Prioritizing Wellness in Medicine
As healthcare professionals, it is undeniably our job to care for others. Often, this supersedes caring for ourselves. Imagine your energy and overall well-being as a cup. You are continually tending to the cups of others, being cognizant that they are full, often neglecting your own. The lesson being that if you are constantly tending to the needs of others and “filling their cups,” who will look out for you and care for you like you do for others?
I can attest to this analogy personally. Studying for my COMLEX Level 1 boards, I had the false ideology that more time studying equated to greater success. As a result, I forfeited time doing things that translated to my overall wellness such as running, and frankly, leaving the apartment. When my COMLEX LEVEL 2 boards rolled around, I took a different approach, focusing on running each day, eating a balanced diet, and drinking plenty of water and not just caffeine. My new approach moved mountains, it felt. My score paralleled how I felt physically which made the achievement all the more memorable.
We will talk about a few tips for managing stress, anxiety, and depression amidst various sentiments in the field of medicine:
Schedule time for YOU
This can often be the hardest when there are so many things to do, though you should not feel guilty about this one. This is essential! I always tell people “do one thing today that is for you.” This will ensure that your cup is being filled each day. This tip is rather vague on purpose – choose your “you time” activity: reading a novel, bubble bath, a walk outside, cooking, time with your significant other, journaling, etc. Keeping a scheduled time for tasks specifically designed for you will ensure you also look after yourself when caring for others.
Eat a Balanced Diet and Drink Water
No, you cannot survive off of coffee and whatever is sold at Starbucks or the local coffee shop. Besides, that adds up! Plan out your meals and make it a routine. Meal prepping wholesome foods will, in turn, fuel you for whatever endeavor you take on that day. Put aside the processed food for fresh, wholesome ingredients. Also, carry a water bottle with you and drink often! How much water should you drink? I recommend ½ your weight in ounces.
Get Enough Sleep Each Night
There will certainly be checks and balances with this one, but the moral of the story is practice good sleep hygiene in order to have fuel for your academics, work, and personal relationships. Start this in your undergraduate education so that it begins to permeate your future medical education early. You might be asking yourself, “how is this even possible, there is too much to learn!” Trust me, it is possible. I always slept 8 hours prior to exams and never stayed up all night studying because I felt doing so would do more harm than good. Remember, good things in = good things out!
Stand and Take a Stroll Every 30-45 Minutes When Studying
The pomodoro technique has gained popularity over the years with students in multiple disciplines, though you can certainly individualize it to your own style. I recommend standing and walking every 30 minutes, so be sure to set a timer to remind yourself when you may be increasingly focused on your work at the time. This technique can certainly help in increasing overall productivity and focus.
You would be surprised by the power of positivity. Focusing on the positive aspects among challenging circumstances can be difficult. When I was in medical school, I would often only focus on one day at a time, which amidst increased stress, this was admittedly what I could handle. Similarly, I would focus on one thing that day that was a positive aspect: my health, my family, my dogs, being afforded the opportunity to continue my education, coffee. This allowed me the chance to stay grounded and continually focusing on positive things as opposed to allowing the negatives to flood my mind. Try this tomorrow: one day at a time and one positive per day, at least!
Surround Yourself With Supportive People
Are you familiar with the phrase “birds of a feather flock together”? How about “misery loves company”? Whichever way you dissect these phrases, we can interpolate that like-minded individuals are found together. Now, it is your decision who to place yourself around!
Each of these tips is just a start to get you headed in the right direction. Trust me, I do not expect you to run out and get an annual yoga membership and expensive food plan after reading this. I do expect you to fill your own cup. This is so essential to enduring an arduous education. It should never feel like your education is taking pieces of you away, because at the end of the day, what will be left to give? Care for yourself like you would patients and the benefits will be multifaceted.
Written by: Emma Fenske