74: The Secret to Self-Compassion with Dr. Kathy Stepien

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to show compassion to others, but found yourself struggling when it comes to showing yourself that same level of compassion? This is a common part of being a human, but my guest this week is here to help. I’m joined by Dr. Kathy Stepien and we’re talking about the practice of self-compassion and the vital importance of incorporating the emotional with the physically felt sense of our experience.

Kathy is a board-certified Pediatrician in active practice, a keynote speaker, and a physician coach whose work seeks to heal the heart of medicine. Kathy has supported thousands of physicians on their path to wellbeing since founding the Institute for Physician Wellness, and she’s here to share her wisdom on the podcast this week.

Tune in this week to discover how to meet yourself with more self-compassion. We discuss the value of trauma-informed principles and somatic approaches to overcoming your inner critic, the importance of opening yourself up to areas of your life that aren’t driven by productivity, and show you how to recognize those moments where showing yourself more compassion can transform your experience as a physician.

Habits on Purpose with Kristi Angevine, MD | The Secret to Self-Compassion with Dr. Kathy Stepien

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to show compassion to others, but found yourself struggling when it comes to showing yourself that same level of compassion? This is a common part of being a human, but my guest this week is here to help. I’m joined by Dr. Kathy Stepien and we’re talking about the practice of self-compassion and the vital importance of incorporating the emotional with the physically felt sense of our experience.

Habits on Purpose with Kristi Angevine, MD | The Secret to Self-Compassion with Dr. Kathy Stepien

Kathy is a board-certified Pediatrician in active practice, a keynote speaker, and a physician coach whose work seeks to heal the heart of medicine. Kathy has supported thousands of physicians on their path to wellbeing since founding the Institute for Physician Wellness, and she’s here to share her wisdom on the podcast this week.

Tune in this week to discover how to meet yourself with more self-compassion. We discuss the value of trauma-informed principles and somatic approaches to overcoming your inner critic, the importance of opening yourself up to areas of your life that aren’t driven by productivity, and show you how to recognize those moments where showing yourself more compassion can transform your experience as a physician.

Are you ready to start your own coaching journey? If what you heard this week resonated, why wait? To get started with private coaching, schedule an appointment to chat with me by clicking here. Or if Internal Family Systems is intriguing to you, I invite you to sign up for an Internal Family Systems session! Finally, if having a community and working alongside other women physicians lights you up, my group coaching program is now officially open for enrollment. Click here to enroll before we get started on July 11th 2023!

What you'll learn from this episode:

  • How Dr. Kathy Stepien defines self-compassion and its components.
  • Why taking time to have fun isn’t as selfish as you may have been socialized to believe.
  • How to bring fun into your life in an intentional, purposeful way.
  • The powerful things that happen when physicians get together in community.
  • What practicing self-compassion in difficult moments really looks like.
  • Signs that show you would benefit from showing yourself some compassion in a specific moment.
  • A simple mindfulness tool you can use to tap into your body’s wisdom.
  • How to start showing yourself more compassion in those moments when you need it most.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Powerful Takeaways:

09:20 “I was not socialized to appreciate play. The whole idea of doing something for the joy of doing it was something I’ve needed to give myself permission for.”

14:16 “When physicians gather, really powerful things happen.”

17:17 “I define self-compassion as beliefs, feelings, and actions that are kind toward ourselves, but also protective and advocating for ourselves.”

22:01 “Self-compassion can seem very simple. Be nice to yourself, just like you’re nice to everybody else. But it’s more complex and sophisticated than that.”

29:01 “We walk around with our brain removed from our bodies. When we can bring the two together, it’s all of our wisdom showing up to be fully present in that moment for our patients.”

34:36 “In medicine, during the more challenging times, it’s recognizing that this is a moment of suffering, stress, or discouragement, just bringing attention to what we’re feeling in our bodies and brains and validating it.”

Featured on the Show:

Related Episodes:

Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to Episode #74. This is your host, Kristi Angevine. Do you ever notice how easy it is to show compassion to others? But then when it comes to yourself you struggle? Welcome to the club. Join me today, for a conversation about the practice of self-compassion and the vital importance of incorporating the emotional felt sense of our experience. My guest is pediatrician and life coach, Dr. Kathy Stepien. Let's get started.

