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Self-care for Medical Students: Reflection by Hassan Farooq

In only two weeks, having gained much in the way of insight into self-care I have begun a process of adapting and trialing changes to my way of living. Some have already borne fruit whilst others will take more time and discipline. This reflection will outline the ways in which I have adapted my lifestyle to become more caring to myself and hopefully as a result, to others. 

 

Diet

The first week focused on diet, sleep, exercise work and the energetic state of being. Diet was perhaps the easiest change to make. Having presented on the“milk myth” and listening to presentations on gluten and sugar I attempted to change my diet to exclude or at the very least limit foods that are affecting my state of well being. At the time of writing, I have successfully limited my intake of milk and chocolate to “cheat days” which is just one day a week. Initially it seemed like a chore to replace milk in my diet but fortunately I soon found a suitable alternative which is not much of a compromised on taste. From this modest change, I have in the space of a week noticed that my skin is in better condition which is perhaps co-incidental but pleasing nonetheless. Surprisingly, sugar in the form of chocolate was not tough for me to cut out. I am not a big chocolate eater anyway and usually only consumed chocolate when bored. Simply removing it from the house was enough for me to go a week without even noticing. The last food related change I made over the week was to go caffeine-free. I enjoy my coffee but hardly ever drink it as a pick-me-up, so it made little sense to continue drinking it and allowing it to put me in a higher energetic state. Changing to decaffeinated coffee made a big difference as I don’t experience the warm restlessness and energetic excitement I would otherwise get with each coffee. Not long ago, decaffeinated soy coffee would have sent a shiver up my spine but now it has effortlessly replaced my regular coffee, perhaps for good.

Sleep

Moving on from food and definitely just as important has been my attempts to rest sufficiently by sleeping earlier. I would consider myself a good sleeper however I am quite sensitive to the effects of a lack of sleep. Before starting this module, I was getting by on approximately 6 hours of sleep, not listening to my body when I was tired and just getting on with it. During the last week, I attempted to get into bed by 11PM giving me 7-8 hours of sleep. The results were no surprise to me, waking up energetic was great and barring one day I managed to keep it up. Ideally I would like to get to bed even sooner, perhaps half an hour earlier, which would give me time in the morning to do other things rather than just getting ready to leave the house. I enjoyed the time I gained in the morning for the week as it was time that I had more focus and fewer distractions. Making effective use of this time could pay dividends and make up for time that feels lost in the evening, making the following day less hectic and rushed. In addition to the noticeable benefits in energy I was pleased to find various health benefits associated with regular, fulfilling sleep. From reduced risk of psychological illness to potentially reducing the risk of cancer, sleep seems to be a small price to pay for the protection it offers.

Challenges – staying present

Moving on from aspects that I found success with are some changes that I struggled with and need to work on. Gaining more focus was one of my primary aims after experiencing gentle breath meditation (GBM). GBM allowed me to clear my mind of thoughts that were not important at the time. Thoughts that I could not act on or address. This exercise quietened a lot of the “background noise” from my mind which instantly brought me into the current moment and all the sensations associated with it, bringing me back to “centre”. Often I find myself drifting away from centre as the day progresses and this was a handy way of getting back in less than five minutes. Practicing this during the last two weeks has not been easy because I forget to include it in my day. However, on the occasions that I have carried it out, I have benefited from the clarity and sense of calm it brings me.

Coupled with GBM was ‘conscious presence’, another concept that I found interesting as I could relate to the often “absent” way in which I carried out day-to-day tasks. From my understanding of it, conscious presence involves being in the moment and taking in all the sensations of the activity being undertaken. I, on the other hand deliberately distract myself whilst carrying out activities such as showering, cooking, and ironing. This is because I get bored with mundane tasks and like to keep myself entertained. This was perhaps limiting my ability to engage in the experience fully. I wanted to gauge the benefits of being conscious through these tasks and to not only carry them out better but to enjoy them more also. This is a lot easier said than done, often I found myself turning to music or TV to avoid the boredom. I noticed that I used these activities to catch up with TV and to entertain myself when I wasn’t able to at other times of the day. However, the quality of this time is low and perhaps that is why I always feel unfulfilled by such experiences. I see conscious presence as a means by which I can find fulfillment in many of the things I do, however I must forget to multitask and re-learn how to uni-task again. This will take time as it is a habit developed over years.

