Here’s the scenario. It’s Friday evening. You’ll be back at work on Sunday. You’re sleep deprived because you are a resident. You haven’t spent any quality time with your significant other, friends or family because you haven’t had any real time off. Next week has plenty of call and it would really help if you planned out good food for the week and cooked something. And, by the way, you have the inservice exam coming up, so you really should study.
There is no one answer how to balance these things. Everyone will be a little different in what is most important to them, and different weeks will be different, too. But, there are some basic concepts to think about that might help you plan how to spend your time off.
- Sleep is actually a high priority even though it feels like you are giving up social time. Whether it’s visiting friends, studying or just goofing off, you won’t get the benefit of your time off if you are completely exhausted. If you are sleep deprived, try going to sleep really early (8 or so) the night before your day off and see if it doesn’t make a big difference.
- Good food is important. Be efficient, but be conscious about what and when you eat. Use a little of your down time to think about your week, plan what you are going to eat, and go shopping. Find a good recipe for something easy to make and make a big batch for the week. Or at least buy good quality frozen food that serves the same purpose.
- Get some exercise, but be realistic. A serious workout can use up a big hunk of a day off. For some, that’s great – the hours will be more than worth it. For others, don’t beat yourself up. It’s far better to figure out how to do 30 minutes 3 or 4 times a week than to be a “weekend warrior” for 4 hours on your day off.
- Don’t plan for huge blocks of study time on your day off. You’ll wear out your neural pathways and you just won’t remember what you are trying to learn. Like exercise, a little every day is much, much more effective than a big block on the weekend. Plan now for the big test months from now… pace yourself! (If you’ve just started studying for the Absite later this month – go for it. But, as soon as the exam is over, map out a way to study for next year so you don’t do the same thing again.)
- Absolutely use a significant part of your day off to socialize with your family or friends. It’s very isolating to live in the hospital and these hours are critically important.
- Once you think about what’s important to you, and make a decision about your day – enjoy it! The worst way to spend a day off is to spend the time worrying that you should be doing something else. There’s a reason that almost every religion in the world has the concept of “Sabbath.” Human beings need real down time once a week to refuel. It’s not “wasted” time, it’s essential time.
Mary L. Brandt is Professor and Vice Chair, Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery, Baylor College of Medicine and blogs at Wellness Rounds.
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