Today I Choose to Live With…

Many times, we can choose with what emotion we live. How do you choose to live today?

ENDURANCE. One of my biggest tests of endurance has come from my training to be a physician. Did you know that to be a doctor in the United States, an individual has to complete an undergraduate education, medical school, residency, and maybe even a fellowship or two (this is a subspecialization in a field in which you are wanting to gain more knowledge). In my case, I did four years of college (go Bruins!), four years of medical school, three years of an adult psychiatry residency, two years of a child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship, and one year of a forensic psychiatry fellowship. Each step along the way, there were incredible, amazing moments, and some very challenging ones. It was endurance that kept me going and helped me to stay true to my journey. I am so glad that I am done with those 27 years of education and training :-)!

LONELINESS. This word has been on my mind because I’ve been recently listening to Dr. Vivek Murthy’s book, Together, in which he speaks about loneliness being the root cause of so much emotional and physical pain. On a recent interview with NPR, Dr. Murthy said, “I found that people who struggle with loneliness, that that’s associated with an increased risk of heart disease, dementia, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and even premature death.” He discusses the fundamental need for human connection. “Thousands of years ago, our ancestors knew this. They knew there was safety in numbers. And when we were separated from each other, it places our survival at risk. And it puts us in a physiologic stress state, which, when it’s short, when it’s acute, it can lead us to seek out connection. But when it’s prolonged, then it can become a chronic state of stress, which leads to inflammation in our body, damages tissues in blood vessels and, ultimately, damages our physical, as well as our emotional, health.” Do you agree? I know that I do! In my opinion, it is all about human and social connection!

COMPASSION. The Dalai Lama says, “if you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” I don’t think more true words have been spoken. You know they say that individuals can forget details of situations, but we don’t usually forget how others make us feel. I know that when others have practiced compassion towards me, my memory of that particular situation is stronger and my respect for that individual is greater. When was the last time you practiced or received compassion?

FEAR. Such a short word, but such an intense emotion. Fear is definitely something I am hearing and reading about much more recently, especially in the context of COVID-19. For so many people, fear is a result of feeling a lack of control. While it is true that many things are not in our control, if you break down situations and try to focus on the things you can control, this can reduce fear. So, for example, it is true that so much of this current pandemic is unknown. And of course, this can lead to some significant fear for many. However, if you focus on the things you can control (ie. social distancing, washing hands thoroughly, wearing masks, staying home, etc.), hopefully this decreases fear some. Next time you’re in a situation that induces fear, try to focus on the parts of the situation that you can control.

ANGER. In so many ways, this is a normal emotion. However, it can feel so uncomfortable to be angry. Do you ever wonder what the origin of anger is? For so many people, anger is often the manifestation of deep hurt. And it can be so difficult for people when they express extreme anger because that often leads to more conflict, which in turn, deepens hurt even more. One tip that can be effective to decrease the expression of extreme anger is to remove yourself from a situation when you start to feel like you are getting angry. This allows you to get to a calmer place, reframe your thinking, and maybe even get a different perspective. It is still important to process and effectively communicate about the hurt that led to the anger, but sometimes, time and space can be so helpful to process exactly what you might be feeling!

STRENGTH. This word has come up for me a lot both in my personal and professional life during this past week. When you think about the word strength, what image comes to mind? For me, I think about being physically strong and emotionally tough. But in reality, there are so many different types of strength. There is physical strength, emotional strength, social strength, family strength, parental strength, relationship strength, community strength, intellectual strength, financial strength, global strength, professional strength, among others. And these various forms of strength hold different meanings for different people. I am so grateful to feel these strengths at key times in my life, and really believe that they make up a big part of who I am. At various stages of life, I draw on these strengths to keep me moving forward and to give me momentum. What sources of strength do you draw from?

EMPATHY. What does it mean to be empathic? Is it the same thing as being compassionate and sympathetic? The short answer is, no. Although it is great to be compassionate and sympathetic! When I was in training many years ago, one of my supervisors emphasized that being empathic is trying to truly understand someone else’s experience. I don’t know if it was the way she said it or when she said it, but those words really resonated with me. I think pretty much of my life the word empathy comes up either personally or professionally. While I do believe that the only people who fully understand a circumstance or situation are those who are involved, I think it’s important to try to understand other’s perspectives, feelings, experiences. Try to put yourself in others’ shoes. If more people operated from a place of empathy, this world would be kinder, more caring, and more unified.

GRATITUDE. Such a simple word, but sometimes so hard to practice, especially during challenging times. I can’t tell you how in how many situations I’ve heard people express frustration about our current state of affairs- having to socially distance, not being able to see friends/family, not being able to eat out at a restaurant, having to wear a mask, not being able to go to a mall/beach/park, not being able to “do what I want, when I want,” and the list goes on. I can understand these frustrations, and they are valid. And sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in the negative. I often tell people that if you are going to look at the negative, it’s important to look at the neutral and positive, too. It’s imperative to have more balanced thinking. So for those who are struggling during this pandemic and are grieving the “loss of normal life,” I challenge you to practice gratitude. In this current situation, what are you feeling grateful for? One way to make it easier to consistently practice gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. Consider writing down three things at the end of every day for which you feel grateful. What are those for you today? For me, today I feel grateful for being healthy emotionally and physically, being able to provide psychiatric care to my patients via telemedicine, and spending time with my supportive family.

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