Home Health and Wellness Three Steps that Changed My Life

Three Steps that Changed My Life

Dr. Meenal Agarwal in gray sweater in office
Dr. Agarwal

By Meenal Agarwal, OD

Being a woman in any industry is not easy, and optometry is no different. Add to that—regardless of what society portrays—women typically end up fulfilling traditional gender roles at home. After owning three practices, having three children and juggling stress, my life could not get more hectic. But with my Type A, “take it all on” personality, I was convinced I had superpowers. I was handling everything well in the eyes of family, colleagues and friends. Slowly, extreme stress, fatigue, lack of energy and insomnia were creeping up on me.

Unexpectedly, one day at work, I felt extreme chest pain and started hyperventilating. I clenched my chest, convinced I was having a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. After tests, the doctors told me I had my first anxiety attack. I just couldn’t understand. My patients have anxiety; I could not. I have been handling everything all along. I was so scared that I was willing to call it a heart attack over an anxiety attack.

PRIORITIZING MENTAL HEALTH

I had no idea that just as I had to care for my physical health, I had to take care of my mental health. I felt it was a stigma, so I didn’t seek professional help, which in hindsight I should have. Mental health is invisible to others.

Recently I was on an airplane and sat next to a pleasant lady who looked polished and seemed like she had her life under control. Meanwhile, having been eight years since I traveled alone, I was biting my nails as my nerves and anxiety increased. I was embarrassed to show it and 30 minutes into the flight she started biting her nails. I knew at that moment she was nervous too. She opens her window cover and looks at me and says “I hope you don’t mind that it’s bright, I’m feeling anxious.” What a sense of relief.

SHARING THE STRESS

The rest of the flight we talked and talked about our lives, motherhood, stress triggers and coping mechanisms. She then showed me a text she sent her husband before taking off. He asked, “Are you okay? How’s your neighbor?” She texted back, “Yes I’m next to a really nice girl THANK GOD.” We connected after our travels and I’m thankful she opened her window cover.

Here are three steps that my airplane friend and I agree changed our lives.

SEPARATE FROM TOXIC PEOPLE

Recognize those around you who make you feel inferior or where the thought of interacting with them makes you quiver. They make you question everything about yourself, even your success. They demotivate you. Start removing them by decreasing contact. Unfortunately, sometimes our family members are our toxic contacts. They may have ill intentions towards us, make negative comments or just want to make our lives difficult. We can’t remove them but we can limit our time spent with them.

A friend once described family as selecting classmates whom you want to spend time with in school. “They all are still part of your class but not all your choice.” Gravitating toward family members with whom you have negative interactions will make it difficult to respect yourself and it can affect healthy relationships.

Do you have CAVE employees? These are the ones who are Constantly Against Virtually Everything. Every day, they are disengaged, no matter what you do. They decrease our team’s motivation and tear down what engaged co-workers are building. With employees entrenched in the CAVE mindset, it is best to help them move on. Your team will appreciate it, too.

podcast cover art showing Dr. Meenal Agrawal with occluder over her eyes; podcast focuses on mental health and physical health
Dr. Agarwal has launched a podcast to talk about physical and mental health and well-being for health care providers.

SET BOUNDARIES

If your friends, family and colleagues are used to you saying yes and taking on everything, slowly start saying “I can’t.” It’s not rude, and you shouldn’t feel guilty. You are a human being who can only do a set number of things. I’m not saying build a wall around you, but rather think of it as a window between yourself and others. You can open it and close it at your will. You owe this to yourself for your sanity and well-being.

The key to these two steps is that they can be subtle. Done discreetly, these steps do not create animosity.

 PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION

Love yourself. It sounds easy, but it’s often the hardest step.  Make room for yourself, and accept yourself, flaws and all. Wake up each morning and tell yourself three things you love about yourself. End each night with three things you did that made you feel good. There may be things you have had to compromise on, but recognize that you’re running your own race so the only person you have to compare yourself to is YOU!

I try to practice these three steps daily to avoid anxiety triggers. Many of us live in a bubble where we want the world to think we are okay. That’s normal. We are afraid of what others will think. It’s time we start opening up to each other and prioritizing us! Whether it’s opening your own practice, spending more time with family, teaching, learning something new or doing lots of self-care, you got this. Remove the people who say no, set those boundaries and love yourself!

Dr. Agarwal is an entrepreneur, speaker, mom of three and has recently launched a podcast, “Uncover Your Eyes.” The focus will be the physical and mental health, well-being and professional development of health care professionals. Contact her on Instagram @dr.meenalagarwal.

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Photo credits: Dr. Agarwal

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