Oh, it hurts when I do this.
Greetings from Washington, D.C., where we, the people of your Nation’s Capital, are sunk into a seemingly intractable state of seasonal depression and chronic illness. It’s late February, a time that my daughter often describes as “winter, without the beauty.” It is a time when joy morphs into despair, a time when our immune systems overload with stress hormones, and, a time when urgent care centers and emergency rooms fill to the brim with more sick people than they were designed to handle.
Late into the zero-dark hours of this past Friday morning, I stayed alongside one of my family members at a hospital ER. I won’t get into what happened to my loved one other than to say that she is recovering from a sudden onset illness that required an ER visit. But I will describe the general scene at the hospital: at least 200 people presenting with flu-like systems and others within my earshot complaining of generalized chest pains and abdominal issues. This level one trauma center still had to provide adequate capacity for people hurt in traffic accidents and, worse, by gunshot wounds; this is a hospital that, during our hours long stay, accepted via airlift more than a dozen level one trauma cases.
I suppose that some of the patients that I saw in the ER hadn’t gotten their seasonal flu shots; they may have claimed being too busy to get them and were, as a result, in real distress. But, what blew me away was how many of the people I saw were as pale-blue in complexion as their gurney sheets, visibly shaken, and in serious trouble.
Something happens to our population immediately after the Super Bowl ends and the tulips planted around the United States Capitol bloom. In brief, many of us implode: we lose interest in the things that provide our days joy, our sleep patterns wobble, we don’t eat nutritious food, we don’t exercise, and, we get physically and mentally sick.
In the ER room next to my loved one’s ER room, I heard the patient yell out: “It hurts when I do this!” That immediately reminded me of the set up of a famous one-liner by long gone comedian, Henny Youngman:
Patient: “Doc, It hurts when I do this!”
Doctor: “So, don’t do this!”
The “don’t do this” that so many of us do, between early February and the start of tulip season, is to fall apart. And one key thing that we must strive for, to serve best our desires of doing meaningful work, is keeping ourselves mentally and physically fit.
My friends in the medical profession, such as The Tightrope with Dan Smolen Podcast guest and nationally recognized wellness expert Charles Glassman, MD, advise the afflicted to do some basic things to feel better and to stay well during the winter-without-the-beauty days and weeks, specifically:
- Get out of the indoors and feel sunshine on your face. Sunshine is an essential part of fighting seasonal depression;
- Open the windows of your home, and especially the ones in your bedroom, to draw in fresh air;
- Regulate your sleep. Make sure to get to bed at the same reasonable time each evening — even on weekends — to ensure that you attain 7–8 hours of restful sleep;
- Commit yourself to getting rigorous exercise even if that means choosing stairwells instead of elevators to get around. And if you wear a smart watch, keep an eye on your daily steps, to achieve or surpass at least 10,000 steps a day, and most of all;
- Eat regular and nutrition-balanced meals that avoid overly processed foods.
Doing these things regularly won’t immediately get you to meaningful work, but they will create within you a better rested and nourished state of being to bridge the gloominess of late winter to when the weather warms, the birds sing, and the flowers bloom. Taking good care of yourself will help you attain, and continue to do, meaningful work.
To the thousands who are currently sick, please get well soon.
Our best days lie ahead.
DAN SMOLEN is executive producer and host of the podcast, The Tightrope with Dan Smolen. Listen and subscribe to us by keywording “The Tightrope with Dan Smolen” on Apple Podcasts. Also, please rate us and offer suggestions for future guests and topics.
Photo credit: Emergency Room Doctors, iStock Photo.