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The Stress of No Stress

Ever heard of that depression paradox, wherein the prevalence of depression in developing countries is often much lower than developed countries? This is often tied to Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs. In the developing countries, people are generally struggling and focused on getting their basic needs met (food, shelter, safety, etc.) In effect, their sources of stress are pre-prescribed, and they're too busy dealing with them to be bothered with depression.

As a medical student and resident, I kept my head down for years; even through illness with protracted diagnosis and then recovery, my ultimate motivation was finishing the program. The stress, while definitely toxic, was at least well-defined and guided my every move. Now, things are different. A shift analagous to the depression paradox has been happening in my world. Now that I'm one of "the bosses", I've worked hard to set myself up with a lower-stress lifestyle - taking stock of the three S's, choosing the right job with a schedule that fits my principles and values, etc... but I'm sometimes left with a sense of worry. What am I forgetting to do? Where's my direction? How am I going to define success?

Medical professionals have written before (check out this excellent post from earlier this summer) about how to stay grounded and motivated after the intrinsic heirarchical structure of residency is removed. Same thing goes for the transition from novice to expert in any field or sport... When one approaches expert status, seeking satisfaction and appreciating improvements can be a challenging mindgame (expect more on this topic to come in a future post)!

Seeking opportunities for continuing education and mentoring are of central importance. To that end, I have a loose plan in place for staying up to date professionally in 2013 (facilitated by an upcoming oral board exam). Also, my friend Frank Niles just released a great post on tips for finding/remembering your passion, hilighting some of the techniques I have talked about here before (namely, identifying your own deep-rooted motivations and taking long vacations). Aside from my study plans and the self-exploration I've already been doing, there are other things I could do...

In her new book Daring Greatly and on her blog, Brene Brown discusses the fear and vulnerability of experiencing joy. Life has been going so well... when will "the other shoe drop"? Some people subsist on this type of thinking in many aspects of their lives, unable to "lean into joy". For me, it's been important to acknowledge these feelings without judgement when they arise. (Of course, just the mere act of writing helps me to cultivate mindfulness.) And, I have to practice present-moment thinking and gratitude. What is happening and how do I feel TODAY? What am I grateful for right now? What is working, and what can I improve on?

How about you? What techniques have you employed to manage that shift in feelings that comes with a major lifestyle change? Share your tips here!


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