3 Ways to De-Stress this Holiday Season

I have a million things on my to-do list. Work is absolutely bonkers with Q4 deadlines. I’m still dealing with my herniated disc and trying to find time to do physical therapy. Holiday parties and social obligations are peppered all over my calendar, and to top everything off, one of our tenants moved out and my husband and I are renovating the apartment.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

I KNOW I’m not the only one in this pickle. The holidays bring out the best and the worst in us. Everyday stressors pile on top of holiday celebrations and it becomes chaos. Rather than living in the spirit of giving, it becomes survival of the fittest.

So how do you survive and actually ENJOY the holidays? Prevent the stress from building up with these three tips:

Just say ‘NO’

Remember the ‘Just Say No’ drug campaign from the 80s and 90s? The idea was that you don’t have to give an explanation for why you don’t want drugs. Just say no and move on.

Our obligations to friends, family, and coworkers often peak around this time of year. We worry about office gift-giving, holiday parties, baking picture-perfect cookies, and coordinating our presents with Santa’s always-perfect timing.

It’s so easy to say ‘yes’ to all the holiday festivities. Who wants to decline a party?! Food, drinks, merrymaking, who can possibly say NO? It’s like saying you don’t want to enjoy the holidays if you say no!

But the day comes and you forgot the present and the cookies burned and you have to make frantic runs to the store to get everything. In the process, you spend more money and time doing things that stress you out rather than just politely declining in the first place.

If you feel stretched out…if you feel burned out…if you feel too stressed, just say no. This particular party will NOT be the only gathering this year. Use the other 11 months of the year to get together with family and friends – on YOUR timeline – and make some great memories.

 

Keep Mindfulness in Mind

If you absolutely, positively CANNOT get out of participating in festivities that stress you out, use mindfulness to your advantage.

One way I do this in stressful environments is I change my inner dialogue. Instead of telling myself I HAVE to go to this party, I change one simple thing. I change the word ‘HAVE’ with the word ‘GET’ and it changes everything.

I GET to go to this gathering. I GET to spend time with friends and family (and that one person who is always annoying). I GET to go shopping with the crowds at the mall. I GET to bring my awesome cookies to the bake sale.

Because you know what? We are ALL lucky to be here. And I’m REDICULOUSLY lucky to be here. My doctors gave me a pretty poor prognosis with my cancer, but here I am 2 years later and I’m kicking butt.

We never know when we will leave this world. It may be tomorrow. This may be your last office Christmas party. So enjoy every last second you are standing here on this earth.

Drink in the gratitude with a small change in your inner dialogue. It will help you get through the stressful times and actually enjoy them.

A cup of tea, a couch, and some belly rubs with this guy help me to de-stress

Enjoy a Warm Beverage

When all else fails, have a cup of tea.

There’s something about a warm beverage that helps me calm down. Soak in the warmth. Let go of the stress. It shuts down my brain, warms my heart, and releases my stress.

It’s like holding that mug opens my pores and lets out the angst or something. After a long, stressful day, a cup of tea and a soft blanket on the couch helps me to let it all go.

And by all means, it doesn’t have to be a cup of tea. Try some hot cocoa. Or a warm spiced (or spiked) cider. Whatever warm beverage floats your boat. Take that 5 minutes of your day and truly enjoy something as simple as a warm beverage. Add in a fuzzy friend and it all melts away!

 

What do YOU do to de-stess during the holidays? Let me know in the comments below!  

Anesthetist on a Plane!

If you’ve been following me via my blog, you know that I travel quite a bit. As in, I’m on a plane every week. Traveling as a healthcare professional has its difficulties, but the amazing people I meet on my travels always surprise me.

And this week was a surprise indeed.

On my flight from Chicago to Boston, there was a sudden announcement over the speakers asking for anyone in the medical field to please press the attendant’s button. Someone on the plane needed medical assistance.

Oh shit.

Oh shit.

I waited a second to hear if anyone else was pressing the button as I was going through my CPR training in my head. After a few seconds went by, I quickly reached up and pressed the button. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a code, but dog gone it, here we go.

I was escorted back to a wonderful older married couple and was explained the situation. She had a seizure that lasted a few seconds, followed by another shorter seizure. I was relieved and concerned at the same time. No CPR today, but a seizure can be a very serious sign of something wrong.

What is a seizure? Find out here: https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/about-epilepsy-basics/what-seizure

 

First and foremost, I needed a little background. Any history of seizures? Any history of recent falls? Any funny feelings or nausea? When did you last eat? She was answering all my questions and seemed very mentally aware. Nothing was out of place.

