The Decision to Choose Yourself
Author: Kelsey Lamb
So many of us at the Medical College of Wisconsin are here because we care about our community – we want to lift others up, inspire growth, create change. We get so caught up in this idea of helping our neighbors and improving our communities that we forget to look inward. Medical students and young health trainees are far from immune to this. Between the stresses of studying for ever-looming tests, mapping our futures, and attempting to absorb every bit of a field that seems limitless, it is no wonder we often fail to prioritize our mental health along the way.
Unfortunately for us, there is no secret recipe for wellness. We would all love to achieve a state of perfect balance, total serenity, mental fortitude – you name it – but it is not easy. It truly requires effort – an idea that feels paradoxical at times. But prioritizing oneself must be an active decision. Self-work is work, nonetheless.
In the era of COVID-19, I have found that I have to be much more diligent about self-care. This looks different depending on the day, what tasks are weighing on my shoulders, and, realistically, how happy I find myself to be in that moment. It will likely continue to evolve as the seasons change, as well. What I find important and what I find to be of the most value to myself despite all of these variables is focusing on what I have control over.
For example, it’s been impossible to not feel pent up while practicing appropriate social distancing. When I find myself feeling overwhelmed by this new sort of claustrophobia, I take to the outdoors. Sometimes all that is needed is a short walk along the Milwaukee River with my favorite walking buddy, my pup, Reggie, to get my body moving and to reset my mind. Other times, my outdoor escape takes the form of a weekend trip canoeing and camping on sandbars under the stars or backpacking in the woods along the Ice Age Trail. No matter the outlet, connecting with nature – and disconnecting with my imminent reality – always brings me back to my center. It is reinvigorating in a way that makes me better able to handle my imminent reality when I do return to it.
To be fair, my strategy of escaping to the outdoors is not an entirely new coping mechanism created in the wake of social distancing; rather, it is something that has always helped me find peace when it has been needed most. Yet, as I ache for normalcy, as we all do, I have found that nature has become more of a respite than I ever knew I would need.
The key, I believe, to finding this for yourself is to find the activity that brings you back to your center, no matter what is causing you to breathe heavy that day – the activity that you have control over, no matter where your ever-evolving environment lands you. For me, it is stepping into the sun. For you, it may be curling up on the couch with an entrancing novel. It looks different for everyone and that, in my opinion, is the beauty of human nature. While there may be no recipe to wellness, our individual journeys to finding it and living it only contribute to the joy of our human experience.
So, next time you’re feeling pent up or weighed down, I hope you are inspired to play an active role in your wellness. I hope you are inspired to step into something new or to circle back to something old. No matter what it is, I hope you choose to take a minute for yourself and do it.