Megan Bradley, a student at Drexel University College of Medicine at West Reading and resiliency coach, has studied the art of bouncing back and staying strong. In the last couple of years, that’s proved to be a valuable skill. From getting through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to making it through medical school, Bradley has put her abilities to work on both herself and her fellow students.
In the middle of the pandemic, she entered the coaching program at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was working at the time, through a program that utilized psychological first aid and interacted with physicians and other healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic. Burnout amongst physicians and people in general has been a rising topic of concern over the last few years as the lines between home and work blurred and life became more fraught.
“I started working as a resiliency coach to help out my peers at the time, because it was a program to meet people where they were at, listen to what they were going through and validate what they were feeling,” Bradley said. “It was good to allow them space outside of work and outside of their immediate family where they could talk. I tried my best to find an action plan or resources for them. Everyone’s feelings are valid, and you have every right to be stressed, but how can we turn the stress into something that’s beneficial for you? How can we make a game plan moving forward so you don’t find yourself in this position again?"
For Bradley, resiliency means recognizing your boundaries rather than pushing yourself past your limit and clinging to the fact that you “should” accomplish everything or make it through tough times alone. Some days, you won’t be able to get everything done, so you need to recognize when it’s no longer prudent to work outside of your comfort zone. To be resilient, you need to be able to bounce back.
“What is your limit, and how do you make sure you don’t push beyond your limit?” Bradley said. “Some limits, when we pass them, it’s excellent and we’re showing ourselves things that we didn’t know we could do. But sometimes when we push past our limits, we get to that point where we’re not only affecting ourselves, but those around us, and it has a waterfall effect that has a larger impact on all of us.”
Now that she’s in medical school, she is no longer coaching, but has started to use the elements of her coaching on herself and her peers. Practicing resiliency is important, so Bradley shared tips Drexel Dragons can apply to themselves as the term heats up.
Sit in silence
Bradley encourages people to embrace the power of silence. If you sit in silence with someone, it can give them the space to open up and talk about what’s weighing on them — and gives you the space to listen. To build resilience, you have to let things out to make room to tackle your next hurdles. Since starting medical school, she’s done that with her friends.
“It really does benefit them and gives you a better perspective of where they're at, and helps you be more conscious of your own feelings,” Bradley said. “If you talk openly, you're not just bottling things up inside, and you really do have people to rely on. I do think that it's something we could all use a little bit more.”
Use grounding techniques
Sometimes, resiliency means working to stay grounded in where you are at the moment. Grounding techniques like breathing, focusing on things that bring you joy and identifying things in the room around you are some of Bradley’s favorite ways to de-stress and recenter.
“One I use a lot is called belly breathing and we use it quite frequently here at the College of Medicine,” Bradley said. “You take a couple of deep breaths and feel it in your chest and your stomach, let it fill up every quadrant of your body. You’re making sure you have that feeling of de-stressing and centering yourself on how your body is feeling.”
For another, more mental grounding task, look around the room you’re in and take a few moments to focus on the physical space. Identify five things you can see or feel — door handle, thermostat, dry erase marker. One that Bradley particularly loves is focusing on things that bring you joy.
“Close the computer and close your eyes and focus on five things that might make you smile,” Bradley said. “For me, it makes me realize, ‘All right, this isn’t so bad.’ There are great things in life I can focus on. Once I get done with this assignment or whatever I’m working on, I’m going to go look into one of those just to recenter myself.”
Connect with peers
Though silence can be powerful, connecting with your friends in other ways is perhaps even more important. Bradley and her fellow medical students work in a flipped-classroom style, where they learn independently and then come together to expand on things. When they see each other, they take a minute to talk about what’s on their mind or what they’re freaking out about.
“There might be something you’re stressed about that you had no idea someone else was worried about as well,” Bradley said.
Students come to the College of Medicine with different backgrounds and levels of medical understanding, and Bradley and her peers have found that it’s helpful to meet each other and recognize that you don’t come to medical school knowing everything. There might be biology majors, or finance majors, or something completely different. Everyone has different strengths and connecting with each other helps them remember that. When they talk about what’s weighing on them, they’re all on the same level — stressed students. They commiserate, then head out for pizza or to play ping pong.
“These types of little study breaks really help us to build better friendships, but also to really recognize that where you're struggling is valid, where you need help is valid, and maybe we can help out and play to each other's strengths,” Bradley said.
Learn to take breaks
It’s difficult to recognize burnout coming on, but once you get to that mushy-brain stage, it’s time to take a break.
“To be honest, I'm still learning how I feel when burnout comes on,” Bradley said. "There's only so many hours that you can study and look at a computer screen. Eventually, the words just look like pictures."
Bradley’s advice is to schedule breaks every couple of hours. It’s even better if you can connect with friends then, so you can take a break together. When you see other people taking breaks, it helps you get out of your own head and break your own cycle of pushing through.
“Just message your friends and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to go for a 20-minute walk, does anybody want to go?’” Bradley said. “Playing to our own strengths helps us recognize where others need help. So if you need a break, or someone else needs a break, just take those 20 minutes. At the end of the day, 20 minutes is not going to be the deciding factor in anything.”