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Diastolic Dysfunction in Life: A Cardiologist's Perspective on Learning to Relax

Updated: Nov 9, 2019

I recently attended a cardiology conference at which a dear friend of mine was presenting on the topic of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. She discussed fibrosis within the ventricle causes diastolic dysfunction, an inability of the myocardium to relax. My ears perked up. Just the week before, while on vacation, I experienced the inability to relax. Though I was free to lounge around New Orleans while my husband attended the annual Chest conference, I experienced diastolic dysfunction of life. I could not disconnect and disengage from my work! Despite signing out to my partners, and putting my email on vacation mode with auto replies for when I would return, I found myself frequently checking my inbox. What was that all about? Why, every two hours, did I feel the need to make certain that nothing exciting or catastrophic had happened in my clinic? Despite being frustrated at not being able to disengage, I proudly acknowledged that at least I had identified the problem. Now how was I going to tackle this “twitch” and begin to relax on my already short vacation?


Anthony Ongaro defines “twitch” in his blog at www.breakthetwitch.com as “an impulsive, unproductive response to discomfort. It might be checking your smartphone, buying something online, or mindlessly scrolling through social media. It shows up in lots of ways, many which might not seem problematic, but when they add up, day after day, that’s when things get bad.” The twitch phenomenon in medicine includes checking the inbox, grabbing the pager when you think it may have gone off, and even needing to complete notes in full sentences that are grammatically correct before you leave for the end of the day. The twitch unnecessarily consumes our precious time and energy.


At what point does efficiently getting work done morph into compulsive twitching? Well, it happens to the best of us and it is a slow insidious process driven by having too much work to get done, day in and day out. We begin to feel like we can never control it or unplug from it. Hence, we develop the diastolic dysfunction of life, the inability to relax. What is the final outcome of diastolic dysfunction in life? Congestive failure! As things back up, we get less and less done, and ultimately we fail at what we are trying to accomplish. So before the twitch creates irreversible damage to you, your work, and your life, get intentional about relaxing and recapturing diastolic health! Here are a few steps to improve your diastolic function in life:


Step 1 is recognizing that you have detrimental habits that bog you down and consume your time inefficiently. Take time to analyze your daily habits and critically evaluate where you spend more time than necessary. Make that twitch list.


Step 2 involves methodically eliminating unnecessary twitches. Batch process your inbox time by checking it twice a day instead of hourly. Let your nurses know that this will be the new process. Skip a few punctuation marks in your notes instead of rereading and rewriting the note. Intentionally use point form in your comments. Copy and paste the repetitive items that crop up again and again in your notes. Get creative and take the time to develop smart phrases that work.


Step 3 is to be intentional about unplugging when not at work. This is where I often fail. Resist the urge to pick up your smart phone and check work emails when you are off. Ask your staff and partners to not text or call you with questions that can wait until you are back in the office. Develop mindful habits where you take a few minutes to breathe deeply, reflect on what you are grateful for, and literally stop to smell the flowers. All this will take time, patience and practice. Consider holding your colleagues accountable for developing similar habits.


Step 4 involves giving your self grace. Show yourself goodwill. For instance, a common habit when we fall behind in work is to start the “should talk.” “I should be doing this.” “I should have gotten that done.” “I should try harder tomorrow.” Should is a word that is self defeating and serves to reinforce the idea that we are not accomplishing something. Instead, consider focusing on the moment you are in, and what you are trying to accomplish, and just do it, one inbox message at a time, one note at a time.


Quite clearly we all have times where we experience the diastolic dysfunction of life, the inability to relax and unwind. Becoming intentional about identifying your negative habits, the “twitches,” is the beginning of developing healthy habits that will grow you, improve focus, increase creativity and refresh your soul. Best wishes in breaking your twitches and improving your diastolic life function!

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