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Scholar’s Viewpoint: Resiliency is a necessary trait to carry into the workplace

By Shanna W. Akers, October 31, 2019

She sat in her car, feeling the anxiety rise. Her whole life, she had seemed to easily overcome obstacles and challenges. Whether academically or in other areas of life, she had always succeeded. But now she was paralyzed. The thought of walking onto the unit one more day made her stomach turn and brought feelings of inadequacy and fear. This is where she found herself just one year after becoming a registered nurse in the high acuity critical care unit.

She never thought that being a nurse would be filled with so much stress and sadness. In the three months of orientation, she worked alongside nurses who expressed that they were “burned out” and “tired of the politics in healthcare.” And when she began to care for patients alone, she experienced loneliness, feelings of incompetence, and fear that she would never make a good nurse. She had never had these feelings before, and when she lost the fifth patient in three weeks, she began to question her calling.

Resilience can be described as the ability to overcome difficult challenges or the ability to bounce back after a tough situation. You see it in the businessman who files bankruptcy only to become a millionaire a few years later, or in the woman who was let go from a job who later finds her perfect niche and goes on to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. You also see it in nurses and physicians who work long hours to save a life today after losing a life just yesterday. You can see it in the missionary who keeps preaching the Gospel every day for years even when not a single soul accepts Jesus as Savior. Each person has the ability to be resilient. But what are their secrets?

Positive Attitude
A study by Zuzana Škodová and L’ubica Bánovčinová in the Journal of Nursing confirmed that nursing students with high levels of negative affectivity and social inhibition, both associated with maladaptive coping strategies, expressed lower levels of resilience. The ability to reframe a negative thought or negative perception of another’s action has been associated with higher levels of resilience. One secret of resilient individuals is their ability to face challenges as an opportunity for personal or professional growth, realizing that one moment in life does not have to define who he or she is. It is the art of seeking the silver lining behind every storm cloud.

Sense of Purpose
Individuals are called to serve the Lord and to work as unto Him (Colossians 3:23-24). A higher calling in life leads us to opportunities to impact the world around us. Finding meaning beyond self in the work is necessary to face overwhelming challenges. In an article “Reexamining Resilience” in the American Journal of Nursing, Hui-Wen Sato suggests that one can endure hardships by focusing on the purpose of the work. For Christians, this work should be seen as a high calling to serve others through the skills and talents the Lord has given us. A focus on improving the lives of others rather than on self allows one to face adversities with knowledge that the Lord’s purpose is attainable.

Connect with Others / Seek Help
During times of adversity, individuals should have a support system to help process the difficult moments. Seeking a mentor is essential for building resilience. This mentor can be a more experienced colleague, a previous faculty member, or a church leader. Professional help, such as a counselor, may be needed to help process major life hardships. Galatians 6:2 reminds us to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Connecting with others and sharing adversity with them allows one to see the situation through a different lens, offering a perspective that may have not been seen previously. Knowing when to seek help, and who to seek it from, will help prevent burnout and anxiety.

Building faith is a key to becoming — and remaining — resilient. We are reminded in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 that, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.” When we have faith in the Lord and trust in His goodness, we realize that though we face insurmountable odds, God is with us, for He never leaves us (Deuteronomy 31:6). How does one build his or her faith? First, be connected to the Word (Romans 10:17). Second, remember the faithfulness of God (Lamentations 3:22-23; Isaiah 49:23). Third, remember that faith only grows through facing challenges (1 Timothy 6:12). By growing one’s faith, one is able to trust in the Lord. This trust builds resilience.

As she sat in her car unable to move, she began to count her blessings. Her faith began to grow as she remembered her calling and purpose in life: to invest in the lives of others through the art and science of nursing. She remembered that her professors had warned her to keep her faith in God, seek to work unto Him, and to remember His blessings to prevent burnout or disillusionment. It would take a while, but she knew she could change her attitude with a little help from her colleagues, her leaders, and her God.

Shanna W. Akers is the dean and an associate professor of nursing at the Liberty University School of Nursing. She has taught at all levels of nursing, with a primary focus on leadership and management as well as critical care. Prior to joining Liberty, Akers was director of the Cardiovascular Service Line for a large hospital system in Louisiana, where she also practiced as a cardiac ICU nurse. Using the experience as a leader in both clinical practice and academia, Akers continues to present on topics such as building teamwork, communication, and resilience.

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