Julia Klein is a medical scribe and EMT-B based in the Twin Cities region, working mainly in emergency medicine and cardiac care. She received her Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience from the University of Minnesota in 2019, where she spent two years researching the pathophysiology of essential tremor.
Sustainability: the avoidance of depletion; meeting our needs; promoting our future. In a culture that generally supports a tilted work>life balance, it’s more important than ever to prioritize our personal well-being. We have all had days that are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. It’s a relatable concept, but it shouldn’t be the norm. How are we sustaining ourselves?
Tap Into Your “Why”
Your why combines your motivations, passions, and strengths into a unified purpose. It’s what gets you out of bed in the morning. It’s what makes you smile from within and puts a bounce in your step. When faced with challenges, our why inspires us to keep going. Tapping into these passions reminds us of the bigger picture, adding purpose and meaning to our actions. Your why can also change. As you set new goals and discover new passions, your why evolves with you. Finding your passion for a purpose has been proven to minimize stress and contribute to longevity. So let your why propel you forward, one step at a time.
From a biological standpoint, we’re a social species. We’re wired to connect with one another. In fact, we need to for survival. So it makes sense that a key part of sustaining ourselves involves social connections. Our social network can be uplifting in so many ways. This is a safe space to vent and discuss shared experiences. In return, we receive support, compassion, laughter, and empathy. As a social determinant of health, these connections are also linked with improved physical and mental well-being. Loneliness and isolation are too common in today's world. How can we challenge these feelings and fulfill our biological need to connect? It can be as simple as chatting with a co-worker over lunch, volunteering in the community, reconnecting with an old friend, or signing up for a group activity. Building in the time to connect with others in a meaningful way is a frequently overlooked component of self-sustainability.
Challenging the Clock
In our busy, over-scheduled culture, one of the main barriers to self-sustainability is a lack of time. Having a packed schedule only further emphasizes our need for downtime. Downtime is when you step away from your to-do list to do something for yourself. That could include enjoying a hobby, exercising, spending time outside, relaxing — whatever makes you smile inside. Neuroscience research has shown that regular downtime enhances our productivity, performance, and brings higher levels of cognitive thinking. Even if you have to set an alarm or make an appointment with yourself, it’s important to build this into our schedules. Self-sustainability is all about finding the right balance, and downtime can help reset this equilibrium.
Like all living beings, we too need energy to run. Eating convenient, ultra-processed foods may be the quickest option on a busy day, but it may do more harm than good. These foods often have empty calories in place of the nutrients we need to sustain ourselves. Moreover, studies have linked diets high in processed foods to chronic health issues and mood imbalance. Processed foods are everywhere we look, and it’s OK to still enjoy them in moderation. That being said, aim to make whole foods the center of your diet. Switch to snacks like whole fruit, a bagged salad, nuts, an avocado, a hard-boiled egg, a bag of carrots. Explore new recipes. Make home-cooked meals and freeze the leftovers. Boosting your nutrition will leave you feeling mentally and physically replenished, recharged, and ready to take on the next task.
Smiles for Miles
It’s as simple as a smile. Just a smile. By choosing to engage these facial muscles, we instantly release a wave of feel-good hormones Just a smile and we unlock our biological reward system: reducing pain, reducing stress, increasing contentment and gratification. Even better, we experience similar effects when we see someone else smile! Smiles are an easy way to amplify a positive mindset and build a bubble of positivity around you.
When You’re Feeling Burnt Out
So what should you do when you’re feeling burnt out? Burnout has unfortunately become a ubiquitous phenomenon in our culture. Life isn’t a linear path but more of a squiggly line of highs and lows. When there’s too much on our plate, including things that are out of our control, it can start to feel a bit overwhelming. The first step is to pause for a moment and examine your situation. Acknowledge and validate your feelings — stress, exhaustion — whatever they may be. Let them be a warning sign that says, “Woah! I need to slow down. Take a deep breath. Reflect.” Then, assess the situation. What’s fueling the fire? Is it work, a certain relationship, finances, a big life change? After recognizing the culprit, come up with a tangible action plan to move forward. Delegate tasks to others. Lean on your support system. Take time to unplug. Come back to your why. And most importantly, know that you’re never alone.
Adapted from the article Check In With The Inner You in our summer ‘21 issue.
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Julia Klein, Neuroscience B.S., EMT-B
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