Four Simple Stress-Busting Strategies

How do you handle a stressful job, demanding school work, family life, parenthood or the challenges of life in general? There is no one-size-fits-all solution but there are some strategies that can help us cope with the day-to-day demands we face. Based on my personal experiences, I have found that there are 4 things that consistently give me energy, stamina, improve my mood and attitude:

  1. Regular exercise: It can be tough to find time to exercise 3 or more times per week. There are so many other things that need to get done! But, physical activity is as beneficial to our bodies as healthy food is. In fact, when it comes to cardiovascular health, physical activity is just as important as healthy food. It can take some time to find a regimen that works for you but setting realistic goals and easing into it could help set the tone for a more consistent exercise routine. Why not start with just 10 minutes every other day? Establishing the habit is the hardest part but you can do it!
  2. A good night’s sleep: This means different things to different people. Some can get by on 5 hours while others (like me) need at least 8 hours a night to feel fully rested. I have personally found that my mood, attention span, ability to learn and handle stress are much better when I have been sleeping well. If you are feeling stressed, consider whether the amount of sleep you are getting is sufficient for your daily needs.
  3. Social ties: Sharing our struggles with those we trust can take some of the burden off our own shoulders and help us cope. There is no shame in feeling overwhelmed or tired. Reach out to someone if you can!
  4. Reflection: Taking time for reflection, prayer or meditation is a fantastic way to make sense of your thoughts and slow down the rhythm of our fast-paced lives. It can also help us bring to the forefront unresolved feelings, hurts or other difficult emotions. Why not set aside 10 to 15 minutes a day for this personal reflection time?

Whatever stresses you may be going through, consider the above basic strategies to help you cope. Simple but effective!

My recommended workout of the week. This is a great 30-minute cardio workout with light weights (5 to 10 pounds) that also targets chest, abs, glutes, obliques, shoulders and legs. For those with problematic knees (like me!), there is a modified version of the exercise displayed. In general, aim for exercises that target multiple muscle groups at once to get more bang for your buck!

Photo credit: highway2fitness.com

 

When Striving Towards Your Goal Feels Like a Marathon

There is no doubt that medical school sometimes feels like a marathon. There are moments of high energy and exhilaration. There are also moments when we feel like we are running out of fuel. The pace is fast, intense and requires consistent focus. If there is anything I am learning, it is absolutely necessary to take moments to slow down, reflect and catch our breath. Why are we doing this in the first place? Do we still have our eyes on the finish line? Are we taking time to enjoy the scenery as we run the race?

This week I felt exhausted from all the demands of medical school and family life. I woke up this morning feeling mentally and emotionally tired. I went before God in prayer asking for strength that only He can give. As I opened my Bible, I came across verses that immediately encouraged me and reminded me that it’s ok to feel weak sometimes. It’s ok to fall on our knees, hang our head and call out for some help. In that moment, we just need to take stock of the attitudes permeating our hearts and minds, and lift our head back up to keep our eyes fixed firmly on our prize. We will get to the end of the race and reach our goals in due time!

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

I press on towards the goal…” Philippians 3:14

Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances” I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Photo credit: http://www.towpathmarathon.net/

Updates on the Second Semester of Medical School

The second semester of medical school is well on its way and it’s been fun, challenging and amazing! From our anatomy labs, I continue to be awed by the beauty and intricacy of the human body. Seeing for oneself how arteries, veins and nerves weave in and out of various organs while trying to piece together the physiological mechanisms that keep us breathing and alive is nothing short of miraculous and fascinating!

We have completed our blocks in Public Health, Respiration, Circulation, Renal and are half-way through Digestion and Metabolism. I am continuing to enjoy my exposure to family medicine which I get to do about 2 to 3 times a month. My favorite aspects of it are the variety of cases you get to see right from children to the elderly. I have enjoyed following up on return patients and getting to practice doing various procedures.

One of my goals in medical school was to ensure I carve out quality time for God, family and hobbies. This has generally been going well! My biggest struggle however has been keeping up with consisent exercise. To help me improve on this, I have downloaded a “30 Day Fitness Challenge” app on my phone which will keep track of my progress.

The kids are doing great! My 5 year old son started taking karate classes (perfect for his high energy personality!) and recently went skating for the first time. His reaction to skating… “Mummy, why do I keep falling?” He also wanted  know if he could bring his snowman inside from the front yard and put it in the freezer to keep it from melting!

My 3 year old daughter is full of funny remarks too. She recently informed us, “Med school is where mummies go and when I become a mummy…..I’m going to med school!”

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My little girl checking on me!
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Birthday surprise from hubby and the kids!
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Celebrating mummy’s birthday with a family movie night. We watched “The Good Dinosaur”. Loved it!
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Nerdy birthday gift from hubby!

 

Forgiveness Includes Forgiving Yourself

It can be so hard to forgive yourself when you make a mistake that hurts others, particularly those you love. This week was a lesson for me in the art of forgiving myself for not being the perfect mother I envisioned. Of course, I know deep down I cannot be the perfect ‘anything’. But given the weight of responsibility of being a mother, I figured I had better get this right. Two other little humans are depending on me for direction and to be the best example I can be.

Motherhood has been one of the most challenging, heart-wrenching, and tear-inducing experiences I have been through…and yet one of the most wonderful, joyful and rewarding. My children simultaneously bring out the best and the worst in me. Through seeing my own weaknesses daily, I am finding it easier to be more gracious towards others, because I know I sorely need grace myself.

