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Outside the Lab Profession

Physician, Heal Thyself: An Approach to Wellness

Before the pandemic, I thought wellness could be conceptualized as a hierarchy – one in which adequate sleep, regular exercise, nutritious meals, and self-care provided a foundation for wellbeing. I theorized, through some sort of pseudo-Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one should first strengthen the physical body as a means of achieving self-fulfillment.

But how does one maintain physical health when stuck indoors during a pandemic?
Re-evaluating this framework required redefining the path to wellness – so I looked to other cultures for inspiration. In Japan, there is a philosophical concept called ikigai or “the reason for being.” It uses four overlapping Venn diagrams to define the metaphysical “sweet spot” between your passion, your mission, your vocation, and your profession. On the surface, ikigai seemed to be a closer approximation of personal wellness. It attributes self-worth to purposeful work.

But how can you achieve “a reason for being” when you are unemployed or unable to work? 

Studies show that mindfulness can improve focus, reduce blood pressure, and help reduce chronic pain.

Perhaps, instead, healing the mind is the path to wellness. Being mindful of one’s thoughts and emotions can center our awareness of all things. Practicing mindfulness requires us to take inventory of our body and breath as a means of self-reflection. It is a practice akin to meditation and prayer. Lately, the term seems to be used interchangeably with personal wellness – and for good reason. Studies show that mindfulness can improve focus, reduce blood pressure, and help reduce chronic pain. At its core, mindfulness is a way for us to build a relationship with our body and mind.

But is a strong relationship with yourself enough?
My daughter is five months old at the time of writing. Her arrival has marked a significant disruption in my sleep hygiene. I no longer surf before work. Exercise is sporadic. I occasionally eat meals standing in the kitchen, scarfing food quickly so I can help change a diaper. Aubrey has successfully eliminated all quiet moments dedicated to self-reflection. She is a clear affront to my personal wellness – yet she is my ikigai.

Take a moment to reflect upon your relationships. Your relationship with yourself, your family, your friends, your pet… Which relationships do you value most? 
Personally, I find the most fulfilling relationships are those where we seek to better the life of another. These relationships do not need to be as enduring as one between a father and daughter; even holding the door for a stranger is a kind of fulfillment. My relationship with my daughter has strengthened my relationships with my wife and my parents.

I do not believe that this is necessarily a profound realization, but it is frequently overlooked. Emotional connections drastically improve our physical and mental wellbeing. I implore you to take inventory of the relationships that may have been strained through the pandemic. Reach out to those you value. Achieving wellness can start with something as simple as a phone call.

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About the Author
Brian Cox

Fourth-year resident in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Cedars-Sinai, Los Angeles, California, USA.

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