“Everything in moderation” is one of those phrases we all toss around when it comes to nutrition and wellness. For me, it was one of my mother’s broken-record-phrases that she applied to everything from exercise to broccoli to peanut butter (gasp, I know). Long before mind-body wellness and balance were hip themes for marketing fitness products, they were core values that my parents prioritized in our family. As I considered our blog themes for this month-Mental Health Awareness and National Physical Fitness & Sports Month– I began to realize the intricate relationship the two have, especially in my life.
I’ve always been an athlete, from tee ball to high school track & cross country, to college intramurals (with just a few championships along the way). Sports have always been an outlet for my pent up frustration and competitive nature. Transitioning to adulthood meant trying to fill that void in my life-which initially took the form of adult soccer leagues, but has turned into distance running. It started with 10k races when I was working as a research technician, but while I’ve been in medical school, I’ve channeled my studying stress into running 2 half marathons in 2016 and 2018 and one full marathon in 2017. Especially during USMLE STEP 1 studying, my morning 4 mile runs gave structure to the start of my days.
As I’ve transitioned to clinical rotations this year, keeping my previous schedule-waking up after 7, running, and having time to eat breakfast and start studying at my own pace-is simply not possible. But I find that this year, more than ever, demands that I keep myself as sharp- mentally, physically, and emotionally-as I possibly can. For me, working out for 30+ minutes is a way to clear my head and process stress, whether before or after work. It helps me to feel my best, and have my clearest mind ready for patients and the rest of the care team.
Recently, however, I’ve started to notice that perhaps the thing which I hold in such high regard as my psychological savior & emotional washcloth may have taken on some damaging characteristics. In completing training for my last race, every run-but especially those in the last few weeks- felt like an absolute chore. My left knee constantly hurt, and the scale tipped from my daily run being something I wanted or needed to do to something I had to do. The day I called both my boyfriend and my parents crying (not unusual) about a stressful day but included my run as a stressor (very unusual) was a stark warning that my relationship with running and myself probably needed some tending to. Luckily, I came to this realization at the end of a challenging clerkship and was able to take a week to partake in my recharge ritual: The Pizza and Couch/Couch Potato Cleanse. While the week didn’t allow for a full restoration, it gave me enough insight to realize that I need to make changes to support my relationship with physical fitness to maintain balance in my mental health and overall wellness.
So, where do I go from here? I’m not totally sure just yet. For now, I’m working on doing a better job of listening to my body and my mind-when I need to take a nap and order tacos, that’s a better option than slogging through a run I’ll hate. That said, I know that sometimes the best way to pull myself out of a slump is to go get some endorphins flowing. The focus for me, though, has to be on balancing the two-because a heart rate in the 40’s does nothing if the brain it’s pumping blood to is too frazzled to enjoy a restful afternoon on the patio.
Natalie Tully is a 3rd year MD/MPH student at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, TX. She is an avid runner, homebrewer, and #SurgBBQ fan. She will apply to General Surgery Residency this Fall in hopes of pursuing a career in Pediatric or Trauma Surgery.
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