Getting Creative in the Kitchen

Cooking is something that I always loved the idea of doing but was never sure if I could master. This blog post is to share some of the tips and tricks I learnt about how to cook a simple recipe for breakfast and how I learnt to boil pasta!

How I Learnt to Cook:

  1. Youtube: Youtube has recipes and tutorials on everything from boiling pasta to making french toast and having someone show you how to do it can make it a lot easier to follow than reading a recipe for visual learners like myself!
  2. AllRecipes.com : An awesome website I use to find cooking recipes; looking at the reviews is one of the most helpful ways to see if there are any recommended modifications from people who have tried the recipe!
  3. Talking to a Loved One on the Phone: When I first learnt to cook it was me in the kitchen with my mom on the phone as she told me step by step what to do; it may sound a little silly but it definitely worked!

Breakfast: Baked Avocado

  1. Scoop out the inside of half an avocado creating enough space for an egg yolk and egg white mixture to fit
  2. Inside the hole I add a cracked egg, salt, pepper and Siracha Hot Sauce
  3. Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees Fahrenheit
  4. You have your baked egg in an avocado!

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How to Boil Pasta

I used to boil pasta on a max flame in a big pot of water, but what I learnt through a cooking article and through trial and error is that once the water starts to boil if I lower it to a medium flame the water actually absorbs better into the pasta. As a result, I only need enough water to cover the pasta itself so that it boils a bit quicker than if I overfilled the pot with water.

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Every day can be a happy one

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5 Simple Steps:

1. Do something nice for another person and ACCEPT it when someone else tries to do it for you. The other day I was sitting at Paediatric Rounds and really wanting coffee but it was 8:03 AM (rounds were probably going to start in a couple of minutes).  My colleague had left the room and I texted him to see if he was getting coffee so he could grab me one as well.  He actually had gone to the bathroom but texted back saying he’d pick up a coffee for me on the way back to Rounds from the bathroom. He made himself late for Rounds and really didn’t have to do that.  I said a million thank-yous. For some reason, we have a hard time accepting nice gestures from others and feel that we should be the ones doing the ‘giving.’ He made my day and I realized that ONE unexpected nice gesture in either direction every day makes the world of a difference. Try it tomorrow.

2. Reframe the situation. Countless times people say ‘hindsight is 20/20,’ and I always thought it was too cliché.  I still think it’s cliché but it is true that everything is exaggerated in the moment. We tend to forget to put things in perspective and we often forget the potential positive outcomes of a situation.  A family member called me to say he got his car/license taken away for the next 7 days for speeding on the highway.  Some may say that the car/license being revoked maybe saved him from something worse that was going to happen at his destination.  If you don’t see it that way, hopefully you’ll agree with me that this taught a lesson about speeding.  If that doesn’t work, channel your energy towards reminding yourself of the goal of what you were doing and what you are hoping to achieve.  When we are going through medical school, we focus on the preceptor that initially didn’t like us or the test that we failed.  Instead, we should focus on the things we learned overcoming those obstacles.  If that still doesn’t work, remind yourself that someone out there probably has it worse than you and still made it through.

3. Embrace all your emotions.  We frequently equate having an argument with a friend as a ‘bad day,’ or answering a question incorrectly with ‘I know nothing on this rotation.’ Neither is true.  Self-validate your sadness post-argument.  Ask a question or clarify with your team member if you’re frustrated or confused.  Don’t wait for someone else to reassure you of your emotion. Instead, recognize the emotion, which will allow you to have an overall satisfaction with yourself for acknowledging it. Being happy does not mean you can’t be upset for 1 (or more) of the 24 hours of the day.

4. Remember that everyone has a different threshold for “happiness.” Some people want to spend their post-call days being productive and others totally want to chill out. There’s really no correct answer and frankly it doesn’t matter what makes each of us happy so long as we’re doing it.  Social media also skews our perception of this.  It imparts on us that in order to be happy, there’s a formula or some sort of recipe of the balance in your life you must strike.  I’m not saying you should get rid of social media platforms but do not use it as a benchmark of where you should be to achieve happiness.  Find your own balance.

5. If it makes you happy, why question it? I think this was a line on an episode of the The O.C. (my favourite show as a teenager). Similar to my first point, we often try to suppress our happiness especially when we are trying to stay focused or on our “A-game.”  Showing your true personality and doing the things you love will attract people (even if they do or do not share the same interests) because they’re curious about what it is that you’re so passionate about.  Feeling giddy about your interests is not mutually exclusive with being serious.  My friend called me the other night and was telling me that her preceptor on Family Medicine was bonding with her over having the same Aritzia pants. I’m not saying you should buy the same pants as your preceptor, but wear your pants and wear them proudly!

