Editor: Mental health is so important in this line of work. Dr. Peter shares how he manages his mental health in the age of the coronavirus and other unexpected events. He tells you how you have to learn to focus on what you actually can control in this post originally published on Passive Income MD.
Control What You Can Control
I haven’t slept very well the last few nights.
I used to be an extremely sound sleeper. But once I started taking calls every fifth night in the hospital with a pager by my side, even the slightest disruption would send me wide awake, adrenaline pumping.
Eventually, once I started reducing the number of nights I worked, that sound sleep returned.
However, the last few nights have been different.
Lately, I’ve woken up right around 3:00AM with my heart pounding, my mind frantic. It’s like my family and I are sleeping in a flimsy tent deep in bear country, and I just heard a twig snap.
The cause of this nightly occurrence isn’t hard to pin down–I’m sure many of you have been feeling the same way lately. With the Coronavirus situation escalating rapidly, I find myself worrying about the impact it will have–not only on my family’s health but of the economy and society at large.
I think about making sure we’re prepared financially. Have I prepared enough for this moment? I know I’ve worked hard to diversify my income streams, given myself a good financial cushion, made sure I have the right insurances in place, and worked on my estate plan. But even then, it feels like so much is out of my control.
Last night, I again couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned. Finally, at around 4:30AM, I couldn’t take it anymore. I realized that this was not healthy. I decided to go for a run and listen to something motivational (those who know me know I love this kind of stuff).
I got out of bed, laced up my running shoes, and listened to some of my favorites: guys like Gary Vaynerchuk, Tony Robbins, and Tim Ferriss. One of the phrases that seemed to pop out at me was this:
Control what you can control.
Think about that for a moment. Often, our peace of mind is dictated by our external environment. It could be terrorism, the weather, the economy, or a pandemic. The thing is, you can’t control any of those things.
So if you feel like you need to have that control in order to feel safe or happy, then you’ll live a life completely dependent on what’s happening around you. Then you’ll never feel secure or fulfilled because you can never be 100% in control.
The key is to focus on things we can control.
Once I realized this, I had to make it more practical. What can I control, really? I came up with a few things, which follow:
1) How I’m Taking Care of My Health
The first few days of this social distancing, I’ve been eating horribly. I go to my comfort foods: unhealthy snacks like candy and chips. Basically, stuff that’s easy to grab and eat. I also haven’t been drinking much water. I felt myself getting sluggish and I blamed it on having to be indoors.
But then I realized–how I eat is my decision. I may be stuck inside for a while, but that’s an external circumstance. I don’t need to let that influence my habits.
So I committed to coming out of this whole thing in better shape than I went in. I weighed myself and took a look in the mirror so I have a baseline.
Now, I’m taking solo runs in the morning (still allowed!). Otherwise, there are plenty of resources online for live fitness classes, and of course, good old bodyweight exercises like pushups and sit-ups. I’m also going to eat well, because if anything, I have more time to choose to eat healthy food.
2) How I’m Taking Care of Business
I’ve just come off of a week break, but I’m still going (back) to my day job. I continue to work as an anesthesiologist because I enjoy my job and I love helping people.
However, I know there are so many physicians being affected by this situation. Many are based on RVUs, so without surgeries, for example, there is no compensation. I know that’s extremely difficult.
I’ve heard of others trying to pivot to telemedicine but that I know there are some challenges in terms of setup and reimbursements.
Ultimately, we all need to support our families. I’m fortunate enough to have diversified a bit over time with investments and businesses. However, there’s no doubt those will take a hit as well.
Who knows how real estate will be affected, especially when so many are losing jobs and will be unable to pay rent? How can I be a supportive landlord during this time while also making sure I can pay the bills?
I’ve always approached these purchases and investments with a healthy fear of putting all my eggs in one basket, so I’m optimistic that everything won’t be hit all at once. Although nothing is certain, I’ve done what I can to set myself up to weather this storm. Anything else is simply out of my control–and I’ve made peace with that.
My goal for my businesses during this time is to re-examine if I could be doing things better. There are plenty of opportunities to increase how much value I bring to others and that will make them stronger in the long run.
3) How I’m Taking Care of My Emotions
This last one is the most important of all.
At first, it sounded crazy to think that I’d be holed up with my kids for weeks (more likely months) at a time. But that point has come. Now more than ever they’ll be watching how I handle myself. Kids are brilliant; they feel emotions for sure.
If I’m anxious and stressed that will come out in my behavior, and they’ll see it. As a father, I have to ask myself: how am I modeling myself in these stressful situations?
When it comes down to it, the only thing we can really control is the way we internalize and react to our circumstances. We control the meaning we give something and the effect it has on our lives. To take it a step further: even the language we use matters.
If we say “this sucks,” or “life is horrible,” everything we read or see will reinforce that.
However, if we see life as precious, and if we pay attention to the good that can come from our situations, then we’ll see our circumstances through a completely different lens. For me, that positivity comes when I see my kids and my wife.
Once I realized this, I made a decision right then and there to create a different story about what’s going on. It’s a challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity to focus on what’s important and to gain perspective on what’s valuable in life.
So much of everything I do is to try to gain more time with my family. Here it is as I asked for. How can I be grateful for this and make the most of it?
I’ll be honest. It scares me a bit to go to work. So many of our physicians are asked to be on the front lines without the proper protective gear and that’s not good. That means I could contract the virus and potentially give it to others more vulnerable without knowing. I don’t necessarily work on the front lines, but if I’m called, I’m going to do my best to serve.
It’s also an opportunity to support and give to others.
I’m also looking for creative ways to serve this community of physicians and high professionals that I speak to through the blog, Facebook group, and podcast. How can I help and be a resource?
I feel I’ve emphasized the importance of multiple streams of income, but it feels even more relevant today. And I realize I have to keep talking about it, because as the last month has shown, you truly never know.
So I will control what I can control. I’ll be a support and resource for others. I’ll be grateful for what I have. That’s how I’ll choose to live through this.
So let me know how I can be a resource for you. Stay strong everyone!
Fear and anxiety result from anticipation of events that have not yet happened, [but] we are the creators of our reality. – Joe Dispenza