If you already have terrific routines, strategies, and a reality that results in healthy work/life integration (according not to you, but to your loved ones), all of which are health promoting and burnout reducing and will support many more years of working as an otolaryngologist, congratulations! Keep it up.
For everyone else who struggles like I do, my goal is to increase your awareness and commitment to “wellness” and “health.”
Please know that while my suggestions may sound “simple,” the implementation of simple ideas will be extremely difficult after years of ingrained, perpetuated, poorly modeled, unhealthy behavior patterns further reinforced by unrealistic internal and external demands for us as physicians.
Physical activity/exercise: Last summer, I decided to stop whining and blaming my husband for why we don’t play tennis regularly. (Spouses are easy targets for everything that’s not right in our lives due to our deficiencies!) I remember at a Triological Society meeting, Carol Bradford, MD, shared how she prioritized and played tennis every Wednesday. So, one evening, I walked to our community tennis facility with my tennis bag and no plan, and decided to create my future. I met a stranger and played that night. This has led to a year of pretty consistent tennis on weekends. Sweating, more physical activity compared to years past, being outside in the sun for my vitamin D “infusion,” and, most importantly, a sense of accomplishment, have made me more fulfilled. I have created new routine. While my waist and thighs lie about my efforts and make me a candidate to wear “Mom Jeans” as featured on “Saturday Night Live,” I love the demand for laser focus and the opportunity for healthy anger management. Whatever physical activity/form of exercise you love, do it. Do it more. Do it as often as possible.
Get outdoors/more sunlight so that you will sleep better: Yes, I do live in Florida, but wherever you are, go outside for as many minutes as possible every day. Walk outside to another building or meeting, to and from the parking lot to the hospital/clinics. Neither OR light nor fluorescent hospital lighting helps to regulate sleep and won’t give you that nice bronze/tan (healthy glow).
Netflix (Vudu/Amazon Prime/HBO … whatever channel): Binge watching your favorite show that will keep your rear stuck on the couch/sofa/bed, away from the computer screen/iPhone/iPad, in the “DO NOT TALK TO ME NOW” zone you create, is an effective strategic recovery plan.
Three types of shows to consider:
- Watch shows like “Westworld,” in which you don’t understand what is going on (like me) and ask your spouse questions repeatedly, reducing his enjoyment, but at least you watch together on couch or bed and get “quality time” (hold hands for bonus points).
- Snuggle with your child/children every night for at least one episode of whatever series. My 12-year-old, Claire, and I spent the past year, with dedication, on “Gilmore Girls” and “Parenthood,” and we just finished “Anne with an ‘E.’”
- Indulge in a show only you love. Currently I am addicted to “Mr. Sunshine,” a Korean soap opera (I am not Korean). This is a historic, noble/slave-times-of-war-and-whatever show, and it has everything: samurai swords, guns, bloody violence, attractive characters, slow motion, visually stunning camera work, and romance, which completely transforms me away from the challenges of healthcare, my daily frustrations, unresolved issues, unrealistic budget, etc. It’s better than “Calgon”! (Bubble baths are so 80s, am I right?)
Sleep: That’s it. Just sleep.
Read something, preferably not on a device. (Haven’t you had enough EMR today?) Magazines, books, articles, newspapers (the black and white thing)
Hydrate: As someone who believes she is a camel, and is delusional that I would win on “Survivor” (no need to eat, drink, or pee … well, rarely), anytime I wear high heels now, by Wednesday or Thursday I wake up at night in excruciating pain with severe cramps in my calves. I don’t drink enough (I am talking about WATER!!! I know you’re thinking about the “good stuff”). Trust me, you’re not either. If your pee has color, drink more water.
Quiet or active meditation (Zumba, spin, cross-fit, running, etc.).
Write in a journal and reflect: What is your “True North”? Are you living the life you want and how you want to live it? If not, keep writing.
Plan non-work time: Do this with as much effort as you do your work schedule. I spent years upset that when I was “free” for family quality time, the rest of my family did not respond when I was ready. If you don’t plan it, it won’t happen. I speak to many physicians who are “victims”: They haven’t been on vacation in “X” months, are “booked” out for clinic for “y” months, and “can’t” take time off. I call “B.S.” So painful to plan vacations, but so critical to have them. Please email me, and I will send you all my recent itineraries for you and your family. I spend more, always on trips involving nature, away from people/crowds. This summer, we did Lake Louise/Banff/Alberta, as well as “glamping” at Autocamp Russian River. (I don’t do tents, bugs, or outhouses, and I must shower). Oh, and I am a foodie, so every trip is about where we eat each night.
Eating/Drinking Habits: I am currently trying to accept the fact that aging is inversely proportional to my metabolism. Yes, it’s true: “A moment on the lips, forever on the hips.” Did you really need to eat that donut? Hate that I can’t eat as much as I feel I “deserve,” don’t you know! I didn’t eat all day!!! (Few of you know I have a Cheetos addiction, clean a few months at a time). This self-loathing/self-rewarding behavior is cra-cra, and I hate “Mom Jeans.” Other important notes:
- Dessert or alcohol, but not both. (This sucks, but a calorie is a calorie.)
- Eat less, more often. Better quality, less quantity. Chew and swallow very slowly. Slower. Slow.
- More water, cut the crap! Stop the Powerade, Gatorade, soda, sweet tea, lemonade, etc.
- Coffee—YES! But know your limit and not too late. Quality, not quantity. NO, not the Starbucks Frappuccino that’s 1,200 calories with whipped cream and chocolate syrup.
- Stock food in office/car (when it won’t melt): for health snacks, go to that expensive pretty whole food/gluten-free aisle. Try those kale chips and puffed quinoa—you will appear “healthy” to colleagues!
- Expensive or crappy Halloween chocolates (ready access in clinic/OR/office)—because sometimes you just need to survive your day.
Greet your loved ones (hugs and kisses) as soon as you walk in the door at the end of the day, with a huge smile and enthusiasm (like you do your “Chair” or “boss”), as if your bonus check depends on it. Then go for that glass of wine/whiskey if you must (just kidding, water first). The rest of your night will be much better if you do this.
Make these appointments: Annual check-ups: OB/GYN (don’t gloat, male colleagues), mammograms, primary doc, blood work, dentists. No one asked you to take a vacation day to do so. Use admin time or block off half a day, first appointment in the morning or last one of the day. Just do it.
Change your perspective to change your life. While you may not care and are willing to “sacrifice” your wellbeing, you don’t have the right to shortchange your family and those who love and depend on you.
Dr. Wei is surgeon-in-chief and division chief of pediatric otolaryngology/audiology at Nemours Children’s Hospital, and chair of otolaryngology education at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine in Orlando. She is also a member of the ENTtoday editorial advisory board.