Sometimes, it’s important to de-stress while on the job.
After operating at 11 pm on a Saturday, I was thinking about the ways I try to de-stress when I am “on-call”, or taking care of orthopaedic emergencies during non-business hours. In our field, as in many others, it helps to walk into the operating room as the “Captain of the Ship”, being a leader and exuding confidence. In order to do so, it is important to come up with little pockets of time to relax your body and mind.
Two scientifically backed ways to de-stress are deep breathing and visualizing. While there are certainly a lot of other proven ways to de-stress, only certain exercises can be performed at work. Unfortunately, I cannot up and go for a long walk outside, turn my phone off, nor buy myself a plant in the midst of preparing for a surgery.
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I take the time while I am scrubbing for my operation to do some breathing exercises and visualize the procedure that I am about to perform. The surgical hand scrub is one of the most important procedures in infection prevention as it uses a sponge and an antiseptic agent to sanitize from the tips of our fingers to our elbow. It was a technique discovered in 1846 by a Hungarian physician, Ignaz Semmelweis, who saw better success rates with surgery by decreasing infections.
Scrubbing is a repetitive movement lasting 5 minutes and allows my mind to focus on the surgery that I am about to perform. When scrubbing, you are usually by yourself looking into the operating room and you can visualize the equipment that you will be using and reflect on the anatomy of the injury. As surgeons we all prepare for cases days in advance so this is one last opportunity to focus on the up-coming task at hand.
Breathing exercises help you to relax by giving your body and extra boost of oxygen, which in turn reduces tension. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (one of the command centers of our body) to calm us down and reduce our blood pressure.
Visualization is a way to center yourself, also allowing your body to enter a relaxation response. Visualize yourself accomplishing your goal, for me it is putting bones or ligaments back to the way they were prior to a patient’s accident and knowing which plate, screw, or anchor would work best. (Yes, orthopaedic surgery sometimes sounds like a Home Depot).
Figure out the point in your day where you can take a minute to breathe deeply and visualize excelling in your goals for the day. The same can apply to work, sports, and parenthood.
When I played lacrosse at Duke, after we would get ready in the locker room and before we would go on to the field, our team would have a visualization exercises where the room would be silent (a daunting task for collegiate lacrosse players) and we would picture ourselves scoring a goal, winning a draw, intercepting a pass.
If all else fails, calm your self by using a Naam Yoga Hand Trick. Press on the space between the joints at the bottom of the pointer and middle fingers. By doing so, it loosens a nerve that controls the area around your heart, diminishing anxiety.
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