Beyonce wasn’t kidding when she wrote the song “Girls Run the World.” We as women wear as many hats as some of us have shoes. However, the cost of that can be grave if we never learn to create balance in our lives. When I say balance I don’t mean the balancing act, I mean the act of giving back to ourselves. Imagine that you have an energy bank account. Like a traditional bank account, you make deposits and withdrawals. When your account gets to zero, if you try to spend money, what happens? Either your card declines or (if you have overdraft protection) your account goes into the negative. Much like your bank account, your body, mind and spirit operate in deposits and withdrawals.
The biggest difference is that there is “no card decline” in our bodies; therefore we are simply overdrawing our accounts when we do not stop to prioritize ourselves for a deposit. You see, we as physicians are trained in operating inside a negative balance. And as if that wasn’t enough, we as women are pros at putting everyone before ourselves. This is a deadly combination over time: Yet, when we refuse to stop and take care of ourselves, we bring ourselves closer and closer to having our bank account closed for us.
How many hats to you wear?
If you were to stop and think about it, how many hats do you wear? There could be the obvious five: doctor, mommy, wife/lover, friend, and daughter. However, when you dig deeper, there could be others. You may be involved with committees at work, or the PTA at a child’s school. You may have an administrative role(s) at the office. If you own your own practice, you then add managing staff, and the business. If you are a mommy with children old enough to have activities, you could be the chauffeur.
I could go on, but you get the drift. Take some time to sit down (if not now, then schedule a time in your calendar) to make this list, separate categories into “work,” “family,” “community” — feel free to add any other categories that may apply. When you take the time to sit down and a list of all the activities you have on your plate, you’d have a new view of yourself.
Who are you?
Often we get so bogged down with responsibilities from all of these “hats” that we lose our sense of who we are apart from all of that. So who are you? A great exercise is to take 30 minutes one day to sit down and write a list of all the things you 1) Used to love to do but don’t do anymore; 2) Things you planned to do but never got around to doing; and, 3) Things that you have always wanted to do but fell off of your radar. Then put them in categories “high priority” to “low priority.” From here begin to check off the things on your list. The key thing here is to put them on your schedule.
Taking the hats off
Even though we clearly have an awareness that we are overextending ourselves holding on to all of these hats, can many of us wear this Super Heroine title like it’s a badge of honor? On the flip side, we may also operate like martyrs inside of these roles. However, neither of these is for our highest good. How do we then begin to take off some of these hats? The first thing we need to do is to be willing to put ourselves first. Second, we need to prioritize.
Exercise: Sit down and make a list of all of the things you have on your plate (work, home, community, social, academic, etc.). You probably want to start this list, then add to it over the course of a few weeks. Then, rank the list in order of most enjoyable to least enjoyable. Now rewrite the list in the order that you ranked it. Go back through the list and then rate each of these things on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being “I absolutely hate this thing. 10 being I absolutely love this thing).
Finally, anything on the list that does not significantly negatively impact your 1) income, 2) career 3) family or 4) health and is less than a 6/10 enjoyable rating should be considered for the chopping block. Of course, I’m not suggesting that you chop them all at once, but you will have an idea of what could go. I suggest doing this work with a spouse, a colleague, or a coach. Doing this work with someone else will help you to get a perspective that you may not be able to see being the “fish in water.”
Being a physician is challenging enough in these changing times, however being a woman physician can be even more intense if you do not have the structure and skills in place to create balance in your life. We are highly resilient, and capable of juggling many things at once as women, and that can be a double edge sword. Recognizing our pitfalls, creating a strategy and executing an action plan is the best way to avert overwhelm and ultimately burn out in the long run.
Maiysha Clairborne is an integrative medicine physician and can be reached at TheStressFreeMD. She is the author of The Wellness Blueprint: The Complete Mind/Body Approach to Reclaiming Your Health & Wellness.
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