Be Instead of Do. You have to take some time off. Not going on vacation with family or a retreat. Just time you’re doing nothing. Time to empty out your space, your brain. If you don’t empty out… you won’t be able to bring in new ideas. This is the number one piece people fail to do. What you have to do is stop doing.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do to Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Veronica Anderson. Dr. Veronica Anderson is the author of the book, Too Smart to Be Struggling: The Guide for Over-Scheduled Doctors to Find Happiness, that examines the root causes of physician burnout/suicide and creates tangible solutions for overcoming this epidemic that affects so many people — no matter the profession. She is an expert in homeopathic solutions for everyday ailments and is a physician and medical intuitive with a background in psychology and a functional & integrative medicine specialization.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
The big piece of it is, I decided when I was young that I wanted to be a doctor. But, of course, when you enter this career, you end up being crazy busy with a lot of responsibility. I ended up opening my own practice — started from patient zero, built it up to double digit thousands — but I was working like crazy with a family. I ended up to a point where I had burnout, passion fatigue, PTSD, and major clinical depression by the time I decided to leave 10 years ago. I crashed and burned. When you’re a doctor, you’re the one giving everyone else help. No one ever offers you any help. Period. That’s how doctors are crashing and burning and you don’t even realize that is happening to you until you feel so miserable you don’t know what to do.
Realizing my gift and acknowledging it are two different things. I realized it about fifteen years ago. But admitting it and talking about it outloud — it’s been about 6 to 7 years. I had even acknowledged this gift that a lot of other people have, but not many people that are doctors will admit to.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Now I am a psychic and a physician. How I came to it, was I crashed and burned, and then I went on to another career where I was doing international trading business. I realized I knew what was wrong with people without ever meeting them. I wanted to hide it because I was a doctor and we are taught that if it’s not a published study, we can’t talk about it. My other business coach at the time said, “You have a skill that can really help people so you need to use this skill in addition to your doctorate skills.” I had this ability not from going to medical school and getting medical training.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
As a doctor, you cannot be funny. I have a friend who got written up by her hospital administration for laughing but also got written up for not smiling enough. So you’re in this catch 22. Everything is always so serious and you want to laugh — you get to the point where you lose your sense of humor. I laugh with my clients now, but when you’re in the serious regular situation, laughing is off-limits almost. Well think about how often you hear a doctor laugh. People always say doctor’s don’t have humor. You’re not allowed to react emotionally to anything. You’re supposed to act like nothing is funny, weird or strange. If you want to ask me what’s humorous, it’s that we’re supposed to act like nothing is serious at all. We see some weird crap, and we’re not supposed to laugh at how people do things to themselves… you can’t even make up. That’s funny to me. We see things — especially in the ER — that you cannot even make up because they are so bizarre. And yet, we are not supposed to react at all. It’s not a mistake, it’s like, you’re not supposed to laugh at anything. Everything you see is supposed to seem normal, not bizarre.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people. To pick one person is so challenging. It just is. Because we have to be grateful for everyone who has done something for it. I don’t think I’m the rugged individualist. I’ll say two people. My third grade extra credit reading teacher, Mrs. Allen. I was in a program to do extra work because I was “smart” and she used to cheer me on. I just remember how much I would do the stuff that is way above grade level, and she would just be so happy it kept me going. My next mentor was somebody who was early in their career when I met them — Dr. Ruth Simmons. She was an advisor for me when I was in Princeton. She was the first black woman to become the president of an ivy league university. She was also the president of Brown University for a while. She was the one who told me how to navigate Princeton so I could get into medical school — I ended up getting into eight medical schools.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
1. Admit that you cannot do everything alone and get help. Get rid of the rugged individualist attitude and get help.
2. Invest money and time into determining what truly brings you joy. Most doctors will invest money and time into continuing medical education, but the amount of money and time invested in their own spiritual and growth tends to be negative. That’s what I would recommend for everyone to do. The important part of your life is figuring out what is right for you.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
There are five core areas of life: health, career, finances, relationships, and spirituality/personal growth. Someone who is a strong leader will see to it that there are ways to have all those pieces addressed in the workplace. Realizing the people that are working under them are happy or maximized in those areas is what is going to produce profit for their company. Leaders need to pay attention to all the areas and figure out in their own culture to tend to those areas so it’s not something weird. So you’re not only going into career and money. You’re not just looking at them, you’re innovating in those areas.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.
1- Be Instead of Do
You have to take some time off. Not going on vacation with family or a retreat. Just time you’re doing nothing. Time to empty out your space, your brain. If you don’t empty out… you won’t be able to bring in new ideas. This is the number one piece people fail to do. What you have to do is stop doing.
2-Assess The 5 Areas of Your Life
Where am I now in all the areas? Where would I like to be in a year? Where would I like to be ultimately? What is my ideal in all these areas? When I teach it to people, assess your 5 areas, where you are, and ultimately where you want to be. The big thing I tell people is DREAM! IMAGINE! You have permission to make it as big and bold as you want to. No one is too old. As long as you’re alive, you’re not too old.
3-Celebrate the Successes
When people do assessments, people want to look at what they don’t have. In all the areas of your life, list how you have been successful. You also need to say how grateful you are that you have been able to do that.
4-Get Your Personal Team a Coach in at Least 1 of the 4 areas
Get someone on your team to uplevel on one of those areas. I said get a coach, not hire a psychiatrist or a personal trainer. You need to get somebody that knows how to help you make a mind shift because these people know how you can make that shift and how to make it permanent.
5-Make a Plan to Do What Needs to Bring You Joy and Figure Out What is Next
You only know how to be a jar. But a jar… it’s recycled. You can make it to be something else. You just need a recycler to help you make it into something else. The biggest piece people don’t do, they don’t figure out who’s going to show them how to do something different. People think they are smart and can figure it out by themselves. People are brilliant in other areas but in other areas they have to admit they are a novice and that they need someone to help them.
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
Very similar to question 7, all those steps should be utilized in addition to ensuring that even though you’re retired, you’re keeping busy and enjoying hobbies. The key is to stay busy!
How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?
Stand your ground for what you want in your life. Don’t let your parents tell you what it’s going to be. Don’t let your friends tell you what it’s going to be. If you’re going to be happy, you have to do what’s going to bring you joy. Going to a certain college won’t bring you joy — it will bring you joy only because it’s bringing your parents joy. But that’s temporary. You need to decide what YOU really want for your life and stand your ground for what you want to do and do it. Not everyone is going to be a doctor or astrophysicists but think about how miserable we would be if there were no Taylor Swift or Beyonce. You may be the next Lady Gaga… so go for it.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
The Four Agreements. Most people make their life complicated, and you read these four agreements, and they just resonate and say “This is true and I can do this.” It was so simple based on complicated life. My favorite agreement is “Be impeccable with your word” which means never saying anything negative against yourself.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Every doctor should be an intuitive too. I would make every doctor get training on how to be a psychic medium intuitive.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Be impeccable with your word.” Life changing to never ever say anything disparaging about yourself. Period. It changed me because we are in a society where when you look a religious doctrine, it tells you that you are a bad person and do bad things just because you are born. There is a lot of that message going through. We are our own worst enemies. We are at a point where we can shift and say “I’m wonderful all the time, even when things aren’t working well.”
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!