Wellness 911: A Valuable Lesson in Gratitude : Emergency Medicine News

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Wellness 911

Wellness 911

A Valuable Lesson in Gratitude

Morrison, Kendra DO; Cazier, Laura MD; Dinsmore, Amanda MD

doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000898240.34262.86
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    When I (KM) sat down to explain to my patient the horrific findings just dictated by the radiologist, I struggled to find one thing about my job for which to be grateful. How could the most respectful and endearing patient I had taken care of all shift deserve to hear what I had to report?

    It was this patient and this moment that taught me a valuable lesson in gratitude: Even when it seems impossible, an attitude of gratitude not only can profoundly affect our future but carry us forward through the direst circumstances.

    The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. (Harvard Health Publishing. Aug. 14, 2021; https://bit.ly/3eXYL4t.) Cicero noted it to be the “mother of all virtues.” Gratitude is thankful appreciation for what one receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, we acknowledge the goodness in our lives. We usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside ourselves. Being grateful as a result also helps us connect with something larger than ourselves as individuals—whether it is with other people, nature, or a higher power.

    Gratitude in positive psychology research is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. It helps us feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve our health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

    Studies have bolstered these findings, revealing connections between the tendency to feel grateful and a release of oxytocin, which promotes social ties. Research has also identified connections between gratitude and increased general well-being, better sleep, more generosity, and less depression. (Clin Psychol Rev. 2010;30[7]:890; https://bit.ly/3SlU2s2; J Psychosom Res. 2009;66[1]:43; https://bit.ly/3qQksWY; J Posit Psychol. 2018;14[4]:502; J Res Pers. 2008;42[4]:854; https://bit.ly/3ScA3w7.)

    Ilene Rosenstein, PhD, a psychologist and the associate vice provost for campus well-being and education at USC, concurred: “People who are grateful get less triggered or angry, they have more positive feelings, and in some ways, that attracts other people. When you feel these positive emotions and relish good experiences with others, there's a bonding in that, and it tends to build stronger relationships.” (USC News. Nov. 25, 2019; https://bit.ly/3f5yzoP.)

    ‘Thank You’

    I sat there in front of my patient, a kind and brilliant human being, and I felt at a loss for words. I thought, “I have had to tell many patients they have cancer, but this time is much more difficult.” I stumbled over myself to communicate to the patient that he most likely had renal cell carcinoma and was going to need further evaluation and treatment, and he looked back at me and, without hesitation, said, “Thank you.”

    Wait, what? I was dumbfounded. He said he was grateful he had come into this ED this day to be seen by me. They were new to the area and hadn't had time to establish any health care. When his back pain wasn't relenting despite normal treatments, he knew he had to have it checked. He then expressed his gratitude for being under my care and for me ordering the right tests to find the cause.

    “Wow!” I thought to myself. “I guess that is one way to look at it. I am not sure if he knew the details of his future or if he was naïve about the journey on which he was about to embark, but he definitely felt grateful in that moment.”

    Driving home after that shift, I felt deeply humbled by his perspective. It seemed he was setting his course by choosing gratitude, maybe to build resiliency or maybe to stay optimistic about the diagnosis. I thought about what made this particular interaction so difficult, and it occurred to me that his gracious spirit actually held space for me in that moment. It was not only grace for my clumsy delivery of the news but also compassion for me because I had to deliver it. If he could choose grace for me in that moment, then certainly I could be grateful for my good health and sound mind. It was then that I started my gratitude practice.

    Rewire Your Brain

    I began looking for at least one thing every day that I am grateful for, no matter how I am feeling, what I am doing, or where I am. This practice has continued to today, although I find myself being more intentional and stopping to notice why I am grateful. This keeps me centered and increases meaning in my work.

    I begin every work email with gratitude, even when delivering a tension-filled message. Acknowledging our colleagues and their contribution to the team creates a collaborative space and builds trust. It says, “I respect who you are and what you bring to the team. I am grateful for you and how you care for our patients.”

    If you have a negative mindset as you enter this holiday season, you can change that. The neuroplasticity of our brains means they can build new pathways of gratefulness to focus on what we have instead of what we lack. I challenge you to start by looking for one thing to be grateful for every day. Use these next five days to cultivate a regular gratitude practice. Here are just a few ways to do that:

    • Write a thank-you note or thank someone in real time.
    • Keep a gratitude journal.
    • Do the “count your blessings” exercise: Write down three things for which you are grateful at the end of each week.
    • Pray or meditate.

    Clockwise from top left:Drs. Morrison, Cazier, and Dinsmoreare board-certified emergency physicians and life, wellness, and mindset coaches. Together they own The Whole Physician, a company dedicated to physician well-being (www.thewholephysician.com). Their podcast, Drive Time Debrief with The Whole Physician, is available on all podcast apps. Follow them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/thewholephysician), Instagram@thewholephysician, LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-whole-physician/), and Twitter@WholePhysician. Read their previous columns athttps://bit.ly/EMN-Wellness911.

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