Friday, August 8, 2014

Book Review: Thrive

I greatly admire Ariana Huffington; I have always loved the content and structure of the Huffington Post. She was a pioneer of the modern blogging movement, and when I first started this blog I read the Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging. It was extremely practical, well-written, and helpful for me when I was just starting out and trying to find my voice.

Sometimes, I secretly hope that the people at HuffPo will notice my little blog and ask me to write for them. Of course then I'd have to come up with something really good! Anyway, my admiration for Huffington further broadened when I heard about her new book Thrive. I finally got a chance to read it (long waiting list at the library!), and here are my thoughts...

Thrive is essentially an argument for redefining success in America. Going deeper, it is a plea to focus on stress management and self-care over the typical metrics of success (sound familiar?). Huffington surely possesses the ethos to talk about success, given her prolific authorship (she has written something like 14 books) and her publication empire's often imitated online news model.

The full title of the book is Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. That's a mouthful I know, but it gives a good idea of the things Huffington discusses. She first points out that the main two metrics of success in America are money and power. The book opens with a shocking and intimate vignette about how she became aware of the need to write on this subject. It closes with a directive to move "onward, upward, and inward." Love that!

Interweaving personal experiences with classic persuasive evidentiary writing, she argues for a third metric of success. Her "third metric" is a blend of well-being, wisdom, and wonder, and if this was an easily measurable and quantifiable metric, the book would be much shorter. Thus, she forms the body of her book by dividing it into sections to discuss these three w's. She shares deeply personal experiences with vulnerability and courage, an admirable thing in my opinion for someone of her popularity and stature.

My one criticism of this book is that it is heavy on argument and evidence but light on practical ways to apply her points. (That's where your reading of PracticeBalance can come in handy; hopefully I can help fill that void!) Of course, I read the book from the standpoint of being already convinced. She does provide appendices of her favorite apps for structuring social media time, meditation tools, and websites that match volunteers to service projects. I'm very happy that the book is so successful; it's coming from a place of widespread appeal, so her message will trickle through the channels from executives to perfectionist soccer moms.

Have you read this book? What did you think? How do you define success?

Monday, July 21, 2014

You Never Hear Doctors Say, "I Can't Come In Today, I'm Sick."

(Influenza Virus, courtesy

The surgery resident was seeing stars as she sutured the wound. "I need a chair," she whispered, slowly sitting back into the air behind her (where no chair currently existed). The nurse caught her, and I ran over. "I'm just not feeling well. I threw up earlier this morning." I gave her an antiemetic medication. She took a short break but returned only to experience the same thing. Eventually, one of the other nurses put an IV in her and gave her a liter of fluid. Then she returned again to finish the 8-hour case. No one ever told her to go home.

You wake up with an acute illness - say, a GI bug or a bad upper respiratory infection. You're sick, weak, and dehydrated. What is the next thing you do? If you're a normal person, you struggle over to the phone, call your office and tell them you won't be coming to work today. If you're a physician, you suck it up and go on in.

WHY? Why do we do this? It's so wrong, and it greatly upsets me every time I see it. As a medical student or resident, it is an unspoken rule that you show up for duty unless you've died or been rendered immobile. This USA Today article reported on a 2010 JAMA study that found 58% of 537 polled residents in 12 hospitals across the country admitted to having worked while sick. A third of those polled had done it more than once, and around 50% said they had not "had time" to see a doctor about their illness. What about all the patients they're exposing themselves to?? I too was offered the IV fluids and antiemetics on a couple of occasions, but I was never told to leave. Only once in the handful of times I was acutely ill during training, I was successfully able to stay home from work. The key? I had such bad GI distress that I literally couldn't leave the bathroom!

It's a culture that continues on after we finish training. There are many sick patients to see who are depending on you to help them get better, and you are the boss. By virtue of the profession, physicians tend to put their patients' needs before their own. This instills a belief by both us and our patients that we are somehow immune to the same types of problems. Doctor Grumpy blogged about this here, admitting that he too suffers from migraines (a common ailment seen in is field of neurology). He did also say that three patients in his career so far had changed to other doctors due to him calling in sick and cancelling his clinic. Unfortunately, the practice of ignoring and working through acute illness grows into a practice of ignoring basic health maintenance, which extends to chronic symptoms or nagging health problems... until eventually the doctor becomes a patient.

You see, I know all about ignoring symptoms, putting off health tests, and becoming a patient. If I could fast forward that period of my life when I pressed on, thinking my health issues were just related to my stressful job and getting older, I would. I don't want that to happen to anyone else. So let's stop being martyrs, take care of ourselves and encourage the residents to go home when they are sick!

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Technology Vacation...??

In keeping with my recent thoughts on simplicity, my husband and I decided it would be a good experiment to see how we would fare without our most oft-used technology and media devices - phones, internet and computers, TV, radio, and car. After all, there were lots of projects to be done around the house, and we both had stacks of books to read! On a Friday night before going to bed, we turned off the phones, Ipads, etc. and settled in.

The next morning, I did find myself reflexively reaching for the phone to view texts and emails. I realized this was an automatic habit for me every morning, whether headed into work or not. And sometimes, the messages we get can cause stress or distraction from other morning tasks at hand! We went on a nice walk with the dog (something we would have done anyway). We did a satisfying round of cleaning and organizing in the garage. Things moved along smoothly. Until the afternoon came...