Welcome to Habits On Purpose, a podcast for high-achieving women who want to create lifelong habits that give more than they take. You'll get practical strategies for mindset shifts that will help you finally understand the root causes of why you think, feel, and act as you do. And now, here's your host, Physician, and Master Certified Life Coach, Kristi Angevine.

Hi, everyone. Hello, hello. If you are new, thank you for tuning in. It really means so much to me that you're taking time to be here. If you listen, and you like what you hear, let me know in a short rating and review. These seemingly insignificant things are actually quite critical for a podcast to be discoverable when other people search for something to listen to.

So, if you're new and you really enjoy the content today, or you're a longtime listener and you love tuning in each week, consider taking about 30 seconds, and let me know your thoughts with an iTunes review. I’d so, so appreciate it.

This is a funny side note here. I got a notification a few weeks back that this particular podcast had moved up in the ranks and was something like in the top 10 of self-help podcasts in Ireland. This is not because I was doing some sort of podcast promotion tour with all my people in Ireland. But simply, there's a Stateside listener who is travelling in Ireland and she happened to tune in while she was on vacation.

That spurred the algorithm to do whatever algorithms do, and move the podcast up the ranks for one hot minute, for a day or two. So, to the listener who is in Ireland tuning in, you know who you are, that was so fun to see. And who knows? Maybe we'll have more listeners from Ireland tuning in now.

Before we started with this conversation about self-compassion, if you're one of my physician listeners, and you're keen to apply what you hear on the podcast into your everyday life, the Habits on Purpose for Physicians Small Group Coaching Program is currently open for enrollment.

This program is one that I created so that you don't have to take as long as I did to understand your habituated patterns. It's deliberately a very small program, it's capped at 30 women, so that you get individual guidance to understand your most ingrained default habits.

Things like, second-guessing, a harsh inner critic, compare and despair, procrastination, perfectionism, over intellectualizing everything, resisting, compartmentalizing emotions, catastrophizing, numbing of all flavors, screen time, drink, food, Candy Crush, shopping, tidying, overworking, people pleasing, etc.

You name it, we coach on it with a goal of facilitating deep personal understanding. When you live an examined life, you have so much more clarity. When you understand why you do what you do, it's so much easier to be intentional with your thoughts, your emotions, and your behaviors.

We start this next round July 11, and this is my invitation to you to join us. To learn more about the structure, the philosophy, the call times where we meet, go to HabitsOnPurpose.com/HOPP. We meet four to six times a month at a variety of times, including evenings and weekends, to accommodate busy physician schedules. We have a really vibrant online community where you get 24/7 access to written support between calls.

Enrollment is on a first come, first served basis. I'd love to have you there. Now, working on habits, it is work. But it's not work without fun and joy. And it's the kind of work that feels like a stretch.

Which brings me to today's podcast conversation, which for some of you might touch on a topic that's a bit of a stretch for you, and that's the topic of self-compassion. My guest today is none other than the lovely Kathy Stepien.

Kathy has been running physician wellness retreats since before I ever heard of coaching. She's a pediatrician, mom to two teenage boys, and a certified life coach with many years of experience in mind/body health, mindful self-compassion, and mindfulness-based stress reduction.

She's the founder of the Institute for Physician Wellness, and she runs regular conferences and retreats, as well as the Chief Wellness Officer Training. Kathy and I do what coaches do when we get together, we converse about the things that we never learned in training that have impacted our lives.

This particular conversation focuses on self-compassion and what makes it difficult. We also discuss the importance of incorporating trauma-informed principles and somatic approaches when you're approaching wellbeing. So, if you're someone who feels like you struggle with a strong inner critic, if your mojo has been to push your emotions down, you live life in your head from the neck up, this conversation is perfect for you to listen in to. Let's get started, shall we?

Kristi Angevine: Hello, everyone. I am so delighted to bring you another conversation with a dear mentor, friend, colleague of mine, Dr. Kathy Stepien. Kathy, can you introduce yourself to those people who don't know you yet?

Dr. Kathy Stepien: Sure, thanks for having me. I am Kathy Stepien. I'm a pediatrician. I'm also the director of the Institute for Physician Wellness. I started the Institute for Physician Wellness in 2016, and we have grown over the years to have a whole broad range of offering of coaching, retreats, conferences, classes, programs, all of that good stuff.

