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Doctors And Thought Control

Here’s my column in the March issue of Emergency Medicine News.

Second Opinion: Be Smarter Than Your Brain

“Everyone is a drug seeker. Why does everyone want to be on disability? I’m so tired of lies. Great, another lousy shift. I wonder who will die tonight? I’m so sick of suffering. I’m so weary of misery and loss. I hope this never happens to my family. I’ll probably get sued. Being sued nearly drove me crazy. This job never gets easier, only harder. I have to find something else to do; I can’t go on this way. I think I’m going crazy. I don’t have any more compassion. People hate me now.”

These are only a few of the wonderful thoughts that float through the minds of emergency physicians these days. Sure, not every physician has them. But I know our specialty, I know our colleagues, I hear from doctors around the country and I see that fear, frustration and anxiety are common themes.

Older physicians fantasize about career changes, and younger ones are often blind-sided by the hard realities of practice outside of their training programs (where their work-hours and staffing do not necessarily reflect the world beyond).

We are crushed by regulations and overwhelmed by holding patients, often put in situations where we are set squarely between the devil and the deep blue sea. “Spend more time with your patients; see them faster. Don’t let the ‘psychiatric hold’ patient escape; why are you using so much staff on psychiatric patients? See chest pain immediately; why didn’t you see the board member’s ankle injury as fast as the chest pain?”

In all of this mess of emergency medicine, we often find ourselves frustrated and bitter. But is it only because of our situations? They are admittedly daunting. But is our unhappiness merely the result of the things imposed on us? Or could it be more complex than that? Lately, I have come to wonder if our thoughts are perhaps worse enemies than even lawsuits, regulations, or satisfaction scores. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at edwinleap.com*

Meditation: How It May Change The Brain

Meditation sounds like a great idea from the perspective of a psychiatrist: Anything that calms and focuses the mind is a good thing (and without pharmaceuticals, even better).

Personally, I tried transcendental meditation as a kid (more to do with my mother than with me) and found it to be boring. I have trouble keeping my thoughts still. They wander to what I want for dinner, and should I write about this on Shrink Rap, and will Clink and Victor ever eat crabcakes with me again, and did I remember to give my last patient informed consent, and a zillion other things. Holding my thoughts still is work.

The New York Times Well blog has an article on meditation and brain changes. In “How Meditation May Change the Brain,” Sindya N. Bhanoo writes:

The researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The findings will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.

Lower stress, lower blood pressure, higher empathy. I may have to give meditation another try.

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

Dr. Val Tells ABC News How To Stave Off Memory Loss

Did you know that physical activity can reduce your risk for memory loss and dementia? I had the chance to speak to ABC’s Let’s Talk Live team about important lifestyle choices that can keep the mind healthy and active. The good news is that you really can teach an old dog new tricks, and those new tricks can stimulate growth of new brain cells. Watch the video and check out the Alzheimer’s Association website for more information about dementia prevention:

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