It happens every year, right after Halloween. The dreaded “End of Year Crunch.” You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Suddenly, patients are coming out of the woodwork. There’s an increased sense of urgency. All those chronic issues are suddenly brought front and center, as patients try to squeeze in appointments and schedule surgeries before December ends. You know you’re in trouble when your appointment secretary shakes her head and says, “Do you want to open up any more clinic hours?”
Whether it’s because our patients have paid their annual deductible (trust me, I can relate!) or because they want to be as healthy as possible to spend time with loved ones over the holidays, the schedule starts getting packed right about now… and tends to stay that way until the New Year.
And, let’s face it: the added stressors of planning for the holidays or covering for our practice over a vacation puts us in overdrive, too. Add to that the dreary winter weather and the extra traffic jams — no wonder we all feel more tightly wound.
What’s a doctor to do? Well, here’s what you might not want to do, especially tomorrow morning: reach for your phone. An estimated 80% of folks reach for their phone first thing every morning. Many of them check their phones before even getting out of bed! Research shows that tuning in to your phone on arising can be detrimental. It can increase your FOMO (fear of missing out). Plus, it makes everyone else’s agenda suddenly become your agenda.
A few years ago, I started a new normal for mornings. Instead of hopping on my phone to check other people’s input, I decided to send out a note of gratitude each morning. Sometimes it was via text. Sometimes an email. Rarely, a snail mail. Each note was only two or three sentences long. I sent a thank you to my technician in the office, after a particularly trying week. I sent an email to one of my business colleagues, thanking him for his work on a grueling project. And guess what? I got responses immediately. In fact, my business partner wrote, “I really value our friendship.” Huh? Some people asked me if I had a terminal illness because they’d heard I was sending thank you notes to everyone. That’s kind of a sad state of the world when we think someone’s dying because they change their behavior for the better.
Not only did the recipients feel better, but so did I. Studies show that expressing gratitude can improve our health and reduce stress.
Gratitude has become such a big part of my world that I actually had our operating room staff start a gratitude practice. Several years ago, our hospital was cloaked in a bad cloud of low morale. It was ugly. Although my staff gave me push back at first, over time, the practice of naming three things each person in the room was grateful for became a welcome respite from the negativity. We found ourselves looking forward to the start of the day, to share our joys, big and little.
As the end of the year wackiness rears its ugly head, I try to keep that tiny flame of gratitude lit. Some days it’s easier than others. When your favorite patient brings you delicious homemade brownies or you get a sincere thank you card from a patient, it can help make your whole week a little more tolerable.
You can encourage your office or operating room staff to join in the gratitude chain by having a gratitude jar at the checkout desk. You’d be surprised at what our patients are going through in the background of their everyday lives. We hear stories of a granddaughter’s leukemia in remission; a laid-off husband with a new job; a donated car that allowed a family to survive after the unexpected death of the breadwinner.
So tomorrow morning, when you reach for your phone, I invite you to reduce your stress, improve your well-being, and make someone else feel special. It only takes two sentences. My guess is, you know at least 100 people. And those people know 100 people. This is the way we make the “End of Year Crunch” bearable. Who’s in?
Starla Fitch is an ophthalmologist, speaker, and personal coach. She blogs at Love Medicine Again and is the author of Remedy for Burnout: 7 Prescriptions Doctors Use to Find Meaning in Medicine. She can also be reached on Twitter @StarlaFitchMD.