smWellness Moment (from Tina Runyan, PhD)
  "Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone"

Most of us like routines and we all have habits that help us get through the day, week, month ... LIFE. Habits often knowingly or unknowingly serve to reduce anxiety and when we find ourselves in situations where we cannot rely on our habits and routines, anxiety and stress can soar. Habits and routines help keep us in our comfort zone. And for some of us that comfort zone can be pretty narrow. There is a quote by Neile Donald Walsch I've seen on magnets and mugs, "Life Begins at the Edge of Your Comfort Zone." I am not sure that is where life begins, as many of our habits and routines can be very functional and even highly productive.

But I do know that something shifts when we intentionally step out, or more often are forced out, of our comfort zone. Residency is a prime example of being catapulted from your comfort zone in many ways - the intellectual leap is one example but this is expected and even desired to grow into the doctor you have envisioned for years. The harder part is letting go - or struggling to hold on by a thread - the habits and routines that decrease anxiety and stress. The specifics vary for all of us but for me, several of my routines and habits were challenged this week while on vacation.

Okay, I know this is going to be a hard comparison to make to residency but bear with me ... I had to go out of town for a board meeting and then decided to roll that into a vacation with my kids so I was gone for 9 days. The particular habits and routines that help me manage stress are not important, but not being able to do them for 9 days was making me anxious before I even got on the plane and even more so the first few days away. Then I realized that focusing on what I could not do was a choice and I noticed how it was impacting me, so I decided to embrace the loss of routine and experiment with novel approaches. I decided it was an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone (which initially produced more anxiety)! Gradually, however, my anxiety settled and I began to enjoy this exploration of new possibilities.

So how does this apply to residency? When you can't do things in the same way you used to be able to, perhaps you can embrace the opportunity to try new strategies or new ways of trying to achieve the same goals. For example, if going to the gym or some type of exercise is your vice but time constraints and exhaustion make this difficult, perhaps trying some quick high intensity training routines which only take 15 minutes is an option. If making healthy meals is important to you, maybe using pre-cut veggies or making a larger batch when you have time and freezing leftovers might work. Or, when little else is available, try experimenting with new stress management techniques such as 10 minutes of meditation during your shift. You get the gist ...

Rather than lament what you cannot do, this is a time to investigate and challenge your own status quo. This will also train your brain to be open and see opportunity rather than focus on constraints, which invariably increases distress. So go for it ... try something new and I'll see you on the edge!

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