The following article features coverage from the ONA 2019 Navigation Summit. Click here to read more of Oncology Nurse Advisor‘s conference coverage.

Resilience. Compassion fatigue. Quite the buzzwords right now. What does resilience really mean? Why does compassion fatigue make building resilience urgent? Can we build our resilience? And, how?

Resilience is the ability to positively respond to adversity. It is important for quality time spent with friends, family, hobbies, and work. It is important for intense situations such as limited resources, 10- to 12-hour days, argument with a spouse, loss of a patient, and uncertainty. Compassion fatigue is a progressive and cumulative process influenced by repeated, continuous, and intense exposure to stressors, particularly in oncology.

Effects of Compassion Fatigue and Low Resilience

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Stress triggers the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, and the adrenal glands flood the body with stress hormones. The brain shunts blood away from our gut, towards the muscles, in preparation for physical exertion. Heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration increase, body temperature rises, and we perspire.

Over time, our health can suffer in different ways because the constant flood of stress chemicals and associated metabolic changes can devastate our body. Some of the health problems linked to low resilience left unmanaged include headache, digestion issues, insomnia, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and weight gain. Low resilience combined with compassion fatigue has an even bigger impact. Even small setbacks feel like disasters and take a while to recover.

Our goal is to create high resilience. This helps us bounce back from setbacks and view adversity as an opportunity to grow.

Changing Our Brain to Build Resilience

Two parts of our brain are involved in building resilience: the prefrontal cortex (the abstract, thinking brain) and the limbic brain (our emotional response).

Preconscious processing is association related. External stimuli are filtered down to what matters to the brain, includes our internal view of the world, and holds our bias and beliefs.

Our brains actively scan for threats and activate the “fight or flight” response. So much in our world is perceived as a threat to the brain. Our amygdala uses these direct inputs to determine what is a threat. Conscious processing keeps us from being triggered and affects our state of mind before we are aware of bodily sensations.

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Resilience Building Strategies

  • Create a vision for your life.
  • Regulate emotions through composure.Problem solve, anticipate, and plan, building your ability to reason.
  • Problem solve, anticipate, and plan, building your ability to reason.
  • Make a commitment to improving your health.
  • Stay in the game and build tenacity.
  • Connect and collaborate with people you trust.

Small steps with frequent practice will change our brains because we are creating new neuronal pathways. We create these new pathways with our neurons.

These 100 billion neurons have more than 70,000 synaptic connections per neuron! Our neurons encode our thoughts, actions, beliefs, and memories. When the 6 resilience strategies are practiced, they become the skills that build the new neural pathways, making it easier for us to think and act in a new way.

Make a commitment to build your resilience. Give yourself the extraordinary life you deserve.