In medicine, we work hard. Starting with college and medical school, we spend long hours studying and trying to stay at the top of the class. Then in residency training, we are frequently up all night caring for patients.
Learning to care for ourselves
The culture is competitive, and those of us who are visible in the hospital at all hours are frequently perceived to be superior physicians. The workload is enormous! Rounds, clinics, note writing, lectures, board exams – then starting or joining a medical practice. Insanely hard work has now become normal life.
What tends to be left out of our education? How to care for ourselves.
In a profession that demands so much of our energy, our emotions, and our intellect, we end up being pretty dumb about our own needs. Our sense of worth, our very identities, have grown to depend on how much punishment we can take. And there is a higher rate of divorce, substance abuse, and suicide among physicians than in most other professions. Any profession is taxing if you’re not taking time for yourself.
Do for yourself what you would for your kids or friends
All this is to say that caring for ourselves is vital and that many very smart people can be blind to this simple fact.
Let me ask you this: Do you want your child to feel less worthy of love if his room is not perfectly clean, or if he struggles in school? Of course not, right?
Your child is precious simply because he is your child. But children learn by what you show them, not just what you tell them. The behavior that you model teaches your child what to believe. If you don’t feel good about yourself unless you’re working constantly, this is what your child will believe about himself. So take care of yourself! This is not a selfish indulgence, but an absolute necessity.
7 ideas for self-care
If you are having trouble getting started, here are seven ideas for self-care that you can practice now:
- Make a playlist. Think of your favorite songs, the ones that cheer you up or make you feel like dancing. Load these onto your phone or device, and listen to them while you’re working or relaxing. Instant mood-lifter!
- Take yourself out to lunch. Order your favorite comfort food. Take a book if you want to (see below for a list of good ones), or just sit and relax.
- If you have a pet, have a cuddling session. Pia, my giant poodle, loves to be scratched under her chin. Bonding with your pet makes both of you feel better.
- If you have kids, read a book out loud together. With character voices. And funny accents. See below for a list of my favorites.
- Binge watch your favorite sitcom. Modern Family, anyone? Friends? I Love Lucy? Parks and Rec?
- Spa services – The nail salon in my neighborhood has those massage chairs. And they offer snacks and soft drinks. Go get your nails done! Obviously, make sure they have sterilized tools and well-maintained equipment. A prenatal massage can also be wonderfully relaxing.
- Gratitude – No matter how stressful life is, or how busy you are, don’t forget how many good things are all around you. Think of at least three things every day, and focus your attention on these. Remember and appreciate what’s great in your life instead of dwelling on frustrations and problems.
Reading for self-care
As promised, here are some books that I re-read just about every year because they are funny or inspiring.
- The Mitford series by Jan Karon (start with At Home in Mitford)
- Love Walked In, by Marisa de los Santos
- Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
- Calvin and Hobbes books, by Bill Watterson
- Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich (start with One for the Money)
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
And here are some great children’s books to read aloud.
- Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown. When you read this every night in a soft voice to your toddler, they will start getting sleepy.
- Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. When you say I spy… and pause, they will shout out the answers and feel great!
- Little Critter books, by Mercer Mayer. Who doesn’t love Little Critter?
- Weslandia, by Paul Fleischman. When your kids are in grade school, this is a great book about how great it is to be exactly who you are.
- Harry Potter books, by J.K. Rowling. I read the whole series with an English accent and character voices. If this kind of thing is fun for you, go for it!
There are so many more ideas for self-care that I bet you can think of. Try a new recipe. Go watch some fireworks. Eat a watermelon in the backyard. Take a walk in the rain. Sit in a coffee shop and people-watch.