BAKING THERAPY

On coping: There’s no doubt that medical school is stressful – in fact, there’s no doubt that life is stressful. We all have our ways of coping with stress. Mine, for better or worse, is probably the most mundane imaginable: I love to bake. I will admit that my love of baking verges on obsession. Maybe even addiction. Between exploring new recipes and actually making the pastries, I will procrastibake for hours. Hours. When I get the itch to bake something, I will rearrange my entire schedule to do so. I have been known to run home from clinic at lunch hour to mix up banana bread batter. I have been known to show up to friends’ houses with half-baked confections and say “I’m going to need your oven, stat.” I have even been known to skip social engagements with nothing but a “sorry, I’ve got to make a pavlova!” The creativity of choosing what to make and finding the perfect recipe, the methodical process of putting the ingredients together, and the satisfaction of a beautiful outcome are nothing if not therapeutic. (Disclaimer: Not everything I bake turns out, sometimes it’s a mess that I either salvage by turning into something completely different or toss out and start over). And I think we can all agree that coming home to a house that smells like fresh baked cake/muffins/scones/cookies is incredibly comforting.

On the origin: This is not a new thing. As a child, one particular illness kept me out of school for months. My mother recalls that she couldn’t get me out of bed for anything – not to play with my siblings, not to see friends, not to even watch movies. But I would agree to get up to make cakes almost every day. She tells me that after a couple of weeks, she had given cakes to all her friends as well as filled our deep freeze, and had to beg me to stop.

On actual science: And get this – my baking therapy is literally evidence based. Talk about validating!! Turns out tons of people, with and without mental illness, use baking to help cope with day-to-day life.  Many psychologists encourage baking, and some mental health centres even incorporate it as a component of therapy. Unfortunately, while the literature is generally in agreement that daily expressions of creativity, including baking,  can increase positive affect (Conner et al, 2016), there hasn’t been any research directly into the positive effects of baking on mental health.

On art therapy: I honestly hated art class as a kid. Straight up, I was bad at it. I can’t paint to save my life, and good luck getting me to draw anything more than a stick man. I took piano lessons for years and the learning process was akin to pulling teeth. Fortunately, I realized as I got older that the concept of art isn’t limited to fine arts and music. ANY kind of art is therapeutic. What I’m trying to say is, baking is my art therapy equivalent. Maybe your passion is painting, or drawing, or singing, or dancing, or writing, or photography, or knitting, or doing logic puzzles, or any other of an endless list of creative pursuits. I wrote this blog post in part as a reminder that it’s possible to reap the psychological benefits of art without having a talent among the traditional arts.

On what I do with my baking: People always ask me this. As if I could actually eat everything I bake. I give it away, of course! I bring it to work, to school, to birthday parties (or any party really), and to friends and family. Sometimes I freeze it (my roommate and I bought a deep freezer last year, and it is always full). Usually there’s not much left to freeze.

Picture1You didn’t think I’d actually write a post on baking without including a recipe, did you?! This cranana bread is foolproof, moist, banana-y, and actually pretty healthy as far as baked goods go:

3 overripe bananas (seriously, wait till they’re pretty much black all over), mashed

2 eggs

1 ¾ cups flour (whole wheat and all purpose both worked fine)

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup vegetable oil

¼ cup milk

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla

+/- 1.5 cups cranberries

Combine oil, eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla, bananas. Add baking soda/flour. Combine well. Fold in cranberries. Pour into greased loaf pan and bake in preheated 325 degree oven for 1 hour. Sprinkle brown sugar over top, cook for 15 more mins or until top/sides golden brown and toothpick comes out (mostly) clean.

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.

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.

What is Burnout Anyway?

Motivation-au-travail-410x218.pngWe always used the words “I’m so burnt out.” No one really defined this for me until one of the speakers at the Wellness Retreat spoke about recognizing physician burnout. For those of you who want a quick summary, here are some resources I found online:

First of all, burnout is chronic and is associated with workplace-related stress.

1) This article talked about the signs and symptoms: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072470/

  • Exhaustion – Being both mentally drained (unable to cope) and physically drained (pain, GI symptoms)
  • Alienation from work-related activities – Finding your workplace increasingly taxing, distancing yourself emotionally from it
  • Reduced performance – Affects everyday tasks at work, being pessimistic about being there, hard to concentrate

2) So what order do these happen in?

