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The relationship we have with ourselves just might be the most important one of all.
By Timothy Lemaire, DO, MPH
February 2022, Looking Forward BEL Newsletter
I think it is safe to say that “wellness” has been working its way into the forefront of our collective consciousness in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic brought isolation and increased exposure to shared stress. And the extra burden those of us in health care faced has compounded the issue. From the AOA’s recent campaign to raise awareness about physician wellness, social media influencers talking about self-care to the apps on our phones promoting mindfulness, it would seem we have ample opportunity to find wellness. So why are we so bad at it?
We have been told about the importance of mindfulness, finding work/life balance and the pitfalls of secondary trauma we accumulate in our patient interactions. But we conveniently forget that to avoid burnout we must make an effort. Many of us have been in that place where we recognize the signs of burnout in ourselves and maybe we try meditation or yoga or exercise for a few days, but life gets in the way and we quickly fall off the wagon. Wellness becomes just another thing to do in the day. Instead, we turn to the old tried and true coping mechanisms: more work, distractions or alcohol. I don’t have to tell you how slippery that slope is.
So, what if we reframed the problem? What if we treat ourselves the way we treat others? We all know how much work a relationship can be whether it’s with a friend, romantic partner or a patient. We also know how rewarding and energizing a strong, vibrant relationship can be.
What if we treated wellness like a relationship with ourselves?
Just think of the benefits; instead of wellness being “just another thing to do during the day” it becomes a joy to spend time with yourself, to reaffirm who you are, to find your center and blow off some steam. Something in your day will have to give. Maybe one less responsibility at work, a few minutes less with the family each week. But the value gained by being present with your loved ones and with your own life experiences will be infinitely worth it.
Every relationship takes work, and it could be argued that the relationship with ourselves might be the most important one we’ll ever be in. In case you haven’t considered how to take care of yourself, there are great resources on the AOA website. If you already have a hobby or self-care practice that brings you joy, let me encourage you to make a commitment to yourself to reengage in that activity and build your relationship with you.