I recently attended a cardiology conference where a dear friend of mine was presenting on the topic of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. She discussed how fibrosis within the ventricle causes diastolic dysfunction, an inability of the myocardium to relax. My ears perked up. Just the week before, while on vacation, I personally experienced the inability to relax.
Though I was free to lounge around New Orleans while my husband attended the annual CHEST conference, I experienced diastolic dysfunction of life. I could not disconnect and disengage from my work.
Despite signing out to my partners, and putting my email on vacation mode with auto-replies for when I would return, I found myself frequently checking my inbox. What was that all about? Why, every two hours, did I feel the need to make certain that nothing exciting or catastrophic had happened in my clinic? Despite being frustrated at not being able to disengage, I proudly acknowledged that at least I had identified the problem. Now how was I going to tackle this “twitch” and begin to relax on my already short vacation?
Defining the twitch
Anthony Ongaro, in his blog Break the Twitch, defines “twitch” as “an impulsive, unproductive response to discomfort. It might be checking your smartphone, buying something online or mindlessly scrolling through social media. It shows up in many ways, some of which might not seem problematic, but when they add up, day after day, that’s when things get bad.” The twitch phenomenon in medicine includes checking the inbox, grabbing the pager when you think it may have gone off, and even needing to complete notes in full, grammatically correct sentences before you leave at the end of the day. The twitch unnecessarily consumes our precious time and energy.
Inaction edema and learned hurry
At what point does efficiently completing your work morph into compulsive twitching? It is a slow, insidious process driven by having too much work to get done, day in and day out. We begin to feel like we can never surmount the work or unplug from it. Hence, we develop diastolic dysfunction in life, the inability to relax. What is the final outcome of diastolic dysfunction in life? Congestive failure! As things back up, we develop inaction edema: We get less and less done. Ultimately, we fail at what we are trying to accomplish. In addition, we continue to hurry, feeling rushed and pressured to do more. This too can spill over into our time away from work. I despise those crazy days off where I feel like I am living in 15-minute increments, running behind, keeping friends and family waiting, because I am trying to do too much in too little time. Author and pastor John Mark Comer, in his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, states: “Hurry is violence on the soul.”
How much has learned hurry wreaked havoc on our well-being, and what role does it play in our burn-out trauma?
So before hurry and the twitch create irreversible damage to you, your work and your life, become intentional about relaxing and recapturing diastolic health!
Here are a few steps to improve your diastolic function in life:
Step 1: Recognize that you have detrimental habits that bog you down and consume your time inefficiently. Take time to analyze your daily habits and critically evaluate where you spend more time than necessary. Make that your Twitch List.
Step 2: Methodically eliminate unnecessary twitches. Batch process your inbox time by checking it twice a day instead of hourly. Let your nurses know that this will be the new process. Skip a few punctuation marks in your notes instead of rereading and rewriting the note. Intentionally use point form in your comments. Copy and paste the repetitive items that crop up again and again in your notes. Get creative and take the time to develop smart phrases that work.
Step 3: Be intentional about unplugging when not at work. This is where I often fail. Resist the urge to pick up your smartphone and check work emails when you are off. Set boundaries and ask your staff and partners not to text or call you with questions that can wait until your return. Develop mindful habits, take a few minutes to breathe deeply, reflect on what you are grateful for, and literally stop to smell the flowers. All this will take time, patience, and practice. Consider holding your colleagues accountable for developing similar habits.
Step 4: Give yourself grace. Show yourself goodwill. For instance, a common habit when we fall behind in work is to start the “should talk.” “I should be doing this.” “I should have gotten that done.” “I should try harder tomorrow.” “Should” is a word that is self-defeating and serves to reinforce the idea that we are not accomplishing something. Instead, consider focusing on the moment, what you have recently accomplished, what you are trying to do right now, and just do it, one inbox message at a time, one note at a time.
Quite clearly, we all have times where we experience the diastolic dysfunction of life, the inability to relax, and unwind. Becoming intentional about identifying our negative habits, the “twitches,” is the beginning of developing healthy habits that will grow you, improve your focus, increase your creativity, and refresh your soul. Best wishes in breaking your twitches and improving your diastolic life function!
Susan MacLellan-Tobert is a pediatric cardiologist and can be reached at Healing Edge Coaching.
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