This one-pager was useful for categorizing it into stages: http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/qf/burnout_qt/3stages.pdf

  •  Stage 1: Stress Arousal
    • Ex. Persistent anxiety, persistent irritability
  •  Stage 2: Energy Conservation
    • Ex. Overconsumption of coffee, increased procrastination
  •  Stage 3: Exhaustion
    • Ex. Chronic headaches, wanting to move away from family

3) This PowerPoint made by Dr. Yaman at the University of Pittsburgh was also helpful to clarify how it progresses: www.pitt.edu/~super7/4011-5001/4121.ppt

Dr. Yaman cited a paper by Edelwich et al. (1980) on the five stages of disillusionment

  • enthusiasm -> excited for your job
  • stagnation -> working but becoming detached
  • frustration -> question the value of the job
  • apathy -> defend against frustration
  • intervention -> can occur at any stage to prevent/treat

4) So how do you mitigate the situation?

Dr. Yaman also discusses ways that burnt out physicians can intervene for themselves:

  • self-assessment and determination of stressors
  • specification of life priorities
    • valuing yourself and recognizing that not all demands made upon yourself can be met
  • sharing and expressing feelings
  • alleviating stress at work by focusing on positives and small successes
  • setting goals (daily, weekly, etc.)
  • breaks and variety in daily schedule
  • using a team approach to decrease counter-productiveness

Healthy Meals for Clerkship

Have no experience cooking? Want to learn to cook something that is healthy and tasty in a non-time-intensive manner? This recipe has you covered!

This meal is something that can be prepared on the weekend and can be stored to be enjoyed throughout the week!

Baked chicken with salad and quinoa:

Chicken prep

  1. Ingredients needed:
    • 7-8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I shop at Costco and usually purchase a package of 7-8 chicken breasts – so that I can bake a whole bunch at once).
    • 1 tablespoon of salt and the seasoning of your choice (I prefer Creole). Alternatively, various pre-made sauces can be used for flavoring.
    • 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  2. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C.
  3. Set up baking tray – line it with tin foil.
  4. Rub chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle salt & seasonings to both sides.
  5. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes.
  6. Then flip the chicken breasts to the opposite side.
  7. Bake for another 15 minutes OR until no longer pink in the center (internal temperature should be at least 74 degrees C).
  8. Once cooked, the chicken can be stored in containers and frozen for the week ahead.

Quinoa Salad

  1. Salad prep:
    • Baby kale OR spinach OR Mixed garden salad
    • Baby sweet tomatoes
    • Baby cucumbers
    • Hummus OR Salad Dressing
  2. Carb: quinoa, Uncle Ben’s Rice or even a piece of toast with hummus spread.
  3. Microwave one of the frozen baked chicken made above.
  4. Add a side of baby kale, baby tomatoes and cut cucumbers, with a generous serving of hummus or salad dressing.          
  5. Eat!

OMSA Wellness Grant Event at Queen’s

Thanks to the OMSA Wellness Initiative Grant, Queen’s Medicine was able hold it’s first (and hopefully annual) Cultural Exchange Night, punnily termed InQBate, on February 16, 2017. It was an evening that highlighted the pluralism of the QMed family. We celebrated our culture and diversity through music, food, language and clothing. We also included an educational component where students of different cultures gave brief overview of their customs, traditions and cultural experiences. This fostered a sense of inclusivity, with the hopes of ultimately mitigating social isolation and strengthening the intercultural connections within our medical school community.

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Given that the event was a potluck, we had a wide array of foods, from Mexican delicacies to tasty Armenian dishes to authentic Indian chai – it was a feast! We had some spontaneous dancing, the application of mehndi (henna) and captivating storytelling of people’s cultural experiences. It was an event that allowed us to share our stories, often of immigration, adversity, triumph and gratitude. It was a wonderful reminder that diversity in culture, religion, ethnicity and other realms add richness to our community that is unparalleled.

Resilience – preparing your action plan

I recently attended a talk on the OMA’s Physician Health Program where they discussed THE BASICS guide to helping physicians develop strategies for coping with stress and building personal resilience.  This is a quick and worthwhile read.  BASICS stands for:

  • Body: Allostatic load, homeostasis, nutrition, toxins, sleep, exercise, personal care
  • Affect: Personality/stress/suffering, perfectionism, cognitive distortions, changing thinking & changing feeling
  • Social: Connections with family and friends
  • Intellect: Intellectual diversion, occupational considerations, control, change, choice
  • Community: Barriers to community & genuine community
  • Spirituality: Practices that enhance resilience

Why not create your own resilience action plan using the BASICS Checklist!