Playing and listening to music every day fosters my well-being and allows me to take better care of patients.
After an exhausting OB/GYN-labor room night shift in my final year of medical school, I came home, sat on the floor, hugging the flexed knees towards my chest, and cried my heart out. My mother repeated her favorite Malayalam proverb, “Aanakk thadi bharam, urumbin ari bharam,” which roughly translates to, “For an elephant, a log is heavy, for an ant, a rice grain is heavy.”
This “to each their own” concept reminds me of physician burnout—a work-related syndrome involving emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a sense of reduced personal accomplishment. Burnout is also associated with a lack of empathy towards patients and among each other, desensitization, and depersonalization. While burnout among healthcare professionals was a critical problem reaching global epidemic status long before 2020 with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, it received more attention than ever before.
During the 12-hour OBGYN rotations I played “Saraswati Veena” for 15 minutes a couple of times a week and listened to my favorite music while traveling to and from the hospital every day. This helped me cope with feeling burnt out.While some songs from my playlist transported me to happy memories, some provided motivation on my drive, reminding me of the moments of success at work. It changed the outlook of the day, and restored a sense of calmness, empathy, and the gift of human connection.
I encourage you to take at least 15 minutes a day to listen to or play music or engage in your favorite creative pursuit. One idea is to create a playlist that contains music that motivates/calms/cheers you. If you sing, play an instrument, or compose, embrace them as frequently as possible; there’s no pressure to play the perfect notes, for we are embracing the gift of music for the sheer comfort and catharsis it offers!
Here are a few ways to incorporate music, or another creative pursuit, into your life:
1. Make a routine. Consider during your household chores/commute/before bed.
2. Make it easily accessible. Download a few pieces on your phone or laptop.
3. Make it obvious. Keep your instrument handy.
4. Make it attractive. Find a drummer colleague/friend/family to accompany your cello. Or dance to the tunes!
Here I am playing “Raag” musical mode “Desh” in her “Saraswati Veena,” a seven-stringed fretted plucked Indian classical musical instrument which is also the national instrument of India.
And here’s my TED talk:
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.