Barriers

In enacting changes, I faced many barriers, such as a lack of time and money. These perceived barriers were not as large as I might have thought, not when I’m motivated at least. I have always felt that if I want to do something, that I will always find time to do it. However, if I feel indifference towards or want to avoid an activity then invariably I will not find the time to carry it out. Lifestyle changes can be cumbersome and unfortunately fall into the lateral category. Being aware of this, I bit the bullet early and just rolled with the punches. Cost seemed like it may be an element, particularly relating to food. However, with a little more caution shopping and less spent on junk, I found that I could shop for a week on the same amount as I had budgeted. This in my case was a pseudo-barrier. Time as I said is only an issue for me when I am unmotivated, but I started sleeping earlier, waking earlier and as a result not losing any time at all whilst feeling better for it. Having said that; this is only true for when I am in Belfast, returning home is likely to upset my routine and maybe clash with my family and their habits. Of course conscious awareness and GBM won’t be affected but the way I eat when I am home may. This does not mean it has to. My family is always very supportive and perhaps I could adapt with them and help them to care better for themselves. This would give me great joy, as not only will I be more comfortable making self-caring choices at home but my family can do the same.

Conclusion

As this reflection illustrates, I have managed to adapt to a better way of living in some ways whilst other detrimental habits still linger. This however is not a disappointment to me. It is an area in which I can continue to grow and improve. Having already noticed benefits to some changes I am very motivated to see the effects of this in the medium to long term. On the whole, this SSC has opened my eyes to conventional and non-conventional wisdom relating to health and the person. Although still struggling with the concept of energies, I have been stimualted by the views shared with us during the module. Interestingly, I wonder what trajectory my self-care would have taken had it not been for this three-week personal dissection of my lifestyle?

3 Comments

  • Reply
    Jeanette Macdonald
    28th April 2014 at 10:24 pm

    Hi Hassan, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this (and all of the reflections thus far) and love what you say about “uni-tasking”. I was the queen of multitasking and it has been an interesting process to come back to being with one thing at a time and with a conscious presence enjoying what I do so much more. I have noticed a spaciousness with that and so much more time available to me now which continues to amaze me.

    We have been reflecting on these reflections in our Self Care Group in my workplace and have been struck by the honesty, the willingness and the wisdom that shines through in all of these writings.
    To be attended by doctors who are developing deeper a true understanding love and care for themselves first, and because of that, naturally extending that same love and care and understanding to those they care for, feels like a true gift to humanity. So very inspiring. Thank you to all of you and to you Eunice.

  • Reply
    Judith Andras
    5th July 2014 at 6:00 am

    Dear Hassan,

    I came across you post today and utterly enjoyed reading it.
    Your honest and very practical approach is inspiring and refreshing.
    It shows that Self-Care is easy and doable if we approach it one step at a time.
    Thank you for sharing!

    And thank you Eunice for your deep care and incredible service to humanity!

    Sincerely,
    Judith

  • Reply
    Michelle McWaters
    15th October 2014 at 6:43 am

    I am so inspired that self care is being offered as a module during medical training and that you have embraced it and been so honest about your experiences Hassan. I wonder if you have been able to continue with the changes you started to implement? I know from experience that it takes time, commitment and a little effort to get started but once on a role these things become the normal foundation for daily living. From there it is then easier to go deeper and to ask yourself more questions about what comes up, like why do I get bored and need to stimulate myself with TV so as to not feel what is there? I also love that you are eager to share what your 3 week experiment revealed to your family and how small changes can make a big impact!

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