Back to this week’s motherhood challenge. My son went through a difficult ‘terrible twos’ phase two years ago. This was to be expected at this age and with consistent discipline in the form of time-outs, his behavior improved significantly by age 3. I was then very surprised when at the age of 4, he seemed to embark on a ‘terrible fours’ phase (does such a thing exist?)

None of the usual discipline was working. Time-outs were ineffective and seemed to make my son very angry and upset. He seemed like a completely different child and I felt ineffective and helpless. This week we reached the zenith of the difficult behavior. Coupled with the stress of unexpected repairs to our house, I was hardly the in-control mother I hoped to be. I lost my temper, became very angry and said things I shouldn’t have. I felt like a different person.

I talked things over with my husband and we decided we needed to adapt our discipline methods. What had worked before was not very effective now. We decided to implement an approach of positive reinforcement. Specifically the behaviors we focused on were:

  • Obedience
  • No whining
  • No rudeness
  • No melt-downs

For each of these 4 behaviors that my son managed to achieve throughout the course of the day (one warning was allowed), he would get a star on his reward chart and a sticker of his choice at the end of the day. We would review how the day went and ask him how he felt it went. The idea is not to suppress his feelings but to teach him how to control them better.

Today was Day 1 of the new approach and it went fantastically! He would still get angry or upset sometimes (which is normal) but he handled it much better. My son likes stickers and reward charts (it worked really well for potty training) so I think this new approach will go well. I don’t expect every day to be perfect but I think this is a step in the right direction.

Parenting can be so difficult sometimes, but I’m reminding myself that I am helping to shape a human being who can then go out and have a positive impact on this world. All the disciplining, the tears, the heartache… will be worth it for the person who will emerge with character.

Today, I forgive myself for making many mistakes as a mother. Tomorrow is a new day with my beautiful family, with my wonderful children who I adore, a new opportunity to treat them with love and respect…no perfection necessary.

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My son (when he was  around 9 months old) and I going for a stroll along the boardwalk in Saint Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec. Beautiful memories.

Fall Leaves, Sandy Parks and the Love of Children

Despite runny noses and some difficult nights with sick kids this week, it was a wonderful week! I had the chance to spend a day with each of the kids alone and it was just so lovely to spend time with each child. Our time together was simple. Long walks to the park or in the woods. While my son was frolicking in the sand at the park, I exercised on the grass, my son laughing at some of my funny poses. As he giggled and played, I couldn’t help joining him on the slides and monkey bars. We even managed to see-saw as I figured out how to balance my weight against his. I felt like a kid again and it was so refreshing!

Beautiful Fall colors in Saint Lazare, Québec. Image courtesy of potentialdoctor.com
Beautiful Fall colors in Saint Lazare, Québec. Image courtesy of potentialdoctor.com

My walk in the woods with my daughter was met with the most magnificent array of autumn colors. The tall trees that had been so lush and green just a few weeks ago were now shedding their fiery red, orange leaves, creating a crunchy multi-colored path under our feet. The colossal clear blue sky provided a beautiful contrast to the autumn leaves and it was so nice to just clear my thoughts and pray. As my daughter turned around in her stroller every so often to face me with a beaming smile, I thought to myself, “This is my little girl, MY little girl. I don’t feel like I deserve you but yet here you are, a precious part of our family“.

As we climbed the stairs back up to the house, our little chatterbox Naomi turned to me and said “Mummy, I love ooo“. It just melted my heart. My son Caleb further encouraged my soul when he spontaneously said to me, “Mummy, I want you to be my doctor because when I’m sick, I just want you.

My kids make me feel so loved and cherished. It’s moments like these that erase all the strife of teething, tantrums, time-outs, leaky diapers or melt-downs. It’s all a part of parenthood and those special moments with the kids make it all worth it!

Our big boy Caleb having fun at the park
Our big boy Caleb having fun at the park
Our precious angels, Caleb and Naomi
Our precious angels, Caleb and Naomi

Opening the Door to Greater Things

Whenever a door closes, another door to greater things opens. When I lost my job as a research scientist while on maternity leave earlier this year, it was a big blow to our family. I had been employed there for the past 9 years fresh out of university and had gotten used to the work culture and routine. It was a shock to my system to suddenly not be a part of it anymore.

Even though I knew the lay-offs were company wide and were not a reflection of my performance, I still couldn’t help feeling shame and guilt, “Had I done something wrong?” or “Was it because I requested an additional few months of maternity leave?

For the past 10 years, I have had the desire to become a doctor. There have been various planned and unplanned detours along the way and we ultimately decided to start a family before medical school. Once we had our two beautiful children, the question then became, “When do I apply to medical school?”. It was not an easy decision to make. Our children were very young, we had financial commitments, stable careers and paychecks. When would be the right time to rock the boat and make such a big change to our life?

Following the loss of my job, my husband encouraged me that this was the perfect time to make a change and focus my sights on medical school. I have to say that the last few months have been some of the most wonderful months of my life. I have spent valuable time with my children, become healthier, focused my sense of direction towards medical school and developed new hobbies such as writing and blogging which I have come to love!

Now that my medical school applications have been submitted and as I wait to hear back from medical schools, I cannot predict what will happen. But I do know that the past few months have been a breath of fresh air and have allowed me to strengthen the bonds within my family and gain a greater sense of perspective about what is most important in life.

So I would like to encourage you that no matter what comes your way, something good can come out of it. It may not seem like it at the moment when we are sinking, but there is always a way to get back onto solid ground. An obstacle or hurdle need not stop us. It can redirect us to something better than we could have imagined.

Image courtesy of shechanges.com
Whenever a door closes, another door to greater things opens. Image courtesy of shechanges.com