Diagnosing what caused the seizure was way above my pay grade. The next best thing I could do was keep her comfortable and safe.

I explained to them that a seizure can be a sign of something serious and that they should get it checked out pronto. (As in head to the ER as soon as we land.) I told them about the possible tests – an MRI and an EEG.

After the medical talk, I eased up. Cracked a few jokes. I told them I’d like to sit with them for the rest of the flight to keep an eye on her and they agreed. I really wanted to be there in case she had another seizure – keeping things cool and calm became the name of the game.

So we chatted for a bit about her grandkids and where they lived. It’s amazing how human we all become when you just talk with a person. I could tell she was a wonderful lady and by the end of our conversation, I felt like adopting her as a second mother. (She gives great hugs and I’m sure she’s an awesome cook! I got a vibe of love-filled casseroles from her 🙂 )

I gave them a list of don’ts and directions shortly before landing – she should take a wheelchair out of the airport, she shouldn’t drive, and she shouldn’t be hauling any luggage. No need to put herself in harm’s way.

Traveling leads to journeys big and small

Once we landed, I helped them off the plane and to baggage claim. I had given them my name and number in case they needed anything, and I truly hope they reach out.

Medical emergencies can be scary, especially when you’re trapped on a plane. I could only hope that someone is willing to help if the same situation happens to myself or my family.

So for all travelers out there, love your neighbors. Everyone has their own bubbles and travel tends to challenge those bubbles. But please remember that outside of that bubble is a person sitting beside you. A person with a family and grandkids and problems just like you and me.

Be kind to your neighbor and pay it forward. You may need their help one day.

My Recent Battle with Back Pain

The universe acts in mysterious ways, they say. Sometimes we need just a little sprinkle of life to realize we’re only human.

So the universe sprinkled a little bit of a challenge into my life. About a month ago, I herniated a disc in my lower back. I actually became a potential back surgery candidate.

That’s the irony of the situation. I work with surgeons and patients during spinal surgery and suddenly the tables had turned. Instead of helping patients, now I am suddenly the patient in the surgeon’s office!

I have no idea when exactly I herniated the disc. There was no instant pain. One day I just woke up with numbness in my foot and excruciating pain when I bent over.

My 10 years of experience in spine surgeries told me that this was serious. The likelihood of a herniated disc in someone so young was rare, but completely possible.

But there was another voice in my head that was nagging me. That was the dreaded cancer voice. The feelings of anxiety and fear crept into me once again. I was overwhelmed with the possibility that the cancer had returned from the depths to take over my body.

I called my oncologist and he sent me for an MRI. There were only a few days between the beginning of my symptoms and my MRI, but it felt like an eternity. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t sleep. I was a mess. (Not even a hot mess – just a flat out mess!!)

The MRI results were very clear that I had herniated a disc, which was pushing against one of my lumbar nerves. I was relieved that I ONLY had a herniated disc. Isn’t it funny how a little perspective changes things? I’d take a herniated disc any day of the week over my melanoma returning.

My herniated disc!

This one incident opened my whole view of the life I’m living. For one, it made me relive my fears and realize that I’m not out of the woods. Melanoma may still come back to get me. I firmly believe that we beat cancer when we overcome the fear of cancer. I clearly still have some work to do in that ‘fear’ category.

It also opened my eyes to what my patients are going through. The pain of that herniated disc was unbelievable. At points, all I could do was try to catch my breath and let the tears roll. It was pain with a capital “P”. I would do ANYTHING – and I mean A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G – to get a little relief.

I can now see how people get hooked on pain medication due to back pain. For a period, I was afraid to miss a dose because the pain would hit me like a freight train. I was watching the clock and as soon as I felt the tiniest twitch of pain, I’d be hunting down that little orange bottle.

But I forced myself to start weaning off the pain meds as soon as I could. I know the harm they can cause and how addictive they can be. According to some data, opioids can be addictive within just FIVE days. Not even a week and you can be hooked. It’s scary!

Even with all my knowledge on the subject, it took some serious willpower to ween off the pain meds. It’s not fun. But I made sure to ask my healthcare team for other nerve pain medications that weren’t opioids and I set daily goals for myself.

Pain medications can be HIGHLY addictive

It all comes down to being in control of your own health. It’s a priority for me, and I had to make sure I was doing the right thing for my body in the long run. I refuse to be a victim of circumstance – I’d rather make lemonade out of these darn lemons. And I PLEAD with you all to discuss pain medication with your doctor before taking them. The more you know, the better.

