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Archive October 2020 XXI, No. 10

Editor's Page

Stress-free in Five Minutes or Less

Daniel Cook

Daniel Cook, Editor-in-Chief

BIO

You need to check out Netflix’s Lenox Hill, a docuseries named after the Manhattan hospital where it takes place. It’s a brutally honest, gut-wrenching, joyous look at what truly goes on within the walls of the hospital. The series trails an ER doc, an OB/GYN resident and two members of the hospital’s neurosurgery team, including John Boockvar, MD, who graces this month’s cover.

In the opening episode of the series, Dr. Boockvar guides his team through mindfulness exercises during a pre-op time out. It is a fascinating exercise. I wanted to learn more about it and reached out to the hospital to schedule an interview with Dr. Boockvar.

We spoke at length about his belief in the power of mindfulness and focused breathing. He told me about the 4-7-8 breath — inhale through the nose for seven seconds, hold the breath in for seven second and exhale through the mouth for eight seconds — and said performing it a few minutes each day is a scientifically proven way to reduce stress and anxiety.

Dr. Boockvar talks about grit’s role in reaching flow state, a time of complete awareness and focus. It’s accessible if you dedicate time and put in the work needed to pursue it. Time. Work.

These days it feels like we have too little of one and too much of the other. Perhaps it’s difficult to overcome the stress that robs us of our here and now because we don’t think we have enough left in the tank to make meaningful changes in our lives.

Dr. Boockvar’s message is inspiring and breathing deeply for a couple minutes each day seems like a reasonable goal. Will this be the time I finally start following through on efforts to live a more present life?

I’m not sure, honestly. My best of intentions too often get interrupted by the demands of the very life I’m trying to embrace. Perhaps that’s the wrong way to look at it.

For this month’s cover story, I also spoke with Aly McLean, a nurse anesthetist who relies on meditation and yoga to remain centered and focused during high-stress days at Boston Children’s Hospital. She shared a quote by author Byron Katie: “The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with reality.”

Take a moment to breathe and look around at your situation, Aly told me. “There you are,” she said. “You can’t change the past and the future hasn’t happened, but you can choose to be present in the moment. That’s completely within your control.”

Aly is empathetic to the unique struggles individuals face, but can’t understand why people who’s lives are negatively impacted by debilitating stress and anxiety don’t set aside a few minutes each day to live a more fulfilling life. The tools you need are easily accessible and the smallest effort to be mindful creates a ripple effect that impacts everyone around you.

Aly talked about ways to deal with the struggles we’re all facing during this time of incredible stress and unprecedented uncertainty. She rises early each morning before her family to meditate in quiet of the early morning. It starts her day down a positive path.

“Prioritize your mental health,” said Aly. “We all deserve to set aside five minutes each day for ourselves.”

She’s right, of course.

I’ll have to check Teams to see when I’m free.

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