Separately, we discovered many of the same helpful tips that neither of us learned in a combined fifty-six years of education and training; we have each found comfort, sustenance, and direction from them. When we recently discussed wellness in our department, Alicia shared resources she had found useful in navigating the stressors of physician life. Christine was reluctant to talk about the subject at all, and together we found commonalities. Here are our ten tips for healthy living, organized into thinking, feeling, and doing categories.
1. Self-knowledge: be your own soulmate. In terms of answering the question, what do I really want? Pay attention to what makes you envious. And try to be lucky enough to be paid to do something you love. Once you are passionate about home and/or work, you may end up thinking, “I have everything I want,” while feeling unhappy and stressed. Tools like the enneagram may create room to know yourself, enabling you to withstand the distracting demands, criticism, and praise of the world.
2. Space for reflection: be present. Alicia has attended a meditation retreat (it really helps to have someone teach you how to meditate) and now meditates twice daily. Christine has only dabbled here and there with meditation, and the meditative aspect of yoga is more appealing to her. Playing an instrument, experiencing nature, listening to music — these are examples of additional ways to be more present in the moment. Specific meditation resources that Alicia recommends include Ten Percent Happier (Christine also listens to the podcast), the website of Jill Wener, MD, and the UMass Memorial Medical Center’s Center for Mindfulness. Tapping may also work for you.
3. Seeing: be able to take a different perspective. As dermatologists, we are experts in seeing skin disease, and we have learned that we can miss important things (inattentional blindness), make mistakes, and misinterpret. Taking different perspectives via talking to colleagues, thinking critically (metacognition), and practicing having a growth mindset will make your world bigger. Christine started a podcast (SEE HEAR FEEL) to dive into these concepts through conversations with others.
4. Self-compassion: be kind to yourself. A knee-jerk reaction may be to think that self-compassion is weakness and that self-criticism is the path to improvement. Research shows that self-compassion and other-compassion are interrelated – increasing self-compassion increases other-compassion, and vice versa. Taking care of yourself is interwoven with taking care of others, and in fact, people who are self-compassionate are healthier and more productive than those who are self-critical.
5. Shame: be able to turn into shame. Brené Brown’s research is seminal in the transition from “I am bad” to “I did a bad thing.” Shame is treated differently in Asian vs. Western culture, which might be why Christine is more comfortable (although it still is not fun or easy) to confront the things that make her feel ashamed. Shame is just a signal — figuring out why you feel it can give you important information.
6. Soothing: be aware of breath. Breathwork is the conscious control of breathing to influence mental, emotional, or physical states. Alicia recommends apps like Pause Breathwork and Insight Timer. If you want a quick fix, the physiologic sigh (Andrew Huberman’s research) enhances mood and reduces physiological arousal. The physiologic sigh is breathing in twice through your nose and exhaling slowly through your mouth. So simple. But effective. Try it now!
7. Sports: Be active. Christine has taught group fitness for over 30 years, and this goes back to being paid to do something you love (#1). Teaching also forced her to show up at the gym during periods when life felt very busy. Know yourself (again, back to #1), and figure out what will make exercise a habit for you, whether it is money, companionship, or a team sport. If you are pressed for time, try modified Tabata — just 4 minutes every other day, only 2 minutes and 20 seconds of total work (8 total intervals of 20 seconds of work that make you sweat, alternating with 10 seconds of rest).
8. Sustenance: be energetic. Christine loves dessert way too much to have a super healthy relationship with food, but she can feel the difference in her energy level when she eats better. One way to improve eating habits is intermittent fasting, which has been shown to improve metabolic health.
9. Socializing: be good to those you love. Knowing yourself (#1), setting your boundaries, and having self-compassion (#4) will lead to stronger relationships.
10. Structure: be careful with your time. Oliver Burkeman suggests we each have about four thousand weeks to live (we know, it sounds short, right?). We end with this, because time management is never easy, yet we all have a finite amount of time. Learn to say no and when to say yes.
We hope these tips for healthy living will help you as much as they have helped us!