So as of now, the plan is lots of physical therapy to regain the strength in my right leg. If I have progress over the next month, then I get to avoid surgery. I’ve seen surgery (hundreds of them, actually) and I’m doing everything in my power to avoid it.

To all those who are battling cancer or battling back problems, I’m there with you. In mind, body, and soul…I’m there with you.

My Newest Inspiration

Little known fact about me: I LOVE podcasts. Love, love, love them. I listen to them while traveling (which I do a lot of) and they make traveling so much more enjoyable. I feel like I’m expanding my brain AND being entertained all at the same time.

PLUS it feels like I’m just listening in on an intimate conversation between two people. There are so many times I’ve laughed out loud on a plane and the person sitting next to me must think I’m crazy. (Tom Bergeron is incredibly funny when being interviewed, BTW!)

I listen to podcasts about everything from real estate investing and entrepreneurship to meditation. Anything that can help me learn in different areas of my life. Tony Robbins, the TED radio hour, the Tim Ferriss show, and the 10% Happier podcasts are my absolute favorites, but I have close to 10 that I listen to intermittently.

Recently, Arianna Huffington has been making the rounds on my favorite podcasts.  She is one AMAZING woman! Not only has she written 15 books, she also started the Huffington Post.

She has some very compelling thoughts on self-care. She felt so strongly about helping others handle stress and prevent burnout that she started a wonderful website called Thrive Global (check it out here!) that gives all kinds of healthy living tips.

One of Arianna’s MANY books

Her story and her spirit are inspiring. During one of these podcast interviews, she said something that really resonated with me. She was talking about how times have changed in terms of technology, and she said, “We are drowning in data and starved for wisdom”.

Drowning in data and starved for wisdom. Repeat it. Think about it.

This is such an eloquent description of our times. Not just in the field of business – in the field of healthcare, too.

We have gone down the rabbit hole of data and pharmaceuticals and SCIENCE and we have forgotten our purpose. We are a country leading the way in cutting edge trial studies. But we are also a country leading in obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

According to the National Academy of Medicine, the US spends over $200 BILLION a year on unnecessary tests and treatment. Talk about drowning in data! What do these excessive medical tests give us besides an empty wallet??

Why not empower people, educate people, and incentivize a healthy lifestyle? I haven’t seen a meaningful public health drive since the “Just say no” campaign. Creating an education campaign would not be that hard, and it would cost a LOT less.

We should start with the basics before spending billions of dollars on data that doesn’t mean anything. Or better yet, use the data that IS available to create meaningful change. Educating people on stress, sleep, and healthy eating habits would be money well spent.

Sometimes on our path to greatness, we forget why we started down this path in the first place. We forget the essentials. Health care is an industry built on the premise of helping people improve their health.

It is just that simple.

So thank you, Arianna, for being my inspiration this week. You are a breath of fresh air.

Ethiopia’s Attitude of Gratitude

I just arrived back from an amazing experience in Ethiopia. I mean…AH-MAZ-ING. There are only a few things you really remember vividly your whole life, and this will be one for me.

The people, the culture, the love and gratitude were all shockingly more than I had expected. Ethiopians are a beautiful people, and the whole group that went on the mission acted like one cohesive team right from the start.

Experiences like this always make me look at my own life through a different lens. We complain about our healthcare, but some of the families we worked with walked for days to see a doctor about their spine deformity. YES – you read that right – they WALK for DAYS. Not miles. Days.

He gave me a thumbs up for the lollipops!

Could you imagine your family walking for that long just to see a doctor? Once at the hospital, these patients will be taken in – no questions asked. The care and determination help make their hospital system an amazing thing to see.

I’m not saying that any healthcare system is perfect. The US has lots of room for improvement, too. But in striving for the biggest and best in healthcare, we forget the basics. We shoot for super precise scans rather than a better primary care system. We demand individualized cancer treatment, rather than focusing our efforts on prevention.

The best healthcare systems have BOTH great technology AND a great basic standards of care. A great standard of care that every person – every patient – has access to sets the foundation of better health for everyone. The best care shouldn’t be limited to those with the biggest wallet or the best employer-based insurance.

The CUTEST little girl who we got to visit

Honestly, traveling to Ethiopia made me realize how gosh darn spoiled we are in America. All the little things that many of us take for granted were HUGE for these kiddos. Handing out candies, for example, made these kids light up like Christmas morning. Their gratitude for all the little things is something we should all remember in our daily lives.

Their attitude of gratitude is forever memorable.

I’m ever so grateful for this amazing trip across the world to help these remarkable people. They will always remain in my heart.