By Jamie Walton
You’re perched on the starting block over an Olympic-sized pool, fingers gripping the base as the toes of your leading foot curl over the edge. Your heart pounds and your whole body crackles with an electric energy–part terror, part determination–as you stare into the water. The pressure is so intense you can barely breathe. You’re about to swim a 400-meter relay against strong, well-trained teams of four.
And none of your teammates showed up.
In a real competition, incomplete teams are disqualified–but doesn’t daily life in a medical marriage sometimes feel like each of us is doing the work of a whole team on our own? While families all around us tag-team to tend to the budget, keep the household running, and run kids to and from extracurriculars, the dynamic in a physician family can be very different. One spouse logs endless hours at the hospital and comes home exhausted. The other spouse is left to swim the relay that is “everything else” alone.
Why Self-Care is Selfless
As the spouse of a doctor, you probably have a dozen reasons why you feel you can’t (or shouldn’t) take regular time to look after yourself. Your spouse is working late again, so how can you just choose to rest? Isn’t money too tight to justify an evening out with friends? Isn’t “me time” kind of selfish? And how can you keep everything afloat if you stop working to do something as unproductive as reading a book?!
But (lucky for us!) taking care of ourselves isn’t only good for us–it’s good for our spouse, children and friends, too. Building time for rest and recharging into your regular routines can help you to do the following:
- find the energy to fulfill your many commitments,
- safeguard against burnout,
- reduce feelings of resentment about your supporting roles, and
- give you something to look forward to when the days are long and things are tough.
Sounds pretty great when you think of it that way, doesn’t it? But even with these powerful arguments floating around in your mind, it’s natural for a big perspective change to take a little time. You will probably have to really convince yourself of how important self-care really is–and I’d like to help you do that.
The Breath of Air
Let’s go back to the relay metaphor.
You know that to keep your team’s finish time respectable on your own–against teams of four who will have a fresh swimmer every hundred meters–you’ll have to maintain a pretty strong pace. It might be tempting at first to just dive in and swim as hard as you can, without surfacing to breathe until you absolutely have to.
That strategy might work okay at the beginning of the race, but as your muscles fatigue and your lungs run out of oxygen things will change quickly. Suddenly every fiber of your body will be crying out for air. Your muscles will be on fire. When you finally scramble to the surface, you won’t be able to swallow enough air to feel satiated. And as you flounder the timer will tick on and on, leaving you far behind the mark you’d hoped to reach.
What if, instead, you gave up a small beat of time in a regular rhythm to catch your breath? You might lose a fraction of your speed at the beginning, but you’d see the benefits of each breath in your endurance through the rest of the race.
Life is like this, too. In the heat of the moment it can be hard to give up your momentum to do something restful. But the blocks of time you create to take care of yourself are the sustaining breaths in a long race: a small sacrifice of time for a long-term gain.
Making the Time
If you’re new to this, start by trying to schedule just one regular, daily break, at least thirty minutes long. Here are a few ideas about where to find or make that time:
- Get up a little early. I’ve just recently started trying to get up early enough to study my scriptures and exercise before my kids are up. I’m not naturally a “morning person” but this little jump-start–where I’m responsible to no one but myself–helps me be more productive and happier throughout the day.
- Use your lunch. Rather than working doggedly through your lunch break or eating at your desk, take that snippet of time to do something you enjoy. In my previous job, I often left the office and spent my 30 minute lunch break outside or even in my car, reading, writing in my journal, or talking on the phone to a friend or my mom.
- Enjoy your commute. Your Audiobooks, podcasts, soft music or a phone call to a friend can turn a tedious drive into time you look forward to.
- Give yourself “office hours” at home. When you’re fully in charge of running the household, managing your home can feel like a career of its own. To help transition my mindset from “work” to “rest,” I decided to make at-home office hours. I give myself 1-2 hours after my kids go to bed to wrap up the most important and pressing items around the house, and then I stop. Even if the kitchen sink is full of dishes! By 9 or 10 I am in my pajamas enjoying a book or (if he’s home) watching a show with my husband. That hour or two of downtime before bed is often one of the best parts of my day.
- Block it out on your calendar. Productivity gurus are always talking about writing your goals down. There is just something about putting it in writing that solidifies an idea in our brains. So when you decide on where in your day to put one of your “breaths of air,” schedule it in your calendar, and treat it with the respect you would give to any other appointment.
What do you do to recharge and regroup? Do you notice a difference in the rest of your life when you are able to capture some time to do something that energizes you?
Jamie Walton is a writer, artist, full-time mom and aspiring morning person. She’s been married to her college sweetheart, a PGY2 in Emergency Medicine, for eight happy, busy, growth-filled years and wholeheartedly believes that life (even residency!) is what you make of it. Read more from Jamie at That Bright Light Forever Feeling, where she blogs about life-balance, human connection and making time to play, create, dream–and maybe even take a nap.