By Eric Levi
1. What do you do to look after your own health?
When I think of health, I think of it in four general domains: physical, mental, social and occupational.
All four have to be cultivated, otherwise the balance is lost. I could be the best triathlete in the world (not at all realistically possible), but if I neglected my social, mental or occupational health, then I will still not be as healthy as I could be for my team or my patients. For physical health, I used to swim regularly. But family and irregular relentless on-call commitments made that quite impractical. So nowadays, regular walks and LesMills Body Combat home workout is the go to activity. I have a bike I ride on weekends but I’m not a “cyclist” in the pure EM/Anaesthetic use of that word.
For my mental health, I read books, watch movies and journal a lot. Personal writing is therapeutic for me. The arts is also healing for me mentally. Classical music on the commute to and from work. Jazz at home. If I had a chauffeur (I don’t. I’m only an ENT!), I’d probably be meditating in the back seat in traffic.
For social health, making regular room for family and friends is important. That family table, and the breaking of bread with friends is super important. Water turns into wine in those moments from a wellness perspective. Doing socials over zoom isn’t ideal but it’s better than nothing.
Occupational health can’t be overlooked. Creating the right work environment for my team is an investment with high returns. Choose your work and craft your working environment to the best of your ability. Once you find meaning at work (super easy as clinicians helping people), work becomes a gift that fills you with satisfaction.
Last but not least, something a little unsettling worth thinking about: my fifth domain is spiritual health. Many of us and many of our patients do identify with this domain. It’s not just organized religion. It’s not easily measurable. But it matters to me and to so many culturally and linguistically diverse clinicians. Meditation, mindfulness, yoga, practice of solitude, fasting, praying, engaging with spiritual communities, and many other activities fall into this domain worth a wonder.
Wellness and health is a package that can’t be dissected and reduced to a few measurable acts. Different things at different seasons of life.
2. In general, it can appear that men can be challenging to engage in self-care conversations and activity. What are some ways for workplaces to help male staff to pay attention to their wellness?
This is true and it is hard.
Most men won’t admit that we do live in a world that stereotypically expects perfection and toughness.
Personally speaking, I don’t want to let my guard down at work because colleagues, trainees and patients might think I’m weak. But I will likely open up if I am in a safe context outside of work.
Finding male allies and male champions of wellness in the department will be a start. Creating safe friendships or mentoring relationships will be the next step. Team game and trust takes some time to build. Regular sporting activities with the team, social nights, trivia nights, and competitions will get the ball rolling. Choosing several activities in several domains (sports, trips to cinema/arts/theatres, charitable activities as a team, etc) will help foster a wellness culture in the team that does not require scented candles that some men may equate wellbeing with.
3. If you could give wellness advice to a younger version of yourself (say 5-10 years younger than you are now), what might you say to yourself?
Self-care is not self-indulgence.
You cannot pour out of an empty cup. Put on your oxygen mask first before assisting others. Be a tree: stay grounded, dig your roots deep, reach for the sky and give shade to others.
Find your defining mission. Focus your life on it.
Slow down, think more and write more.
Keep on swimming.
Oh and be sure to ready for a possible global pandemic.