apply these lessons going forward as we encounter new challenges?”

  • Team Acknowledgement  

Invite the group to acknowledge someone in the team. A ‘shout out’ is an opportunity to praise great work, effort, attitude or support. It builds confidence and agency. Be specific, descriptive and describe the impact.

  • Meaning and Purpose 

Invite the team to recall micro-moments of meaning – something that has happened to make them feel connected to their “why” or purpose

  • Resilience building practices 

Ask the group to share ways that they are taking care of themselves and demonstrating resilient behaviours. Examples could include:  Connecting with others, mindfulness, breaks in nature, taking control (letting go of the things we can’t control), seeing challenging experiences as opportunities to learn and grow.

  • Offering and seeking support 

Invite to group to request support “this is where I need help”

Invite the group to offer support “ this is how you can best use me”

  • Gratitude 

Invite the group to contribute one thing they are grateful or thankful for

As we navigate this crisis, remember that strong and supportive relationships are the number one predictor of wellbeing, across our lifespan. Maintaining those connections during times of crisis and challenge is more important than ever.

Stay Strong | Kia Kaha



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