I know this is a long message, but it is an important one. I am writing to encourage all of you to pause for a moment to consider your plans for stress management, health and wellness as we enter the cold winter months. With the exception of those of you on the Arizona campus, we are all going to see much colder days and we are all facing fewer daylight hours. This will make it harder for us to be outside to exercise and to enjoy nature. It will also make it harder to safely see friends and to connect with those who support us. I appreciate we all see the 2020 election through our own lenses; however, it is safe to say we are all living through a divisive period, and that takes a toll as well. We wake up each day worrying about the news; about our friends, families, and communities; and many of us face the holidays far away from the people we wish to celebrate with. My wife and I never imagined being away from our son and extended family for such a long time and I know this is the same for many of you, especially our international fellows and those of you with family who are far away. So many hard things to deal with – and that can make it hard to find the good and to enjoy the sweet moments of life. While I worry about your research progress and career progression, your mental health and well-being comes first. Remember, to do well, we have to be well.
Please pause to consider the tight spot we are in and make a plan for taking care of yourself over this winter. This includes having strategies for taking care of yourself physically (e.g., getting enough sleep, exercise, healthy food), mentally (e.g., monitoring negative self-talk, developing positive affirmations, being open to new learning), emotionally (e.g., recognizing and managing your emotions, staying connected with supportive people, building community with others), and spiritually (e.g., connecting to what brings greater meaning and purpose to your life). I have linked some OITE Career Blog posts on corresponding subjects in the hopes that reading will inspire new insights for you. There are hundreds more posts on topics related both to career and wellness, so don’t forget about this valuable online resource.
Also, please be a wellness ambassador and talk with your colleagues about this topic and join OITE or other NIH wellness activities together. Check your email regularly to see what OITE wellness events are happening each week. Come talk with others at Wellness Wednesday, pick a time to go to Mindfulness Meditation each week, and attend the Journaling for Career Development and Personal Growth twice a month. Participate in the weekly Resilience Discussion Groups and recommend them to others. Sign up for workshops in the two new seminar series: “Becoming a Resilient Scientist” and “Mental Health and Wellbeing of Biomedical Researchers.” Check out wellness offerings across the NIH, such as R & W’s virtual fitness classes, NIH Wellness Toolkits, and EAP programs.
Be a leader and think about things you can do individually in your research group to promote and support wellness. Suggest starting your data meetings with a brief check-in about how people are doing; encourage everyone to share wellness strategies that work for them; include research articles on wellness in your journal clubs; share your favorite meditation, exercise or yoga apps; create a list of helpful online resources and websites; or organize a monthly wellness challenge in your lab. Be creative – the ideas are endless! When I went home in mid-march, I imagined returning to campus in the spring, then I hoped for the summer, and now I am working hard to wrap my head around a Covid winter. I know many of you are working to make the same adjustments and we are here to support you as you do that. I look forward to the day when I can walk across campus and chat with you, when we can debate and laugh together in a workshop, and when we can meet in my office and not via Zoom. Until then, I hope to see you on Zoom because we will get through this together.
With deep appreciation for each and every one of you,
Dr. Sharon Milgram