My husband decided he really needed to write a work email, as he was going to be unavailable all day Monday and it was looming over his head. In this particular circumstance (one that could easily occur with people who have irregular work hours or are self-employed), the stress of NOT completing this work item was worse than any stress caused by using the connective devices to do so. After he mentioned this to me, I confessed to him my burning desire to go donate the things we had just cleaned from the garage. If I didn't drive to the donation center that day, I would have to wait a week to get those bulky items out of there.

So that's how the "technology vacation" turned into more of a "fast" at 1:37 pm on a Saturday! We continued modified technology limitations throughout the weekend, including no phone calls or texting. I kept my social media apps closed. I wouldn't call this a botched experiment by any means; it was more of a learning experience. We have gone multiple days without phones or internet while on ideal vacations and camping trips before. However, things are different when you try to go without technological conveniences at home.

One great thing about modern living and the technology we have at our disposal is the ability to send messages, do errands, talk to others, etc. when it is most convenient for us. After all, an internal locus of control is key for stress management. But the convenience of modern technology can turn into a crutch. Its ease of use and ubiquitous presence can become a distraction from face-to-face living and doing.

This experience has prompted me to further streamline my use of social media and blog sites. It has inspired me to avoid my devices first thing in the morning and to set them aside earlier in the evening (I will admit I've noticed an improvement in sleep already!) What do you think? Cop-out or lesson learned? What would you have done differently? Share your thoughts here!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Pathway to Simplicity


The other day, we watched a documentary called Tiny. It really made me think: could I live full-time in 100-200 square feet of space? How about with another person, even? Participants in the tiny house movement are doing just that. They have various motivations for downsizing, but the basic common denominator is simplification - something that can greatly help in the realm of stress management! One of the people interviewed in the movie talked about her transition to a Tiny House as a vehicle for removing herself from the hamster wheel of her finance job that involved great stress, illness, and 2 hours of commuting per day. 

As I have learned from my own experiences and discussed here and here, when looking for easy ways to reduce stress, the initial "big picture" approach should be to simplify where possible. I would not generally consider myself a minimalist, but I do strive for a lifestyle of simplicity. While this has proven to be easy on ideal vacations, it is more challenging in the day to day experience of "real life". Here are some ways I've simplified, ways that aren't too extreme, that are possible for "real people" like you and me:

Consider your work responsibilities and environment. I have learned through my exercises in self-reflection that I need to make "down time" somewhat of a priority in my life. I don't do well with multiple huge projects or deadlines looming over my head. Thus, I sought the most simplified version of a job in my field that I could find. As a purely clinical anesthesiologist not in a private group but at an academic hospital, I have very little paperwork, no office, no workspace overhead, and minimal needs for an administrative assistant. I make less money than some of my peers... but I have no overnight call and no teaching, administration, or research responsibilities. It is not a job with many accolades or opportunities for recognition, but it is aligned with my values and I find great satisfaction in my direct patient care duties.

I chose this type of job from the outset, knowing that it was right for me; if you are in the position to be looking for a job right now, consider the "simplicity level" of your possible opportunities. If you are already entrenched and you are feeling the need to simplify, find small things you can strike from your responsibility pool. Is there anything that can be delegated? Any extra superfluous overhead that could be eliminated?

Streamline social media and connectivity. This is a big issue for everyone. My job situation might be dialed, but I've currently been tackling simplification in the media area. My husband is a pro at this: he works at home for himself, and he learned early to set boundaries. He does not look at email until a certain time of day; then he dedicates a particular period of time to responding, solving problems that can be solved immediately, and scheduling time to revisit more involved issues before moving on to other tasks. He does not answer work calls early in the morning or late in the evening. If you are in a self-employment type of situation, consider setting up boundaries like these for better productivity and less stress.

My problem is social media. I have a tendency to check email, blog feeds, and Facebook constantly throughout the day; this can be stressful depending on what I read, creating that "I must solve this problem now" mentality. Being a blogger, I like to read others' blogs and stories and be active on Facebook... but the stories that I'm exposed to can sometimes incite stress as well (depending on the subject matter). One thing I've done is limit my social media outlets, and I'm currently working to schedule certain times that I check them. Think about it: do you need to be on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Bloglovin, Feedly, Google+, etc., or will just one suffice?

To take it further, my husband and I are actually scheduling an upcoming "technology vacation". We're not going to put away the blender or the oven, but we are planning a two-day period of no phones, no internet, no car, no TV, etc. Could you do it? More info on the results in a future post!

Eat the same thing every day. My husband and I enjoy simple food. We tend to cook at home most of the time, and the only meal that varies from day to day is dinner. Yes, I do tend to eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day. It sounds boring, but there is actually evidence that this can help with weight control. In addition, it simplifies grocery shopping by making the list very predictable! Making simple meals - basically meat and vegetables thrown into either a crock pot or a stir-fry pan with some spices - makes planning dinners very easy. If you cook at home and have only a few options on hand each week, it can relieve the decision fatigue (and financial outlay, and driving time) that comes with going out and choosing from a menu, or from perusing a cookbook for that perfect recipe.

Think hard about your "stuff". In my opinion, simplicity is not about eschewing all possessions but more about considering the possessions you have and those you may acquire. I love to shop, but I make sure that if I buy something new, there is a space in my closet for it... and possibly something in there that I don't use and can sell/donate. I am a ruthless editor of my own closet and vanity; if I haven't used an item in months, I have no qualms about getting rid of it. Then I try to learn from my "mistakes". When buying something new, think: how much room does it take up in the house? Does it require other tasks or resources for upkeep? These are all things to consider when making purchases either big or small.

These are the approachable paths to more simplicity that I can think of currently... have I missed any? Do you have any suggestions? Share them here!