Your Hobby is the Ultimate Stress Relief to Avoid Burnout

(I have used music as an outlet for my stress since I was a kid. My friend, Dr. Kevin Teagle, does as well. Since his guitar playing is on a much higher level than mine, when I’m playing a gig and want to sound better, asking Kevin to join in does the trick. The picture is a band I put together for a single show, a senior sock hop at the YMCA. I am in the blue jacket and Kevin is in the black jacket. I asked if he would be kind enough to write his thoughts on how playing music keeps him sane during the hustle of everyday life. Here is what he had to say. PS there is a special treat at the end of the article if you want to see us perform.)

My days are filled with multiple decisions that affect people’s lives. Some of those decisions are more serious than others, but it would seem they all have a price I must pay, and that price is stress.

The outcome of those decisions can be a glorious and celebratory thing for my patients or it can be devastating to learn difficult news. But no matter how stoic or separated I become from my tasks I am still affected. That, of course, is just the interaction with the patients, then there’s the task of charting, managing staff, and the game of insurance with all of its idiosyncrasies and requirements.

Every health care provider, no matter the specialty, soon realizes there is no coasting, no free lunch, no easy days, just a constant push with multiple surprises and very little downtime. If you have been wise enough to carve out time for exercise you will be the better for it, but exercise alone will not relieve all the stress. You can only run so far and push so hard before you endanger your own body in an attempt to balance the charges brought against your psyche as you try to help others regain their health.

Most, if not all healthcare providers, have some degree of nerdiness or hunger and thirst for knowledge. We are in constant use of our brains and minds trying to solve or resolve the issue at hand. We are not mindless couch potatoes, though at times it does feel good to sit and drool in a corner. We are creative people and we enjoy using our minds. I believe we need to have things that we can do without the pressure of our daily job. Things that use our minds eye with creativity involving activities that touch our soul or tickle our spirit. An activity that brings pure pleasure and where time doesn’t really matter.

For me that activity is music. I play multiple instruments but guitar mainly. As I began my profession, I put that guitar in the case and didn’t open it for a number of years. Those were tough years. I struggled with multiple areas in my life as the stress increased. And so did my need for things that were unhealthy to try to de-stress if you will.

I then happened on to an article written by a friend of mine, Joni Tolon, who is a psychologist, and within her short little piece she talked about the 15 minute workout, or the 15 minute cleaning session, or the 15 minute whatever you wanted it to be. She suggested that you leave your tools all set up so that you can do the activity immediately and set a timer to keep it at 15 min. Daily if you can.

She was task oriented in her piece but I saw it as a way to get back to a love and passion that I previously thought I had to give up. That’s when I bought a few more guitar stands and put some hardware on the wall to hang my guitars. I wanted to be able to walk in at a moment’s notice and play, even if only for five minutes, and to dive into something that melted away the stress, touched my soul and hopefully made me a happier person.

It has been just a few years since I started to play every day and though I have had some of the most difficult and challenging stressors in my professional life in these past few years, I can tell you I am more balanced, I sleep deeper and laugh just a little more. I still enjoy a couple hours every now and then in the music studio, but even if only for five minutes there’s a special sweetness that stays with me all day.

Sometimes when I get up in the morning I might grab my guitar for a few chords. Those days I notice that I’m a little quieter in my soul. Little things that once irritated me and affected my day, are now little again. I still have rough days, but they don’t last and I have a greater ability to put things in the proper perspective. I look forward to my five minutes if that’s all I get, and considerate it a sweetness like the curly cue on the top of a Dairy Queen Cone.

Since I started to play daily, I find that when I miss a day or two, things begin to feel off and I realize there’s a part of my soul that is starving. Outside of my own personal perspective I have also been told that I am much more relaxed lately, not as easily rattled, and able to handle surprises that once changed the character of the office.

I highly recommend a hobby to bring balance and perspective to that part of you that needs to play. It’s like gravy, affecting everything it touches, and softening your inner psyche/soul.  

Something you can get to quickly where time doesn’t matter, losing yourself in the enjoyment of it. I mostly love to play music, but I have been known to buy a simple model car and put it together while listening to the music of Rush playing in the background.

I suggested this idea of a hobby as stress relief to a colleague of mine and he liked the idea. He is a guitarist and suggested that we hang classical guitars in our tiny little office on the wall. While we rarely get to play them at the same time, due to odd schedules, it has been a very positive decision. Sometimes I hear a little plinking as I go into a treatment room, and it makes me smile inside a bit.

It is very easy to become regimented into your practice as the requirements are huge and you’re never truly done. But this cannot define us or hold us captive. Please give the beautiful gift of a hobby to yourself as it will also bless others around you. Music is one method I use to destress, but it is not the only way. Go find what makes your soul tickle. You don’t have to be any good at it just as long as it gives you joy.

If all you do is work then I applaud you, but you may be missing one of the most powerful parts of healing. How can we lead our patients to playful healing if we don’t know how to play ourselves?

(To see a sample of Kevin at play with his guitars, click here. To see my video on hobbies click here. To hear me singing Roger Miller’s King of the Road on Route 66 click here. Then go have some fun yourself.)

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