By Lt. Col. Anastasia Mckay, U.S. Army Human Resources Command SurgeonAugust 18, 2017
As health care providers, we are role models in our organizations and communities. Our actions and personal wellness are every bit as important as the counsel or prescriptions we provide our patients.
Unfortunately, with the hustle and bustle of medical school, residency, work in busy clinics, and service in the military we often pay lip service to our very own advice. If you feel caught in a monotonous cycle of struggle to achieve recommended goals in exercise, sleep and nutrition; here are 10 simple tips that can help.
1) Vitamin D breaks. Sneak away from what you are doing for five-10 minutes each morning and afternoon; go outside, and walk a lap around your building. Soaking in the sunlight, smelling the foliage and feeling the drizzle engage the senses while waking us up from our sedentary jobs. Walk with a supervisor or peer; use the time to discuss ideas, rehearse a speech or just observe the environment around you. For me, these breaks do far more than increase activity--they help foster the flow of creative juices, improve problem solving and offer great opportunities to speak to others without computer screens getting in the way.
2) Eat outside of the office. Eat in the cafeteria or a break room--even a standalone table is better than your desk. Enjoy your nourishment and take time to savor it without the distraction of email or patient charts. Mindless eating often results in junk calories and fails to satisfy our appetites. Try to sit down and eat with your colleagues at least once or twice a month. Perhaps a staff breakfast before work suits your schedule better? Choose healthful times, locations and foods to fuel your body.
3) Prep your meals. Our busy lifestyles favor convenience. By preparing and planning meals deliberately, we increase the convenience of healthy foods. It also becomes easier to cook dinner on a late night rather than ordering a less healthy take out or delivery option. This is a broad tip and includes everything from shopping and chopping on the weekend to meal prep services that do the shopping for you and deliver planned meals to your door. Meal prep ideas can include packing leftovers in convenient packs for lunch. It can be difficult to plan out an entire week, especially for a busy family, but planning and prepping a couple days each week can pay huge health dividends.
4) Leave your cell phone in your car. Smart- phones are amazing tools providing abundant resources and potential to improve efficiency. Nonetheless, many minutes each day are lost sending texts, checking for responses, updating social media and getting distracted by clicking on multiple informational links. You can always take a vitamin D break, walk out to your car, and check your phone there if necessary.
5) Take a class. Whether it is a weekly appointment or a one-time endeavor, give yourself a place to be for self-improvement. The possibilities are endless from salsa to yoga lessons to food preservation or photography. Maybe this entails attending your child's karate lesson or dance rehearsal. A university cooperative extension in my community offered rain-barrel construction classes for a nominal fee and participants took home their creations. Check out your communities--many classes are family friendly.
6) Join a club. Clubs offer a significant support network, regardless of how often you may participate in these activities. As a casual participant in a community running club, (a sport introverts like myself can easily enjoy), I've met several individuals journeying toward wellness, including some losing upwards of 80 pounds through diet and exercise. I am truly inspired by their stories and have become embedded in a new support network. Family-friendly clubs may include scouting or community sporting teams. While military communities are one area we can join to become connected, outside communities offer an alternative that may provide better reprieve from our everyday work.
7) Sign up for a race--set a goal. A good goal is something that requires dedication and commitment to accomplish but is achievable. While some may prefer working toward a culminating event like a marathon, others may find more value in a longer term target, such as walking or running 1,000 miles in a year. Children can complete a marathon--one mile at a time and goals help provide focus. Printing and posting goals helps build commitment. Choose goals that promote an action that you can control directly such as: eating two pieces of fruit daily, walking 10,000 steps daily, or finishing a triathlon. These can be more important than weight loss goals.
8) Schedule a vacation. Choose dates and a location and put in a leave form. Don't worry about planning out details--just get something on the calendar to look forward to. Take off enough time to do something fun and get a break. The goal is to come back refreshed rather than needing a vacation from the vacation. Consider returning to work Thursday or Friday after leave instead of Monday. It may be easier to work a few days rather than a full week after some well-needed time off.
9) Read a book. Maybe your book is a jigsaw puzzle or knitting. Activities that help one unwind and relax the mind can go a long way toward wellness. It is a double bonus when they provide a sense of accomplishment over time. Just think, if you read five-10 pages of a book each day before bed, you can get through nearly a book each month almost effortlessly.
10) Go to bed. It does not matter how we divide the clock, there will never be enough hours in the day. Set a bedtime and stick to it. Life happens which may prevent you from sleeping throughout the night, but you will never get the opportunity to sleep eight hours if you fail to lie down and try.
Hopefully this article provides you an opportunity to examine your own health, wellness and work-life balance. As advocates for health, we must remain mindful of our own health and the habits we portray; our actions speak louder than our words. We are striving for a system of health and need to lead from the front. Taking care of ourselves and each other will facilitate our ability to take care of our patients.