Movement as Medicine

I recently heard that some animals have this ability to physically shake off stress when they go through a fearful situation. It reminded me firstly of course of the Taylor Swift song “Shake it Off” and then also got me thinking about the role that exercise can play in physically shaking off stress. I think one of the challenges of medical school is that there can be a consistent layer of stress throughout, even when I may not feel particularly stressed I may see physiological manifestations of stress such as a new pimple. To help me with this, I have found that movement is key to target stress. Here are some ways I’ve been able to get active that I hope are helpful for you too!

  • Hiking

I find that most cities will surprise you when you go looking for trails; there are so many beautiful trails in Hamilton which I did not expect at all when I first moved here. I have found that going with groups and going at different times of day are great ways to make the same trail feel like a new experience each time. Breaking out the camera is also a great way to capture memories and be observant of animals and plants that you may not have stopped to admire otherwise.

  • Skating

I can barely skate but I love going to Pier 8 Skating Rink! I think the biggest reason is the company of friends, the great music and the view. It’s one of the sneaky ways I get a lot of cardio exercise in without feeling like I’m putting in a lot of effort.

  • Swimming

This is another exercise that is really fun for me, and again something that I do because I love it not because I’m a particularly talented swimmer. One of the wonderful things I discovered is that with my student card I had access to the pool at our school and they have fun nights and lane swim in both the shallow and deep end for swimmers of all levels.

  • Going to the Gym

This is an expected example but one that is surprising for me because I used to never make time to go to the gym. I found that once I got started doing my own thing in the gym even if it was a simple routine of treadmill and sit-ups I could feel the benefits in my body and concentration. Even though making time can be difficult even if I miss a workout or several I always find myself back in the gym as soon as I can.

  • Dance

Dance for me is something I got involved in in university and was a great social and as well as physical fitness outlet. One of the best things about dance as well is the show we put on at the end of learning the routines, having the opportunity to perform is it’s own kind of excitement and confidence booster! Even if you’re like me and don’t have any experience there are groups on campus that I found that take on beginners.

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You are worth it – Self Worth

While writing blogs about wellness on a superficial level (travel, reading, meditation,
exercise, and nutrition) is not something I’m particularly good at, I do have a knack for
unpacking deep insecurities and life lessons. Life is complicated to navigate, and too often do we try to push away from our problems. Facing them head on is terrifying.
This isn’t to say that travel, reading, meditation, and nutrition are by any means poor uses of our time. They take care of our body and minds. When you are in a good place – liking yourself, liking your path, and planning your time effectively to take breaks from rewarding work – they are no less than absolutely wonderful.

Unfortunately, the world has twists and turns. And, all of us have deep insecurities and
questions that we are afraid to ask ourselves that manifest in challenging ways. My
weekend involved a family emergency instead of going to the wellness retreat. It’s odd, but it was exactly what I needed to be well. For me, going to the retreat would have been
treating a symptom instead of my disease or running away.

My weekend instead opened my eyes to two concepts effective altruism and free will.
Effective altruism is my pretentious way of saying – how do we actually do right in the
world? What does it look like to actually help someone? This is something I ask myself all
the time. I figured out this weekend that it was because I didn’t feel like I had worth unless I was helping. If I couldn’t help other people, I was no good. I don’t think this outlook is uncommon in the physician community. We work so hard to learn so much to help with the hope that makes us worth something.

But, self worth is interesting too. It isn’t something that anyone can give you or take away. People can hurt you with the words they say, but it is only when you let yourself take hurtful words to heart and ignore the compliments that you spiral into the vortex of
worthlessness. A state of mind that is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The narrative goes “I am
worthless, I can’t do anything, I won’t try because I’ll fail, I’m not doing anything, See? I am worthless” etc.

As a self identified helper, sometimes I pull myself out of this with the thought of other
people – they are worthwhile and I can help them. Then, I will be worth something. But,
this isn’t true.

  1. You are and I am worth it. I don’t know what “it” is exactly, but we are worth it. We
    matter and so do our voices, thoughts, and the potential we all have to love.
  2. The only person who can give you self worth is you. It doesn’t matter how badly I want to carry your pain for you. Or how many times I compliment you. You have to believe it. You have to carry and conquer your own pain and insecurities. You can and should ask for help. And other can offer it and ask you the right questions, but *you* have to choose to accept that help and help yourself. This might be terrifying. How can any of us do something we’ve never done, get out of that hole, or deal with the new trauma that we are sure is too much this time? And I think the answer is to be brave, to persevere, and to know that if you can learn to conquer your own adversities that you open yourself to entirely new realms of self worth, confidence, love, and wisdom. And, maybe even a deep, unshakeable happiness that no one can take away – the things that, in my opinion, make life worth living. And when you think how can I be the one to do it? How can I be sure that I’m enough? That trying won’t make it worse? The answer is because you are human. Therefore, you are resilient, strong, and with generations of ancestors before you who learned these lessons in their lives. And, they are all with us – their memories, triumphs, and failures – always. Moreover, these are the lessons that everyone around you wants to learn too. As high school musical made so clear “We’re All in This Together”. It won’t be easy. It’s the hard thing, but that’s why it’s the *right* thing.
    It’s easier to avoid it – turn to some kind of drug, screen, or other person to make it better
    for you. They might dull the pain for a while, but they aren’t your solution. You are.
  3. The only way you can help someone is if they want help. In the same way you can’t force anyone to take their pills, you can’t force anyone to talk about their feelings, conquer an addiction, find their way out of depression, or face their insecurities. You can’t yell the solution at them either because the most meaningful solutions are the ones we find for ourselves. If we all took to heart the lessons from history and the stories we hear, there wouldn’t be anything left to learn. Maybe the world would be perfect by now. But we have our own journeys, our own lessons, our own perspectives, and our own truths. And most importantly we have our own choices – our free will. When you feel stuck, you can always choose to get out, to get off that path and forge a new one. You are not trapped. And you are not alone. And then on the other hand when you’re trying to help someone else, make sure they want your help and that it is to achieve their goal. A wise person told me “I would never take away someone’s struggle”. And it’s true. Conquering our adversities is what makes us strong and good. Taking that away from someone – their free will, autonomy, and responsibility – might be the worst thing you could do, even if it comes from a place of love and kindness. So the hard thing, but the right thing is to let them learn for themselves. Be there. Ask questions. Offer advice when asked. Don’t carry their pain. Don’t solve their problem. Don’t take away their struggle.

Just some thoughts to share on a difficult day. Good luck making the world better. Still
trying to figure out what that looks like.