When in our lives, and particularly in medicine, do we get taught to appreciate ourselves, or learn that it is an important thing to do?
Let me answer that for you: Never!!
In medical school we learn that we need to get the marks and learn things; we learn that there are consequences if we get things ‘wrong’. We learn to tip toe around certain individuals, please people, say the right things, bury the natural feelings and needs of our own bodies to do ward rounds standing for hours on end, stand in theatre for hours on end, with no toilet breaks or opportunities for hydration, to take phone calls at times that don’t suit us, to not get breaks to feed ourselves, to be at the mercy of the opinions of the senior doctors that we work with, we take criticism and at times harassment from other health care staff and administration, but, never at any stage do we learn to appreciate ourselves.
We are always criticising ourselves, seeing where we could have done better, looking for room for improvement. We wait for other to criticise us and we accept this as ‘normal’. We have the constant critical gaze on ourselves, measuring ourselves to an impossible imaginary standard of ‘doctordom’.
Never at any stage do we learn to stop and appreciate ourselves, who we are and what we bring with such attention to microscopic detail as the critical lens offers us!
What if we were to pay attention to our day in all of the microscopic detail and look for things to appreciate rather than criticise? Could this affect our well-being?
We know that a hallmark of burnout is self criticism, feeling that you are not doing a good job, that nothing is good enough and nothing makes a difference. This is the end result of a lifelong pattern of thinking where we are trained to criticise ourselves.
Burnout is associated with higher rates of cardiovascular disease and it is known that stressful emotions result in more erratic heart rhythm patterns, which affects the heart and other parts of the body. Our emotions affect our health and well-being: stressful emotions such as anger, frustration and insecurity affect both our mental and emotional health. Constant criticism and fault finding based on comparison leads to secondary feelings of emotional tension, which creates other health issues.
What if we were to turn that around and appreciate ourselves?
Feelings of appreciation result in better health and well-being. I have found that for myself, and also, science has observed it too.
Why are we spending time in self criticism instead of self appreciation?
Why do we not appreciate:
The difference that we make.
The difference that our smile and laugh makes.
The difference that our care makes.
The difference that the way we are affects the ward staff and their health and well-being.
The difference the drug we just prescribed made to that patient’s life that they wouldn’t have had had we not chosen to go to medical school and learn about health care.
The fact that the procedure that we just performed made a real difference in the life of that person and their family.
The difference that our personality brings to the hospital or the practice that we work at.
The fact that we took the time to check the blood results and call a patient about their result.
The fact that we care.
The way that we tidied the desk made the whole room feel great.
The fact that we got up and got dressed today, perhaps even choosing the colour that we wanted to wear – and gee, it makes the light in our eyes shine!
The fact that we can breathe. Literally.
How loving and caring we are at home.
The fact that we chose to exercise and how good it made us feel.
The healthy food choice we made that kept us sustained for the whole day and how that made everyone feel because we felt great.
The way we did our hair and or make up in the morning and how it still looks great halfway through the day.
The twinkle in our eyes.
And the list could go on and be endless!!
Who we are makes a big difference in what we do: what we do is incredible and needs to be appreciated, but who we are also needs appreciating.
Self appreciation opens the heart and allows us to appreciate others too, which instead of complaining about others and finding them ‘hard to deal with’ leads to us seeing the things in them that we really appreciate.
And this leads to a more loving and fulfilling practice of medicine and life in general.
So go ahead, this week, make your healthy lifestyle tip self-appreciation, and see how many moments you can find appreciation in.
Let me know – did it make a difference for you?