How Life in the ER Led Me to Develop “Hacks” for Life  

Moms: how many times have you heard, “you won’t be doing that when the baby comes”? Or worse: “say goodbye to sleep when the little one gets here!” Conversation after conversation left me with a daunting thought: Did we really have to accept poor health (and at times our sanity) as the cost of motherhood?

I wasn’t cool with that.

You see, I’d heard it before – when I was in my intern year, I awoke one day with swollen joints – my hands, feet, pain in my back… I went from running daily to being unable to stand when I evaluated patients – I’d pull up a garbage can to sit on, since we never had enough chairs. I was eventually diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and started on injections twice a week.

But, as an ER doctor, I’d always felt this sense that – whatever came through those double doors, that I could handle it –  that “I’ve GOT this”. So, I asked myself– why did I not feel that way in my own health?

So, I started to research and with significant lifestyle changes, I was able to wean off my arthritis medications eight years ago. (Note: I’m not anti-medicine—I have huge faith in it. I prescribe it ForPete’sSake. But, in my individual case—as for many—other factors also play a large role.) Most days, (as long as I keep within this regimen) I can forget I have this diagnosis.

So, when I heard similar messages during my pregnancy, I wondered – could I take those lessons I’d learned from coping with my arthritis, plus the mentality and skills that let me feel that “I’ve GOT This” in the ER, to create a way for myself – and every single mom and woman – to feel more “I’ve GOT this” in her every day?

I could.

You see, working in the ER had taught me about cognitive overload, about our body’s equilibrium (and what happens when they go into disarray), and the profound impact of even the smallest lifestyle choices. We learned the value of protocols (ABCD anyone?) and process improvement. I also learned the beauty of small, incremental change: if a patient comes in with a blood pressure of 225/150, first I yawn (call me when SBP is > 250, right?), but secondly, I don’t knee-jerk reaction to fix it to “normal” – I slowly start to lower it, knowing that the slow, incremental trend is far better than a severe drop. Because in the ER, I’ve learned that just incremental beginnings can trigger radical change.

And that’s exactly what works in our own daily lives, as well.  Want a few examples?

  • Get bright light the moment you wake up. For most of us (especially anyone working shift-work at erratic hours), our Circadian Rhythm is off.  Fortunately, the same bright that can throw it off, can also be used to reset it. So, whether it’s sunlight outside or bright lights indoors, let bright light hit your eyes as soon as you wake up to reset your body clock daily.  Look outside (if it’s light), use an alarm clock that lights up, or even just the bright lights in your bathroom or your smartphone – but do it as soon as you awaken, so sync your “wakeup time” on the clock to your body clock. That immediately signals the brain to shut down melatonin production (which makes you feel less like a zombie immediately), but by resetting your body clock, it also means you have an easier time falling asleep that night – and waking up the next morning.
  • “Temptation Bundle” to look forward to exercise. Even though as physicians, we recognize the value of exercise, it can still be hard to actually DO it – especially when you’re tired, or after (or before!) a long shift. So, in this case, it’s time to bring in the big guns and appeal to our basic human tendencies – or leverage our “guilty pleasures” for something good!  In a Wharton study, participants who were ONLY allowed to listen to an addictive audio book when they exercised put in 51% more gym time than those who could listen whenever they wanted. Find your own “temptation” and only allow yourself to watch/read/ listen when you’re exercising, and you’ll start looking forward to your workouts!
  • Rearrange your pantry. This is a hack that I’ve done in my own house, but – just as importantly – is one that I share with my patients who struggle with diet. It’s one thing to “know” what you shouldn’t eat (and come on, we all “know” we shouldn’t eat the entire bag of M&Ms before bed. It’s not rocket science – but what’s even more powerful is the “how” to make it happen, and how to make healthy decisions easier. We like to think that we are intentional, thoughtful beings. Not true. One study showed that if people wanted to eat less, all they had to do was put a single obstacle between them and the food, and they ate 70% less, without using any willpower at all. Have a tempting candy or treat? Put it on a shelf that requires you to use the stool (even if the stool is just a step away). You won’t believe this is as easy as that – and yes, you’ll pull the stool over sometimes and get the treat – but if it even reduces your intake by 20% without willpower, that’s a win – and an effortless step in the right direction.

Good health CAN be easier. You CAN feel better – as a woman and as a mom. You just need to start, and start small today, with one SINGLE hack.

Don’t give up on yourself, because I will not give up on you.

Godspeed, my friend.

Dr. Darria

Want more? Check out my newly released book, Mom Hacks! Mom Hacks takes the best scientific evidence to help all of us find our “I’ve GOT this”. Finally, you can take control of your health (and that of your family) once and for all – one hack at a time. It’s not just possible, it’s easy. You’ve GOT this.

Watch the full FIX18 talk below!