Part 3: Make health work for you
For Jim, an accessible place to start staying healthy on the wards is food—for you, it might be food, yoga, social time with friends, staying away from alcohol or something else. Here’s the breakdown of what I find works for life on the wards, easily customizable to where you’re starting out.
For those of you just thinking about getting healthier, or for whom health goes out the window on tough rotations, I’ll steal from Weight Watchers and use a point system, of sorts. Think of it this way: each nutritious home-cooked meal, with veggies and whole grains and maybe some fish, counts as one point. Bringing a healthy lunch, making it to a yoga class or the gym, sticking to one beer (even on your days off!), seeing a friend outside of medicine and laughing about your job, getting a massage… each one of these counts as a point. Can you get to three points a week? Maybe five? I consider three points a week victory over the battle with time that is month of floors or two weeks of night float. Five points a week is winning the war. Just take it one point at a time.
If your habits to start with skew more like mine, the challenge is, in a sense, the opposite. I have to remember the trite-but-true saying that intern year is a marathon not a sprint, and one that requires a massive energy expenditure every day. I need to nourish myself as much as possible and this realistically sometimes means giving a little on the balance I am so proud of achieving in my “normal” life.
For example, I love the pick-up I get hanging out with my friends but, as healing as that can be, during floor months I need to devote time to work, sleep, and myself, and cut down on my active social life. I also have to remember that yoga can wait. Sometimes a few stretches and twists on my mat at home is more kind to my tired body than stressing my way to the subway to make a yoga class after work, which will mean having only an hour to eat and shower before collapsing in bed. If ordering sushi or stopping by Whole Foods for take-out saves me time versus shopping and cooking, then fine. If my boyfriend has time to pick up my face cream or do our laundry, then I let him. I often have to remind myself that it’s ok to ask for help.
Having my own Pitta nature to deal with (Type-Aish and overachieving being prerequisites for medical school in the first place), my biggest lesson learned this year has been to stop, stay, and be where I am. It’s more than OK that I can’t do it all, and everything doesn’t have to happen at once. Being a true yogi means accepting the challenges of where I am and, yes, bending a little when it comes to balance. Rigidity isn’t getting me healthier. Acceptance of the long haul and peace with each day on the other hand, is.
Robin Friedlander, MD, graduated from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2011 and is currently an intern in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Robin has been a certified yoga instructor for 6 years and is a proponent of integrative medicine, having recently begun studying Ayurveda with an eye towards incorporating it into her future practice. She also writes about health and wellness, and is a regular contributor to various blogs including MindBodyGreen.com. Follow her on Twitter @robinef.