Breaking the Cycle: Strategies to Overcome Intrusive, Repetitive, and Unhelpful Thoughts in MedicineJun 06, 2023
Written by Dr. Andrea Austin, MD, FACEP, CHSE - Co-founder of Revitalize Women Physician Circle
"I've said it before, and I know I'm not alone - American healthcare is broken, right? After listening to a recent lecture given by my colleague at Temecula Valley Hospital, Dr. Xian Li, I realized while American Healthcare is breaking, it is not yet fully broken. You may find the distinction insignificant, but a slight change in how we think about something as overwhelming as a failing healthcare system can be the space in which more significant changes can start. It means we still have room for hope.
This realization leads me to believe that much of our suffering is related to our thoughts. It might sound crazy, but bear with me. When we think "healthcare is a dumpster fire," it may be because we feel overwhelmed or stressed. And that thought leads to a feeling of defeat and deflation, which can trigger negative behaviors. So, in this blog post, I want to explore how our thoughts affect our suffering and what we can do to change them.
As healthcare professionals, we all have experienced the overwhelming feeling of working in a fraying system. It is easy to feel defeated and deflated. However, it is essential to recognize that our thoughts can drive our feelings and actions, so it is crucial to identify and address harmful thought patterns. Doing so can help us provide more effective patient care and improve our well-being.
The "Thoughts-Feelings-Actions" model is an effective way to identify and address harmful thought patterns. It involves recognizing the thought causing us to suffer, evaluating its truthfulness, determining if it is helping us, and replacing it with a more helpful thought.
STEP 1: RECOGNIZE THE THOUGHT
Continuing with my original example, I often think that "American healthcare is broken or a dumpster fire" when dealing with overcrowding in the emergency department. This thought makes me feel disempowered, and my actions usually involve disconnecting from those around me.
STEP 2: EVALUATE: IS THIS THOUGHT TRUE? IS THIS THOUGHT HELPING ME?
However, by using the "Thoughts-Feelings-Actions" model, I have learned to evaluate the truthfulness of this thought. While it is true that the U.S. healthcare system is not ideal, it is not entirely broken. It is crucial to recognize that people make the system, and we, as physicians have the power to create change.
STEP 3: REPLACE THE ORIGINAL THOUGHT
By accepting this reality, I can replace the harmful thought with a more constructive one. Instead of thinking that "healthcare is broken," I focus on the idea that "I am committed to making a difference in healthcare." This thought is more helpful as it focuses on what can be done rather than the system's brokenness. It reminds me of my purpose and commitment to making meaningful change, leading to empowerment and strength.
STEP 4: RADICAL ACCEPTANCE
Another critical step in addressing harmful thought patterns is practicing radical acceptance. However unpleasant or difficult, we accept the reality of a situation. Radical acceptance can help us break the cycle of negative thoughts and feelings and focus on the actions we can take to make a difference. It can also help us reflect on our role in the healthcare system and how we can create positive change.
Our thoughts have a significant impact on our emotional state and behavior. As discussed in this blog post, negative thoughts such as "American healthcare is broken" can lead to feelings of overwhelm, defeat, and inaction. Recognizing and challenging these thoughts can change how we feel and act, ultimately reducing our suffering.
This concept applies to all aspects of our lives, not just healthcare. By being mindful of our thoughts and focusing on more productive thoughts informed by our values, we can improve our overall well-being and lead a more fulfilling life. Moving forward in this difficult climate, I would like to challenge myself and all fellow healthcare workers to pay attention to our thoughts and choose them wisely.
I go more in-depth with this concept and give further background to Dr. Li's lecture that inspired this thinking on my podcast, The Revitalizing Doctor. The episode "On My Heart: The Problem with Fixating on the Dumpster Fire of Healthcare" is available now- tune in wherever you stream!