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Building Resiliency for SUD Professionals

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Resiliency is the gateway to a stable and calm well-being.

Working in any healthcare system today is challenging.

Substance use disorder professionals, mental health providers, and health care workers are struggling with high caseloads, unfilled positions, changing landscape (telehealth), chaotic/violent clients, lack of support, and moral injury.

Anxiety and fear are whittling away at morale, causing health concerns that lead to more missed days at work and burnout.

So, what do we do?

We all know those who can take things in stride and thrive, no matter the situation. Some of us are lucky enough to have had resilient parents and grandparents who passed their resiliency traits onto us. Others aren’t so lucky.

The good news is that anyone can become more resilient. Resilience is something we can learn and strengthen.

I want to share four essential things you can do to strengthen your resiliency and improve your life.

Positive Attitude

According to a study by the Templeton Foundation, people who are naturally optimistic and happy are more able to see new opportunities.

This study shows that the brain is wired for positive or negative outlooks.

You can see the best in a situation if you are wired positively. If you naturally think more positively, it would make sense that you would want to be around positive rather than pessimistic people.

If you are wired negatively, you tend to look for the negative parts of any given situation. In this case, you would seek out others with the same negative perspective.

I would suggest that the people that are wired for negative thoughts are current or historical trauma survivors.

Constantly being on the lookout for danger is a primitive survival skill that helps us survive during times of great adversity.

Can we change our brains?

The brain is an incredible organ. It has neuroplasticity, which means it can rewire itself.

It happens every time we adopt new perspectives, learn a new skill, or recover from an injury. Rewiring is a natural and normal process.

Why is it essential to think on the positive side?

There are physical and mental health benefits to shifting from negative to positive thinking.

A positive outlook triggers the pleasure/reward system in the brain. Doing this can override the stress hormones released when we see the worst in people and situations. We begin to move out of survival mode and into thriving mode.

Vicarious Resilience

Individuals with resilience see the best in others.

Vicarious resilience is when we look at what someone has overcome rather than what they have done.

Oprah Winfrey co-authored a book with Dr. Bruce Perry called “What Happened to You?” Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing. This book discusses how changing the questions we ask will change the lens through which we view others.

When I know someone’s story, I can see the strength, courage, and resilience they demonstrated to survive. I begin to see that person differently.

Learning their story invokes a sense of awe, admiration, and gratitude. All these emotions stimulate the pleasure center in my brain and affirm my reasons for working in the helping professions.

Feeling that what we do has meaning and that we can make a difference is the most significant protective factor in preventing burnout.

Handling Stress

Those that demonstrate resilience often participate in stress-relieving activities.

Whether it is exercise, yoga, meditation, or hobbies like horseback riding, 4-wheeling, kayaking, or hiking, engaging in activities that expend energy and promote stress relief is essential.

We store all of our experiences in the cells of our bodies. If we don’t find ways of releasing that energy, it can become stagnant and cause disease.

Our brains also don’t know the difference between doing an activity and imagining the activity. This allows us to get the same energetic release from writing, reading, and playing action video games.

New research shows that music/vibration is very healing for the body. There was a reason our ancestors spent their time folk dancing, singing, and having great gatherings.

Resilient people utilize strategies that allow their bodies to release built-up stress.

Supportive Relationships

We are social beings who originally forged communities for safety. Community provided a space where individuals could feel love, support, and protection from real threats, starvation, and isolation.

Building a positive community encourages hope, allows you to process your feelings with others, provides an outlet for having fun, and helps foster a sense of belonging.

Resilient individuals have close relationships, join organizations, and belong to a community of like-minded individuals.

In other words, they have a life outside of work.

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