It’s not a marathon

By | April 11, 2017

Physicians need to spend time on personal recovery

It never fails that I am always learning from those around me. I recently spent time with my son, and during our conversation he made the statement “stress makes you stronger.” As we all try to minimize our stress, at first glance, his comment could seem like someone who is justifying why they are letting a stressful situation get to them. However, just the week before this conversation occurred, I had attended a session on being a corporate athlete. One of the questions we were asked was, “How do most marathon runners look at the end of a race?” Of course we all laughed because we had an image of ourselves barely crawling across the finish line. She then asked, “How many of you try to manage your stress by pacing yourself and tell people, it is a marathon, not a sprint?”

In reality, my son’s comment is physiologically correct. The best way to build strength, endurance, knowledge, and basically anything else is by going through periods of stress followed by periods of recovery. It is the second component where we seem to fall incredibly short. Whether it is physical or emotional stress we are undergoing, we fail to remember the importance of recovery.

If we do not focus on the recovery portion to the same extent as we do on the active component, we run the risk of at a minimum fatigue, and more likely stress-induced injury and mental burnout. As healthcare providers, the stress of our work is great and there is little focus on recovery. In fact, needing recovery time is seen as a weakness. If we want to prevent burnout and vocation fatigue, we must spend time in recovery.

We can think about this as a wave; for every increase and peak of stress or activity there needs to be an equal decrease through relaxation and recovery. This latter phase can take on many forms and should encompass a holistic approach of body, mind and spirit. As stress impacts all three, relaxation must do the same.

How can we put this practice into our daily lives? We must first ask ourselves not only what our stressors are, but also our relaxers. As we are not always aware of what is needed from us on a daily basis, we need to build times of recovery into our habits. These new habits can take on many shapes and forms, but it must be seen as equal importance as our tasks at hand. If we truly want to serve others, we must prepare ourselves and focus on the physiology of our needs. I am no good to others if I am just trying to get across the finish line. I must be aware of my times of sprinting and recovering. Remember it should be intervals of sprints and recoveries, not a marathon.