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Keeping Well and Self Care

By Charissa Ho, MD, CCFP

Wellness. It’s a word that is getting thrown around a lot these days. From medicine, alternative health practices, to gyms and juice bars, wellness is a concept that is highly advertised. So what exactly is wellness and how do we achieve it?

Wellness, as defined by the Webster Dictionary, is as follows:

“The state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.”

Being constantly bombarded by this concept of wellness can be overwhelming and can make a person think they’re not doing enough to keep themselves well. With our dark winter days, long busy shifts, and all our other obligations – family, friends, pets, extracurricular activities, etc. where do we find time and energy everyday for the 2 litres of water, 30 minutes of cardio, 15 minutes of mindfulness, 30 minutes for each three healthy fresh meals, laundry, cleaning, reading, proper sleep hygiene, and the list goes on! The concept of keeping well, or self-care, can be daunting, especially when the first years of practice are daunting enough. This article is meant to be a guide, a form of affirmation, or a bit of gentle encouragement, for all of us to remember the importance of keeping ourselves healthy and content.

1. Wellness is an extensive concept

The concept of “wellness” is broad. Even the dictionary’s definition of wellness is non-specific. This means you get to determine what wellness means for you. This can mean exercising, spending time with friends/family, or going on a trip. The options are unlimited! Channel your inner Marie Kondo – does (insert item, activity, food, person, pet) spark joy? I tell my patients to not go to the gym if they hate it. Same principle goes for us. If you hate meditation – don’t do it! If you love watching re-runs of Seinfeld – then do it, in moderation. The key to keeping well is having things or activities in our lives that re-charge us. As much as we love to say we love our jobs, our jobs do drain us physically, mentally, and emotionally. If your goal is to be happy and well, but you hate running, will joining a running club necessarily recharge you? It takes time to discover what sparks joy and what recharges us. And it does not need to be your traditional activities like meditation, yoga, or going to the gym. It can be volunteering at an animal rescue shelter, or making fudge (as long as consumption is in moderation). And who says you can’t combine your wellness activities – check out new coffee shops with friends, bike over to that new restaurant you want to try, or watch your favourite movie on the couch with your dog!

Wellness is all encompassing; find what makes you happy and do what is best for your own wellness.

2. Back to the basics.

We prescribe this on a daily basis: eat healthy, exercise, and sleep well. It may seem trivial and certainly something many of us put to the way side throughout our medical training. Unfortunately, those become habits that are hard to shake. Start with small changes. Change out that breakfast sandwich for a smoothie instead. Go for a 5 minute walk at lunch time. Set a small relaxing bedtime routine.

The ordinary things in life can make an extraordinary difference.

3. Work isn’t all life has to offer.

One of my preceptors once told me, “We are compensated well for doing what we love”. We have worked hard for the last decade, it’s time for us to soak it in a little bit and take time for ourselves. Yes, becoming a staff physician comes with staff physician fees, overhead, loan repayment, and all the other expensive things in life. With all that, many of us feel like we should be working all the time. That’s what people before us did right? Well, times are changing and the demands of the job are not getting easier. It is okay to work half days. It is okay to take days off. It is completely okay to take weeks off! We will make enough the rest of the time to make up for it. We have worked hard to be where we are and we should not feel guilty for taking the time to enjoy the fruits of our labour. Take that long trip you’ve been dreaming of. Take a half day off for brunch with friends. Say no to those Friday/Saturday/Sunday emerg shifts.

There is so much life has to offer, and we can take the time to enjoy it all. 

4. Give yourself a break.

Some of you may think numbers 1, 2, and 3 sounds overwhelming and you can’t do it all! That’s okay! We are not perfect beings. There is no such thing as a perfect balance of work and life. We have always been that way throughout our education, it is going to take a long time to undo those habits. There may be weeks when exercise disappears and extra shifts are picked up. As long as we remember to fit in some of the things that keep us well, even if it is taking 5 minutes for eating lunch in silence. Remember, those little things can make all the difference on those days when it feels like we are about to burn out.

Everyday comes with its challenges; allow yourself wiggle room to be perfectly imperfect at work-life balance.

5. Affirmation, affirmation, affirmation.

As physicians, many of us are stuck in the concept of “never good enough”. This stems back to the days as we competed with others on the MCAT, for getting into medical school, medical school exams, CaRMs. It’s been so deeply ingrained into us that there’s always room to improve, and our best is not quite enough, that we feel the need to do our best then more. One of my dear friends pointed out, The Fab Five from Queer Eye tell people they are enough as they are, and they up-lift people’s lives with positivity and plenty of affirmation. I think we can all use a team of The Fab Five in our lives. When we don’t have the luxury of having our own personal fabulous cheerleading team, we have to rely on ourselves, and our loved ones. Some phrases we can try to use more often include:

“I am a great physician!”
“I chose the stairs instead of elevators, good for me!”
“I deserve to spend the evening watching TV.”
“Choosing to stay in instead of going out is the right decision for me – that will really recharge me.”
“I am doing my best to be a good (son/daughter/spouse/parent), and I am doing a great job.”
“I am enough the way I am now.”

We are human beings that want to be loved and we deserve love and positivity from ourselves.

Last but not least, thank you for being the great family physicians that you are. People like you make our communities better places. There are days when it may not seem like it, but you are making a difference every single day. Keep taking care of yourself so you can keep taking care of others.

One Response

  1. Well thought out article!

    Booking wellness into your schedule. One of the best decisions I have ever made.

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My name is Smitha Yaltho and I feel privileged to work as a family physician. Why? I believe that being a family physician has been the best job any physician can hope to have. I have personally grown in my own abilities and skill-sets with diverse opportunities in ambulatory practice, acute care and work in Facility Living.  Working in primary care has been exciting and has also afforded me tremendous opportunities for growth while still remaining stimulating in its complexity.  I believe that Family physicians are trusted partners in patient care –  every step of the way. 

Why are you volunteering to serve on this committee?
I currently have an interest in Physician Leadership and  trauma informed care.  I have served as a director with the Board of Directors with the Edmonton North PCN, Edmonton’s largest PCN. Thereafter, I have worked as the Director of Medical Services with CapitalCare (also based in Edmonton) for almost 6 years. It is my express wish that my contribution on the ACFP board of directors will highlight the excellence of family medicine that exists right here and now within the Alberta health care system. 

What about the ACFP’s work do you find most valuable?
Ability to highlight and further support the excellence of primary care right here in Alberta.