How Doctors Do Self-Care Sunday

We got the scoop from a few on how they care for themselves as well as they care for you.

by Lambeth Hochwald Health Writer

Even doctors need to take time to take care of themselves, especially since nearly a quarter of physicians work 60 to 80 hours a week, according to the American Medical Association. So, after caring for us, how do some of our favorite chronic docs show themselves some TLC? Here, four members of HealthCentral's medical review board share their best pamper practices.

Relax in the Garden

Digging in the dirt might be the most important way Yasmine S. Ali, M.D., a cardiologist and assistant clinical professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, practices self-care.

“This keeps me physically and mentally active, not only with planting and maintaining, but with planning new garden patches and containers,” she says. “It’s so fulfilling choosing which vegetables and herbs to plant anew each season and reading up on new varieties.”

Dr. Ali says that one of the best health benefits of gardening—in addition to stress relief—is that it is a form of enjoyable physical activity. “I like to call gardening an ‘activity with a purpose,’” she says. “It keeps you moving while also creating, whether what you’re creating is a garden plot of fresh, organic vegetables or an area of beautiful flowers. With gardening, you literally get to see the fruits of your labors!”

Play a Sport

It may seem counterintuitive that working out helps you chill out, but sports and exercise are a science-proven way to trigger the release of feel-good hormones. This is just one of the reasons that, pre-pandemic, Brian LaMoreaux, M.D., a rheumatologist in Columbus, OH, played basketball three to four times a week depending on his travel schedule.

“Since the pandemic began, given that basketball is the opposite of a socially distanced sport, I’ve switched to tennis,” he says. “This has been a lot of fun to learn and practice.”

Dr. LaMoreaux says playing tennis twice a week keeps him focused. “If I don’t get regular exercise I feel a bit restless and have extra energy," he says. "Sports and competing in some way represents an important outlet for me to get exercise, interact with others, and do plenty of learning and improving!" Even if your condition limits the amount of high-impact activities you can do, "swimming or walking in a pool are fantastic ways to get out there—with your doctor’s awareness and approval, of course.”

Practice Mindfulness

If you’ve been dancing around the idea of trying yoga lately, you’re in good company. Anne Negrin, M.D., an ophthalmologist in Purchase, NY, has found The Yoga Collective, an online site with loads of free yoga and meditation classes, to be just what the doctor ordered.

“I can quickly access a zillion types of yoga classes on my phone or computer, ranging from just 20 minutes to 60 minutes,” she says. “I do a class some mornings before leaving for work in my home office: I light a candle and unroll my yoga mat. It makes the day so much better from the start.”

In addition, she made a vow to do more regular meditation, so she installed the Insight Timer app, a free meditation app.

“The past couple of years, as my work and family demands have gotten more intense, I find it harder to make the time for meditation,” she says. “Depending on my day I may use it for five minutes while I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot before I get out for work. I don't care if I look funny to passersby as my eyes are closed in a parked car!”

And, on days where she needs more quiet time, she’ll set aside 20 minutes on the timer for guided meditation.

“Even if it’s just a few minutes each day I reap the benefits,” she says. “I have more patience with my patients, more patience with my kids, and I feel like I have treated myself for the day.”

Be a Homebody

When you work with patients all week, it’s okay to give yourself permission to have a little alone time. Such is the case for Constance Pietrzak, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Advocate Medical Group in Hazel Crest, IL.

Dr. Pietzrak is the first to say she enjoys indulgences like taking a hot bath or an extra-long hot shower. “Also, I love watching silly romantic comedies or binge watching an interesting show on Netflix or Amazon,” she says. Getting cozy with her family is key, too. “Snuggling with my husband and my [infant] daughter works wonders for stress,” she says. “I should add that a snuggle with my dogs—I have a golden retriever and a mini goldendoodle—helps, too.”

And when she needs an escape from it all, she heads out for a three to five mile run four to five times a week. “This allows me to decompress from the day, relieve any stress or anxiety I may have and gives me some time alone which I need as an introvert.”

Lambeth Hochwald
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Lambeth Hochwald

Lambeth Hochwald is a consumer lifestyle reporter covering health, fitness, marriage and family.