We need to care for ourselves as well as we care for our patients.
I am 44 years old. I have an amazing wife, two young daughters, a dog, and seven chickens.
I make good money with an easy commute to work and I live in a comfortable house in the center of a wonderful town. And I do so by helping others. Life is good.
So why am I so grumpy? And as I look around, why are others so grumpy.
We work hard. We stretch time to fit. We ask ourselves to do extraordinary things amidst limited resources and yet as we accomplish, and as we fight the fight, it is easy to forget that our tenacity comes at an expense. As a loan draws against our future earnings, we borrow against our self. We borrow against our happiness, our health, and our wellness. And we borrow against the happiness, health, and wellness of those we love.
We know human physiology. Yet we forget that the laws of life also apply to ourselves.
There are basic questions that we ask patients; and we can ask ourselves.
1. How well am I sleeping?
Sleep deprivation affects the way we think. Functional MRI imaging of a sleep-deprived brain reveals that our prefrontal cortex works overtime to perform simple tasks. We get stupid and lose judgment of this loss of cognitive function. We gain weight and are more prone to get sick. And as we fatigue we get grumpy, which in turn makes sleep more difficult.
Make it a goal to sleep at least seven hours each night and consider scheduling a 20-minute nap during the middle of the day. Reagan took naps, Churchill napped, and Thomas Edison took a daily nap. Strategic sleeping prevents burnout, restores alertness, and improves productivity.
2. Do I exercise?
Regular exercise is one of the most effective “life hacks” that we have to improve health. Adding 30 minutes of exercise to our day adds hours of more functional productive time. It directly improves thinking, learning and judgment. It reduces the risk of depression, some cancers, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. It combats grumpiness and makes us happier. Get out and raise your heart rate. Run, or walk, or lift, or swim, or take yoga. Do something.
3. Do I eat foods that promote health?
Many of us skip meals. And then when we do eat, we eat food product. Our belly gets full, yet our mind and body bloats. What tastes good and fills us up is not necessarily synonymous with what nourishes.
A careful analysis of what and when we eat will reveal a pattern of what works and what does not. We ask our patients to map their daily blood pressure and yet we cyclically skip meals and eat food product, which makes us moody, tired, and hungry a few hours later. A healthy pattern of eating good food pays dividends on having a long and healthy life. A regular diet of simple healthy foods that stabilize our hunger, health and moods is easy and doable.
4. Do I connect with family and friends?
Take the time to be with family and friends. Enjoy their company. Relax. Tell them how much they mean to you and you will hear how much you mean to them. You are not alone.
5. How do I nurture my spiritual side?
Whether you are nourished through your relationship with God/Allah/Buddha, with nature, with your community and/or all of the above, it is important to take time to contemplate your significance and to connect with your relationship with the world. It is important to feed your soul and your self by learning from and aspiring to follow the footsteps of those whose values resonate and amplify our own. You need time to contemplate and reflect. Schedule it.
I’m not interested in living an unhappy life. I want to live a life of purpose. I want to make my dent on the universe. I want to leave this world having made it a better place. I am less effective when I am tired, or hopped up on substance, or unfit with a heavy gut, or alone in the world.
Take some time to schedule for a foundation of health and wellbeing, and then schedule your work around it. Look ahead to next week and schedule your nighttime sleep, your 20-minute naps, your exercise, your healthy meals, your time to connect, and your time for reflection. It will pay forward. It will increase your hours of effective work and improve your resilience.
To do a good job of taking care of patients, we must first take care of our self. The latter cannot occur if we are burned out.