(Photos courtesy of Vector pro/Shutterstock.com (brain, apple, bed, light bulb); Colorlife/Shutterstock.com (heart); leosapiens/Shutterstock.com (dumbbell); gst/Shutterstock.com (people).

At the AMSS Health & Wellbeing Workshop on the 8th of May, we were lucky enough to hear from three guest speakers who kindly gave up their time to come and talk to us about our own health and wellbeing.

Dr Roger Sexton from Doctors’ Health SA identified a need to be aware of our own vulnerabilities, especially during times of transition. He highlighted common traits held by doctors that make them vulnerable to mental health issues: obsessionality, difficulty saying ‘no’ and dependance. Identifying your own vulnerabilities allows you to be able to better recognise when you are struggling.

Dr Sexton left us with three metaphors that form the major pillars of wellbeing:

  • a battery - representative of a source of energy
  • a wheelbarrow of bricks - representative of the burden we are expected to carry
  • a tent - of which the strings are representative of the support network holding us up, which is particularly important on a bad day.

He conveyed the importance of nurturing other interests, meeting your existential needs and fulfilling other roles before you try to excel.

Liana Taylor from the Mindfulness Centre took us through some mindfulness activities introduced us to mindfulness in pain management. The quality of our lives is influenced by what we pay attention to and what meaning we give to things. Mindfulness aims to decrease the ‘chatter’ of the mind and calm stresses and anxieties by coming into the present and focusing on the sensory world. We all practice mindfulness informally, but it can also be used formally to calm oneself and focus our attention. There are many mindfulness activities to be discovered. Give some a try and see what works best for you!

Our third speaker was Dr Eliza Colley who graduated from the MBBS program here at Adelaide Uni in 2018 and is currently an intern. Dr Colley highlighted the importance of finding what works for you and dedicating time for breaks from studying. She noted that everyone responds to events differently and that debriefing is key to staying mentally fit and healthy. Everyone has bad days and it is important to recognise your own warning signs, talk about them early, and get it out.

In Dr Colley’s words: “We’re so lucky to be surrounded with like minded people at uni and at work every day, so seek them out. Surround yourself with them and feed off each other. It’s a marathon not a sprint ...Take the time to step back, notice the good and the bad, and the people around you… we’ve all chosen an amazing career, so just enjoy it!”

This year, our workshop also included a rotation of student-run stations upskilling us in self-care. There’s a huge amount we can learn from the amazing people studying medicine with us, and we are so grateful to James Kimber, Maddy O’Brien, Shehani Gunasekera, Sush Saha, Tanya Sirikrishnabala and Vic Langton for giving up their time to facilitate stations and share their knowledge. Based on the stations, we’ve come up with six main take-away points for improving self care that we hope will help you throughout the rest of the year and into the future!

  1. Finding help around uni: Everyone needs a helping hand once in a while, and it's not always easy to know who to contact in those times of need. If you’re ever in need of personal, academic or general assistance, visit https://www.amss.org.au/health-wellbeing/contacts-resources to find the best person to reach out to. Get help at the first sign of your own distress - no problem is too small, and it can make a world of difference.
  2. Yoga and basic stretching: Studying and sitting for long periods of time can be pretty hard on our body, and our backs and necks can hold a lot of tension. A 5-minute yoga or stretching routine as a study break can help to relieve some of that tension, and can also help to re-focus on the task at hand.
  3. Mindfulness: Our lives are full-on and can get pretty complicated – we all have things that worry us or stress us out. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help us to reduce worries, anxiety and distress, create a sense of calm, and improve concentration and productivity (among a whole number of other benefits!). There are some fantastic free apps available (including Smiling Mind and Headspace) that have a range of 5-30 minute meditations perfect for on the bus, during a lunch break or just before sleep.
  4. Keeping a planner or journal: Putting your plans, thoughts and ideas on to paper can help to clear your head and organize your thinking. Bullet journaling is a really good option if you are someone who wants to feel more productive rather than just busy, and is also a great mix of creativity, organisation and mindfulness. Check out https://bulletjournal.com/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6zteZujUKI if you’re interested in getting started!
  5. Eating well: Food is what fuels us, and so it’s important to take care with what we eat and ensure that what we’re putting into our bodies makes us feel good. It can be pretty hard to find time to cook and focus on food, especially if you’re living away from home, but spending some time on the weekends meal prepping using simple, nutritious recipes can be a great place to start. Some other ways to get the most out of your food is to focus on eating rather than multitasking (e.g. watching Netflix), avoiding eating late at night, and ensuring you have variety in what you eat. Also, don’t forget about drinking plenty of water, especially during long hospital days!
  6. Finding time for self-care: When life gets busy, our self-care is often the first thing to go. Finding options for self-care that you can integrate into your everyday life and schedule can be an effective way to make sure you’re looking after yourself consistently. Some ideas include getting off the bus a couple of stops early and walking the rest of the way, going for a walk and getting some sunshine while catching up with a friend at the same time, or finding a friend or two and meal prepping for the week together.

Remember that in order to take care of other people we’ve got to take care of ourselves first! Keep doing what you can to make self-care and your own physical & mental health a priority, and be sure to reach out for help when you need it.