More Than Surface Pressure

balance lifestyle Feb 09, 2022
Physician stress.  Doctors experiencing systemic pressures.



“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
―William James



If your house is anything like mine, you’ve probably seen the hit Disney film Encanto more than a few times.  And while everyone else is talking about not talking about Bruno, it is another song that has captured the attention of many physicians.  For those who may not be familiar with Encanto, Mirabel, the protagonist of the story, sets out to restore her family’s magical abilities by uncovering the family’s long-held secrets.  It is her older sister, Luisa, however, who has caused the physician community to sit up and take notice.   



Luisa is a strong woman.  Not only can she lift heavy things, but she also bears the burdens of her family, the town, and all of life’s stressors.  In her song “Surface Pressure” (video below), she details her dedication to rise to every occasion and serve the needs of those around her.  Immediately before the song starts, Luisa protests that she is “totally fine.” But as the song progresses, she begins to reveal the toll that the stress is taking on her.  It is clear that she ties her self-worth to her ability to serve others.  In one particularly poignant line, she asks: “Who am I if I can’t carry it all?”



It is not lost on the audience that while Luisa is increasingly buried under the pressures of her everyday life, the people requesting her help don’t seem to recognize that she is struggling.  Physicians, no doubt, can resonate with Luisa’s quest to carry the burden of others while sacrificing their own well-being.  



At first glance, you might assume the fault lies with Luisa’s friends and family for making all the demands.  But when Mirabel asks if she is OK, Luisa responds: “Why would anything be wrong?  I’m totally fine.” Anyone who has uttered those words knows that they are a complete farce.  Some have even turned the word “fine” into an acronym: 

  • Freaked out (PG version), Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional or

  • Feelings Inside Not Expressed



Learning to process emotions has been some of the most valuable, rewarding, and challenging work I have done in my own physician coaching.  As a man, I prided myself on feeling as little as possible.  The truth is that feelings do not afflict human beings based on gender lines.  We all have them.  And when you try to ignore or avoid those feelings, it requires a lot of effort.  This has been likened to keeping a beach ball underwater.  You can do it, but it takes a lot of work.  The moment you stop trying, the beach ball comes racing toward the surface and explodes into the air.  If you have ever blown up for “no reason,” it might be because you depleted the energy needed to suppress that beach ball. 



Rather than thinking that you are fine, try allowing the frustration, sadness, or anger to be there.  Allow yourself to feel bad when you want to feel bad.  Recognize it, feel it in your body, and maybe even talk about it.  You will be shocked at how quickly those bad feelings are alleviated, allowing you to move on with your life.  



The other fascinating similarity between Luisa and most physicians is how she ties her self-worth to her ability to serve.  When she asked, “Who am I if I can’t carry it all?” my first response was: “I know, right?” But, if I am being honest with myself, I know I am strongest when asking for help.  Before physician coaching, I firmly believed I needed to do it myself if I wanted something done right.  While I would love to tell you that I have experienced a 180-degree shift in my thinking, I still prefer to do a lot on my own.  I’m still working on overcoming my perfectionistic tendencies.  That being said, I have learned that there are many things that I don’t need to do.  And when I think there is too much on my plate, I have learned to either ask for help or say no to things that don’t light me up.  



It is time to start believing that your worth is not directly linked to your work.  Physicians have been trained to think that if we are not producing and giving back, we are not living up to our degrees, training, or full potential.  You are just as worthy when you are at home relaxing with your family as you are at work.  Working hard does not give you value.  Serving others is a gift, but it doesn’t make you more worthy.  You are intrinsically full of value and 100% worthy.   



As Luisa makes her way through her powerful song, her words are like salt in the physician’s wound as she longs for relief from the weight of all the expectations.  She dreams of a future wherein the pressures are alleviated so that she might experience happiness, relaxation, and the ability to enjoy her life.  So many physicians are searching for a job that will release them from their perceived expectations and permit them to live freely.  The problem is that many of the expectations we suffer under are our own. 



Physicians are not strangers to setting high standards for themselves and others.  Of course, we do!  Our jobs are incredibly important, and human lives are at stake.  Unfortunately, we frequently fail to see that many of our expectations have nothing to do with life-or-death situations.  You can create joy, relaxation, and happiness in your life by looking at your priorities and the activities demanding your time, then deciding whether you want to change.  One of the most empowering messages from physician coaching is the constant reminder that you are in control.  You always get to decide whether or not the expectations are worth it.  



The good news is that Luisa finds some relief.  At the end of Encanto, Casita pushes Luisa to relax in a hammock with an umbrella drink.  Before coaching, I relied on my wife to ensure I was making time for my family and myself, just like Luisa relied on Casita.  Physician coaching has taught me this is a gift, but the ultimate responsibility for tackling my feelings, worthiness, and expectations falls on me.  So now I do the work.  I process my feelings, am learning to separate busyness from worthiness, and am working to unravel all the expectations I place on myself and others.  As I have said before, I am still a work in progress and will probably always be.  But every day, the surface pressure gets a little less, and I get a little closer to living the life I truly want.




Are you living the life that you truly want?  Are you allowing “fine” to hijack your life?  Do you struggle with expectations? 



Are you interested in creating more balance in your life?  I want to invite you to check out my FREE TRAINING.  Click here to get: How Busy Physicians Can Stop Trying To Escape Medicine And Start Living Their Best Life Today.

This training will teach you the five essential techniques physicians need to stop feeling stuck, burned out, and trapped in medicine.  You will also learn how to stop racing toward retirement and start using tools that empower you to practice medicine your way.    



PS.  I get a lot of inspiration from music lyrics.  Many people use inspiring quotes (and I do, too), but music really speaks to me.  I hope you find inspiration in the songs too.


Jessica Darrow – Surface Pressure (From Encanto)




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