After spending hours with healthcare professionals as both a consultant and patient, I know that it takes a special kind of person to take care of others in their most distressing and vulnerable times. That responsibility has been in overdrive because of COVID, causing emotional burnout, which in turn affects patient care. By equipping yourself with emotional intelligence, you can be more resilient for yourself and patients.
Emotional intelligence is keeping your intelligence high, when emotions are high.
Health care sets up an environment for a tornado of emotions, and the rules and regulations centered around patient-provider interactions are often complex to navigate. This leaves many on the brink of emotional exhaustion, and for survival’s sake, depersonalization with patients becomes the status quo. Feeling a disconnect with their patients is another added weight, as few get into this industry for just the paycheck – it’s the impact of helping people get healthy and stay healthy that motivates them. I’ve seen it time and time again with people in my life, as well as on my own patient journey as I battled stage 3 cancer.
Before the pandemic, reducing job burnout among healthcare workers became a standard policy. Now, it’s more than a policy, it’s top priority with staff shortages growing in healthcare. A February 2022 survey conducted by USA Today and Ipsos of more than 1,100 health care workers found nearly a quarter of respondents said they were likely to leave the field in the near future.
It’s time to maximize your health by embracing emotional intelligence with these three tips, which will also enhance your communications with peers and patients.
Recognize your emotions.
Pushing away emotions takes more energy than acknowledging them because rarely do you have to push them back just one time, it is a constant tug-of-war. When you don’t process your emotions, they can show up as physical pain. Recognize your emotions beyond the narrow definitions of sad, angry or happy — use as many adjectives as you can think of, get descriptive, look up synonyms. Write them down. Share with your therapist. Acknowledge it when you work out. Talk it out into a notes page on your phone. Once you recognize, you can acknowledge, process, and address.
Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses.
Your colleagues can be a catalyst. When you’re overworked, your endurance changes, and it’s important to share that with your team, because they are feeling the same — and in these situations you can lean on each other. Verbalizing that you need help and asking others how they can be supported cultivates trust. This dynamic between colleagues allows your team to be more adaptable, which leads to improved culture. Your patients will feel this shift, as they will be more at ease and more likely to listen to your instructions and advice
Don’t assume, ask.
Assumptions lead to destruction. You can’t read minds – especially when you exist in a diverse city with an array of cultures that approach life and work responsibilities in various ways. If you need to take a day off, ask. If your patient is looking confused, slow down and ask what’s going on. If you’re starting to overcompensate because you notice a colleague struggling, ask them how you can help. If you need more resources at work, but think you shouldn’t ask because of budget cuts, ask anyway. Assumptions are rarely correct, and it leaves just one person carrying all the weight —YOU. Do yourself a favor, open up the dialogue.
Sahar Paz is the CEO of Own Your Voice Strategy Firm and a Harvard-certified emotional intelligence expert with a mission to transform the patient-provider experience.