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ER Goddess

A Tranquil Antidote to the Chaos of Work

Simons, Sandra Scott, MD

doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000553483.09307.ce
ER Goddess

Dr. Simons is a full-time night emergency physician in Richmond, VA, and a mother of two. Follow her on Twitter @ERGoddessMD, and read her past columns at http://bit.ly/EMN-ERGoddess.

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I thought moving in with my boyfriend would make for a great love story or at least a good romantic comedy. Yet somehow merging all of our worldly belongings became a lesson on how much our home affects our wellness.

Our surroundings are the backdrop of our lives, shaping our outlook and mood. It would be shortsighted not to consider the environment where we start and end our days. When we leave the ED, are we heading to chaos and clutter or to a calm refuge? Do we have a comfortable haven or merely a place to store our stuff? Home should be a place of solace where we are restored.

We had one goal—to be under the same roof. I didn't care what kind of roof it was as long as I was with the man I love. I'm not one of those people who prioritize form over function—or so I thought. Who cares how modern my kitchen is or what color my walls are? Any place would be great because we'll all be together.

Fast forward to after moving day. Suddenly I'm shopping for ornamental vases and decorative balls to fill them. We're repainting the bedroom and retiling the kitchen. Why on earth do I care about this stuff? What happened to function over form?

I think my preoccupation with getting our things harmoniously arranged stems from a need for peace. A tranquil home can be the antidote to the chaos of work. We spend our shifts in a constant state of anticipation. No matter how slow it gets, a nagging cloud of anxiety hangs over us, formed from the possibility that we could be interrupted at any moment. There is no such thing as our own space in the ED. There is no door to shut to discourage visitors, keep out noise, or have privacy. After a day of never knowing what's next, I can come home and feel in control of my own predictable, secure space. The attention I pay to the aesthetics and organization of that space is self-care.

Think of the most peaceful places you have been. Were they untidy? There's no denying how much calmer it feels to walk into a clean house than a messy one. Keeping an entire house tidy all the time may be impractical (especially with children), but we can at least contain clutter by setting aside areas where everyone can drop their bags and pile up mail. Simple things like making our bed or keeping our counters clean can provide the order and peace we lack at work, where more is piled on our desk no matter how often we clear it.

We don't often think about the psychology behind our decorating choices. It's easy to understand our new entryway shelves for organization or our new blackout curtains for sleeping between night shifts. But why do we need decorations? Simple: Beautiful surroundings make us happier. Each decorative detail gives pleasure and helps create a comforting escape. Something as simple as color and lighting can completely change our response to a space, so it's worth paying attention to the details where we spend most of our time.

After a shift under the industrial glower of halogen lights, something as trivial as a bulb with a soft tone can provide calm. Instead of just being happy to share a home with the man I love, I find myself painting our bedroom walls a soothing blue-gray. Maybe I'm subconsciously attempting to create a sanctuary from the sterile environment I look at all day. We spend about a third of our lives in our bedroom; why not make it an inviting oasis? Maybe little decorative details are not frivolous if they augment mental health.

Our home surroundings are not only a comforting retreat from the outside world but also a way of reminding us who we are and what matters. We get fussy about choosing furnishings because objects are eloquent, speaking of efficiency, beauty, and tradition. These things whisper in our ears, reminding us of our values and priorities. My art from all over the world and pictures of my kids are the antithesis of the EMR I stare at all day, and they remind me of what's good in life and why I work. Vases filled with whimsical balls are deliciously impractical and remind me that it's OK to be creative.

The more stressful our lives, the more we need our homes and everything in them to recenter us. The ache EPs feel to return home after a rough shift has little to do with material comfort; we need to recharge. Don't apologize for making the function and form of your home environment exactly the way you want. Creating a sanctuary to decompress is an act of love, for you and your loved ones. As I transform the four walls and roof that my boyfriend and I inhabit into a welcoming home that is uniquely ours, I'm enhancing the wellness of all who live here. It is a satisfying and worthwhile endeavor, even when I'm just filling vases with balls.

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