By Dr. Kendra Houston
We all love the holidays. It gives us residents a much-needed break. The majority of us make the most of our holidays by reminiscing with friends and family about the past year and all that we have accomplished. We get excited about all the adventures the next year might bring.
Often as I reflect on the past year I ask myself if I accomplished what I wanted? Or, did my New Year’s resolutions dissipate as fast as I had formed them? The answer to the latter question is usually yes. I tend to keep focused on my professional goals but my personal goals easily fall by the wayside.
As residents, we are constantly striving towards the next professional achievement, such as passing the LMCC, conquering the transition from junior to senior resident, or applying to our fellowship programs. Generally, our professional goals come quite easy to us but what about our personal goals? We all know that we should take better care of ourselves, be more active, focus on wellness, but we are often overtaken by the drive to succeed in medicine. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but balance is hard. I know for myself, I am guilty of allowing my professional self to completely take over.
This year will be different. Although I say that every year, I really mean it this year. The difference I will make is to prioritize my well-being. In truth that doesn’t mean my professional responsibilities will come second. They will be at the forefront of life and run most of the show (I mean we still are residents!). The difference will be that I will make very small personal goals. Goals that are actually achievable outside of medicine. As I succeed in reaching them, I can expand them. I will not set myself up for personal failure this year. Needless to say, I won’t expect myself to attend the gym five days per week. That was last year’s failure.
When I think about our well-being I recognize that we often put our own aside at the expense of our profession. We work tirelessly to be our top self while at work. We are always pleasant, professional, working as hard as we possibly can to be our best for the team and our patients. When we finally get to go home from that hard call shift, it is sometimes a chance to finally let go, slump into the chair, turn the pager off and let it all hang out. Perhaps we sit there and reflect on the shift thinking what we could have done better, potentially criticizing ourselves or struggling with exhaustion. Sometimes when we get home we are no longer our best selves because in the privacy of our home we may not feel the need to be perfect. We may choose to forego our physical activity, our healthy meal or the social outing that was originally planned. When we miss out on doing these things for ourselves, it chips away at our well-being and at our ability to get through the highs and lows that come along in life. We deserve to dedicate some time to focus on ourselves because we deserve to have a positive sense of well-being.
When we do not have a sense of positivity about our personal well-being, then we cannot be our best selves in all the other aspects of our life. One of these aspects include our relationships with our spouses, our children or our friends. These people are the ones who often get to see our true expressions of exhaustion, frustration and feelings of inadequacy after hard days. They are the ones who listen, who pick us up, who hug us during those times. They are the ones that get us through residency. An important question we need to ask is when do our most important people get our best selves? The ones who deserve it most, yet the ones that potentially might see it the least.
As well, our personal wellness affects our daily work and our career satisfaction. We might have a harder time dealing with difficult cases or making the most of a busy rotation. We may become less enthused about aspects of our job and have a harder time keeping up with the demands of residency. Without a sense of wellness, we will have a harder time being the physicians we are striving so hard to be.
So how can we focus on being our best selves all throughout the year?
A preceptor once told me: you can do anything for five minutes. Therefore, I will focus on five-minute wellness goals. Five minutes is achievable. I can take five extra minutes to prepare a healthy lunch for work; five extra minutes to go walk outside and see the light of day for the first time in 26 hours; five minutes to read for leisure; five minutes to meditate; trade five minutes of Facebook scrolling to plan the next vacation. Your five minutes can be anything you want! Once we start that five minutes maybe it’ll turn into 10 or 20 minutes and we can start successfully achieving healthier habits until they become a regular part of our routine.
There will never be enough minutes in a day to accomplish everything we have set out to achieve. Dedicating five minutes to a task is an easy way to feel more purposeful and to feel like we are accomplishing small goals along the way. I hope that through five minutes of focused wellness strategies we are all able to be healthier and happier human beings. Building these wellness strategies into the day will help us be our best selves at our jobs, for our patients, our families and for ourselves.
Dr. Kendra Houston is a PGY 2 in Family Medicine.