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HealthMay 01, 2021

Fostering resilience among nurse leaders

By: Lisa Merenda, MSN, RN, CRRN
2020 was a year like no other for the nursing community. It was a year that tested our resilience — personally and professionally.

Resilience is a term we’ve all heard so often in recent months. As nurse leaders we certainly understand the power of resiliency and its effect on nurse burnout, compassion fatigue and the overall stress levels of our staff. But do we necessarily focus enough on our own resiliency and wellbeing?

We all experience peaks and valleys in our lives. The “valleys” can be everyday stressors to more traumatic experiences like a job or financial loss, death of a loved one, or experiencing a life-altering illness. We all react differently to life’s challenges and obstacles. Painful and life-altering experiences don’t necessarily have to determine our outcome. There are always things we can control, modify, or grow with. And that’s where resilience comes in. Resilience is defined as the skill to overcome or become adapted to highly difficult circumstances. We all have the ability to be resilient and the good news is that with practice, we can become more resilient over time. According to the American Psychological Association, “building resilience takes time and intentionality.”

Nurses Week 2021 serves an opportunity to remember how we can help ourselves to become more resilient. Nurse leaders have an obligation to develop resilience. If not, how can we be effective leaders and foster resiliency in the organization, teams, and staff, we supervise?

Here are a few ways to become more resilient.

Build connections

Lean on your support system of family and friends. The love and support we get from personal connections with our family and friends is crucial. The empathy from our support system can remind us that we aren’t alone during challenging times. Seeking out new relationships is another way of connecting; it’s never too late to build new friendships. Join a group — whether it be a local organization or a faith-based group, being part of a group can offer support and give a sense of purpose.

Foster wellness

Take care of yourself; be kind to yourself! Try to get enough sleep and rest, adequate nutrition, hydration, and regular exercise. When at work, pay attention to the peaks and dips in energy and productivity. It’s ok to step away from work (when appropriate) even for a few minutes so you can reset your energy and attention.

Practice mindfulness by journaling, prayer, meditation, and yoga. If you are just beginning, start small — even five or 10 minutes can be helpful. Be sure to focus on the positive things in your life and remember gratitude for what you do have, even in really challenging times.

Find purpose

Help others. Whether it be something formal like volunteering in your local community or supporting a friend or neighbor who is going through a challenging time, connecting with, and helping someone can give us purpose and help strengthen our own self-worth in the process.

Be proactive, take initiative, and start thinking about ways to overcome or deal with a life challenge you may be experiencing. If a problem seems too big to handle, break it down into smaller parts and tackle it chunk by chunk.

Adopt healthy thoughts

How we think during obstacles or challenging times can influence our ability to be resilient. Remember to keep things in perspective. Try to avoid negative or irrational thought patterns (for example catastrophizing a situation or thinking someone is out to get you). Instead, remember that we are not helpless. And while we can’t necessarily change an obstacle or challenge, we can change how we respond to it. Accepting change as part of life is another important aspect to fostering healthy thoughts. By accepting what we can’t change, helps us to focus on the circumstances we can change, those circumstances that are in our control.

Keep a hopeful outlook

This can be really hard when we are in the thick of a difficult situation, but an optimistic outlook can empower us to expect that good things can and will happen in the future. Learn from your past challenges. Reflect on lessons learned and the times where you found strength.

There may be times when the above strategies can prove helpful, but there may also be times where we feel stuck and need some additional help in navigating the road to resilience. Seek help from a licensed mental health professional. A professional can assist with identifying and offering additional strategies for moving forward.

Taking active steps (whether big or small) to better adapt to life’s challenges can go a long way toward becoming more resilient. Resilience is an essential element of effective nursing leadership. Prioritizing our own wellbeing and resiliency will not only benefit us but it will help to foster a healthy work environment for our organization, colleagues, and the nurses we mentor and lead.

Lisa Merenda, MSN, RN, CRRN
Senior Clinical Editor, Lippincott Solutions, Wolters Kluwer Health
Lisa is a Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurse. She has 20 years’ experience in pediatric nursing. Lisa currently oversees the clinical content management for Lippincott Advisor.
  1. American Psychological Association. (2012). “Building your resilience” [Online]. Accessed April 2021 via the Web at: https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience.
  2. Cline, S. (2015). Nurse leader resilience: Career defining moments. Nursing Administration Quarterly, 39(2), 117-122. doi: 10.1097/NAQ.0000000000000087.
  3. Kelly, L., et al. (2019). Rethinking resilience. Nurse Leader, 17(5), 461-464. US Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.) “Individual resilience” [Online]. Accessed April 2021 via the Web at: https://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/planning/abc/Pages/individual-resilience.aspx.
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