Mindfulness Matters

Electronic Spring 2022  |  Issue 50

Mindfulness Matters
By: Sally Chu, MD

Wake up. Go to work. Go home. Sleep. Wake up. Work. Home. Sleep. For many, this easily becomes a typical routine when focusing on our desire to succeed professionally, especially during the pandemic when following social distancing guidelines. Occasionally this routine may be broken up by a conference, a meeting, or a day off, but frequently each day can be summarized by the same framework: wake up, go to work, go home, sleep. Eventually, the routine may become mundane, and burnout may settle in due to stressors at work or at home, despite one's best efforts. It is important in times like these to have incorporated into your routine something to help you destress and to be aware of things that could break the routine, whether that is an exercise class, meditation, going out to eat, a night in, catching up with friends or family, or something else to unwind.
In our hectic lives, especially when dealing with challenging patients, we can feel drained after a day of work and unmotivated to deviate from our routine of going straight home after work to eat, "vegetate", and sleep. The habit of just gritting through and finishing work can be counterproductive. As stress levels spike, productivity plummets as it becomes more difficult to concentrate, and irritability and depression can settle in. It is easy to forget to maintain a healthy work-life balance due to the internal and external forces always demanding more. However, changing your routine to make time for something for your own wellbeing can allow your brain to decompress and think more clearly. It allows for other parts of your brain to activate because you are unwinding and allows for solutions to problems to make themselves more obvious due to enforcing space from whatever may be plaguing you. It may be as simple as saying no to the inner voice that tells you to study more and taking an early night to catch up on sleep, or even telling yourself it is okay to take a five-minute break to stretch or clear your head at work to recenter yourself before resuming your tasks.
Putting aside the time for the pursuit of a healthy work-life balance can be a daunting task, especially during training years. Changing one's routine and habits is difficult. Finding the time to reflect to figure out what is causing yourself stress, what your emotions are, reprioritizing, considering alternatives, and implementing changes to rebalance is difficult. However, in the words of Lao Tzu, "Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny." Stating your intention to set aside time for yourself becomes action. Repetition of the action becomes habit, and ultimately, builds a cycle to maintain resilience and wellbeing.
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