Something happens to doctors in our training process, we stop listening to our bodies. We learn how to disconnect from our bodies.
I remember being a 3rd-year medical student scrubbed into an 8-hour vascular case and retracting the body cavity for the surgeon. I was getting pimped by the attending who asked me one anatomy question after the other. My stomach growled, and my mouth felt dry from not eating or drinking anything for hours. I had been standing under bright operating lights in a suffocating surgical gown far too long.
I told myself not to pay attention to my body’s needs and signals, even though I was getting lightheaded. That’s where it all began. Add to that many more years of training where I turned off other signals, like a need for sleep, or the need to go to the bathroom. I learned how to get really good at disconnecting from my body.
During training, we had to teach ourselves to suppress our bodily signals and ignore them to work the rigorous hours expected of us. Add to that something called buffering, which is turning to something outside us to neutralize negative feelings such as stress, anger, overwhelm, and exhaustion. Some turn to wine, Netflix, or shopping, but my go-to was a big bowl of ice cream at the end of the day. I felt I deserved it and looked forward to it as a dopamine hit to falsely neutralize the stress of the day. Sadly, buffering with ice cream was only a temporary fix to a need my body was telling me to attend to, and it resulted in unhealthy weight gain.
Understanding My Body’s Signals Was the First Step to Reconnecting
Part of my wellness and weight loss journey and the first way to reconnect to my body has been to understand my body’s signals. I had to learn to recognize sensations in my body and identify them, whether it was hunger, thirst, or fatigue. If I had a headache, I had often assumed my body was telling me it was hungry. I was wrong there. Most of the time my body was telling me there was tension in my neck and shoulders, and what I needed to do was take a break, relax, stretch, and get some fresh air.
Learning How to Process My Emotions Was the Second Step
The second way to reconnect with my body has been learning how to process my feelings without needing to buffer them. I had to learn to sit with my emotions and simply feel them, not escape from them. Recognizing and feeling all of them, including stress, anger, annoyance, overwhelm, and exhaustion became part of my path to wholeness. Boy, that is something NO ONE taught me to do. Neither my parents, school teachers, nor attendings in medical school or residency brought this to light.
When I learned to simply feel feelings without the need to resist, neutralize or act on them, the world opened up to me. I could simply sit with my feelings instead of eating away my emotions with sweets. I no longer felt the need to control the uncontrollables in my life as a way to prevent negative emotions. I could go for the big goals I was too afraid to tackle in the past. Because once I learned to process my feelings, and specifically my negative feelings, I realized I could handle them. I learned that no matter what happened in the world, the worst that could happen is a feeling.
I desire all of my Sister Docs to be able to reconnect with their bodies as well. We may have been trained that to be good doctors we have to disconnect from our bodies to care for others’ needs at hand. It’s time to reject that mode of thinking. It’s time to love our bodies and care for them, and experience wellness ourselves by reconnecting with our bodies so we can practice medicine with excellence and bring wellness to others. By understanding our bodies’ signals and processing our emotions in a healthy way, we bring ourselves back into wholeness.
Archana Shrestha, MD is a physician, life coach, speaker and entrepreneur in Chicago. She is the Cofounder and Chief Wellness Officer at Women in White Coats and co-author of “The Chronicles of Women in White Coats” book series. Learn more about her by going to MightyMomMD.com. She can be followed on Instagram @MightyMomMD.
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