Thriving Beyond Burnout: Embracing the Power of Positive Medicine
Positive medicine is the science of positive psychology, or well-being and flourishing, brought into the healthcare space to help providers live our best lives.
It is not enough to address burnout.
We need to work towards maximizing our potential in improving our abilities to handle life when it is going well, we will be more prepared when adversity inevitably occurs.
This all seems very abstract and intangible.
How do you even begin to define well-being and a life well-lived?
Physicians Jordyn Feingold, MD, and Sanj Katyal, MD, both of whom have master’s degrees in positive psychology, developed a framework for this with the acronym
REVAMP: Relationships, Engagement, Vitality, Accomplishment, Meaning, Positivity
The first, and possibly the most important, is the strength of our relationships. The quality of our relationships is one of the best predictors, if not the best predictor, of longevity. A hill is perceived as less steep when looking at it with a friend, but this category isn’t limited to our friends and family. These include both personal and professional relationships. Less intuitively, it also includes our relationships with ourselves. This is a distinct relationship and one worth cultivating. In healthcare, we also have relationships with our patients, and when perceived as such, can be beneficial to both patient and caregiver.
Engagement refers to being one with our day-to-day tasks; it could also be referred to as mindfulness (although then the acronym wouldn’t work quite so well). Mindfulness is covered in much more detail in a separate blog post, but suffice it to say, being present, in the moment. A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.
Vitality refers to your physical health, but this isn’t just about physical activity in the form of exercise, but finding more ways to integrate physical activity in your life, and even realizing that some of the physical tasks that we are doing already are actually helpful for our well-being.
Accomplishment or achievement can be as challenging to define as well-being. For each person, the definition will be different. First establish a set of values and then this can be used as a framework for defining success.
Even if having lots of financial success isn’t in line with your values, financial achievement should still be included in this. It isn’t necessarily measured by the ability to purchase goods, but rather having a handle on your finances, and a reasonable financial plan. Financial worry can undermine well-being.
Meaning – there is some overlap here with accomplishment and relationships in that it is important that there is meaning to our careers, meaning to our relationships, but this also helps us overcome adversity. When adversity inevitably arises, it is critical to our well-being that we can find some meaning there, too.
This is best illustrated in Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
As a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, he saw that the other survivors with the best psychological recovery from such horrific trauma were the ones that were able to find meaning and purpose in their day-to-day existence among the atrocities they were experiencing.
Clearly, this is extreme example, but illustrates the point so we can find meaning in adversity. We can help our patients do the same. We can help them find post-traumatic growth.
Positivity is a generalized affect or state, or finding ways to focus more on the positive and less on the negative.
REVAMP: Relationships, Engagement, Vitality, Accomplishment, Meaning, Positivity.
Each of these aspects are critical, and none alone are sufficient for well-being.
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