Article by: Rachel Seaman, MD
This month’s blog post is written by Dr. Rachel Seaman, Medical Director of Provider Wellness and the Medical Director of Collaborative Primary Care. Dr. Seaman recently co-authored a Compassion Cultivation workshop which she taught for physicians. Her personal passion for mindfulness led to her introduce a Mindfulness Leadership series at UHA. Here she shares practical tools for all of to use.
Working on the front line in health care can be a tough job, which is why we at UHA value our healthcare team members so much. Patients present with a range of emotions, and sometimes they are directed at the person to whom they are speaking, whether that is appropriate or not. It can be even more challenging when the patient is angry.
We all would like to resolve difficult situations and provide the patients what they need. Sometimes that is not possible. Even in times when it is possible, things sometimes don’t go well. We use the right words and follow organizational guidelines and protocols, we are left with an empty feeling. When someone has unleashed their anger on us, it can be painful.
What are we supposed to do? Some simple solutions can be found in the practical applications of mindfulness and compassion cultivation.
First of all, be aware that the patient’s anger in not personal to you, but more importantly become aware of how you feel in response to the patient’s anger.
Some common maladaptive coping techniques include blaming the patient and creating a story to support that blame. Another common coping mechanism is to blame someone else in the office or in the system as a way of transferring that anger off ourselves and onto someone or something else. We are looking for a relief valve! Unfortunately, both of these ways of coping create dysfunctional relationships, the first with our patients and the second with those with whom we work. These dysfunctions then undermine our ability to accomplish our goals: providing excellent patient care in a happy, supportive, effective environment!
Another common but maladaptive coping mechanism is to shut down; to put up a wall between you and the person who is angry. This protects you in the moment, but it robs you of your ability to connect with people in the future – not only in challenging circumstances, but also in the rewarding ones. Human beings thrive when they are in community together, and cutting ourselves off from others often harms us more than protects us.
So what are we to do?
- After becoming aware of how you are reacting or feeling, stop and take a slow, deep breath (Or two! You might need two!).
- Accept that you may never understand the patient’s full story, but you can decide not to pass that anger on to those around you and not to hold onto it for yourself. Instead of trying to explain the behavior, perhaps just remember that the patient is hurting, and you don’t want the patient to hurt.
- It’s natural for you to experience some element of painful emotion in this moment as well. Acknowledge this, and give yourself some kudos for choosing a profession that is very rewarding but is not always easy.
- Then, think silently to yourself, “I wish myself peace, and I wish this hurting person peace. I wish I was free of suffering right now, and I wish they were free of suffering.”
Use all the tools you have to accomplish these goals, but also allow others to help when you need. Human tendency is to try to find an explanation for why bad things happen and why people get upset, and often we seek to blame.
Unfortunately, sometimes tragedy happens without a cause. In these times, we can cope best when we remain aware of our own reaction, provide the patient with an attitude of compassion, offer ourselves some kudos and compassion, and lean on others for support.
Thank you to Dr. Seaman for sharing these very practical tools that can help us all manage difficult situations – both in our workplace and at home.