Social Connectedness

Today I want to reach out to each of you as a friend and a fellow human being.

Did you go through life thinking that you have to take everything on yourself? Do you feel like showing weakness (AKA the fact that we’re all human) is not to be tolerated? You’re not alone. I (unfortunately) still have that mentality. I’ve been struggling with it for years. If I show up to a disaster of an ED, I hear, “here comes the cavalry!” I’m glad that people can count on me, but  sometimes that’s a lot of pressure. “What if I make a mistake?” “What if I can’t juggle 22 patients all at once?” “What if I end up hurting someone because I’m going too fast?” I’ve been bottling that feeling up for a long time.

In medical residency we would frequently get together for social hour. We were able to talk about all of this stuff in a fun, usually somewhat intoxicated state. It felt like we were “all in this together” (High School Musical). Now that we’re “adults” we have our own families and social circles and all live pretty far from each other. Social hour doesn’t often happen, to the detriment of our merriment. At minimum we can try to share our stories with each other.

Have you ever heard of the Blue Zones? A researcher named Dan Buettner decided to do research on the world’s centenarians (people 100 years old or older) to see if he could figure out their secrets. He had a big map laid out and for every centenarian he would mark the location on the map with a blue ink pen. After we was done he noticed that there were certain places in the world that had big globs of ink, and he called those places Blue Zones. Those places include Okinawa Japan, Ikaria Greece, Sardinia Italy, Loma Linda California, and Nicoya Costa Rica. He then went to those places to interview the 100+-year-olds. He discovered that these people had several things in common. They ate “close to the ground” (unprocessed, whole local foods), stayed physically active (many walking several miles a day into their 100’s), and had a robust social network. They had close family and friends who they got to see on a regular (some daily) basis. Being with others and interacting is imperative for a long, happy life.

There are studies on everything, so of course there are studies on this as well.  So what should we get out of this research? The “Lone Ranger” approach to medicine (and life!) is not sustainable. We need our families, our friends, and we need each other.  You’d be surprised to know that you are not alone!

Look out for one another. If one of your colleagues looks a bit “down,” ask her what’s wrong. If you’re the one who’s not having a great day, try (even just once) to not say “nothing…” but rather actually try opening up. You might be surprised at how much better you’ll feel.