Kristi: I have questions for you about how you went from doing primarily clinical work to also adding into your life these retreats. But before I do that, I would love to kind of add something a little bit more personal, just so people kind of know who they're talking with.

Can you share where you're calling in from? If you've got a window near you, maybe what you can see out your window. And then, is there a hobby or an interest of yours that has kind of sparked your interest lately, that you'd love to do?

Kathy: Sure. I live in Juneau, Alaska; I did not grow up here. I moved here decades ago, shortly out of my undergrad. We came and went for many years, with grad school and medical school and residency and all of that. But we've been back now for quite some time raising our children here.

So, looking outside my window, I have the ocean, literally. I was down on the beach this morning with my golden retriever going out for a walk. And we saw whales and seals, and a bunch of eagles were feeding on something. It's a pretty exciting place to live.

Kristi: I hear from you, just because we chat personally every so often, about things like hiking and exploring. Are there any other personal interests that strike you, that you would want to share about?

Kathy: I really love getting out in nature. Nature is an important part of my wellbeing. So yes, getting out hiking. Getting out kayaking; I have a brand-new kayak I'm excited to paddle this summer. Being out on the water as much as we can be.

I also started playing tennis. Many years ago, I picked it up and then had to put it on hold while I had some orthopedic stuff to deal with. About four or five months ago, I've been able to resume playing. It's super fun to be out there, on the tennis court, hitting a ball for no reason other than to just have fun and just play. Right?

I think so many of our lives, mine at least, is very production oriented; I'm at work or I'm taking care of the kids. There's always this purpose to it all. And with tennis, there's really no purpose other than just get out there and get some exercise, spend time with friends, and have fun. And so, that's been a fun new activity for me.

Kristi: Can we take a little segue here and talk about play and fun? I mean, I want to get back to conferences, but I think there's so much overlap here. I mean, I think so many of us, and so many of the people who are listening to this right now, can relate to what you just said so much.

That a lot of their lives, if they were to sort of just look back at the last week or the last month and do a little audit, and sort of separate things out into productivity driven activities, and things that are not, I would wager that we would have this imbalance. Where 95% of our waking hours…

And even our sleep hours, which is, “I'm sleeping so that I can get just enough rest so that I don't feel terrible tomorrow” are quite productivity driven. I think opening up to things that aren't purpose driven, in the way that we're talking about; productive, checking off things; sometimes can make those of us who are used to that bristle really uncomfortable. But can you talk about why it's important to have more fun and play?

Kathy: I love that question. It's interesting because I was not socialized to necessarily appreciate play. Right? It was so much about helping others, saving the world in some form, or making a difference in the world in some form, right? So that the whole idea of just doing something for the pure joy of doing it, was not early in my patterning, early in my life.

It's really something that I've needed to give myself permission for, lean into, and kind of notice what's coming up for me, so it doesn't feel hedonistic or selfish, right? I found myself, at times in my life, doing the playful activities like hiking, for example.

I consider spending time out in the mountains really… Especially with friends. We'll just get out and we'll have a great time. But I found myself hiking for a workout, or hiking to climb the mountain, rather than just hiking for the pure joy of hiking, right?

I just had to bring some attention to that. Like, okay, it really is an important piece of our lives to just be human beings having a human experience, enjoying being almost silly. You should see me on a tennis court. I'm completely new, I'm a complete rookie. Both of my boys play tennis, and they're really good. So, I'm out there, I can barely hold my own at the net, and it doesn't even matter. Because it's just a joyful activity. I don't have to accomplish anything.

Kristi: I'm going to take this moment and have this be our invitation to the listeners to lean on what they just heard from you. And this is you and me giving them explicit permission. Go out and do something just for fun and joy and play. And specifically, something that doesn't also have another purpose.

I was already planning on going for a hike tomorrow evening for my workout, so I'm going to have fun on that hike. Finding something that is free of any other agenda, and just notice if it's uncomfortable, if it feels unfamiliar. Which is totally fine. And then, just see if you can maybe bring in a little bit more of that.

Kathy: It's interesting because medicine is not a culture that necessarily values that. Even in pediatrics, we're still purpose driven in our work, right? We need to accomplish certain things on certain days, in a certain timeframe. So, the whole idea of doing something just for pure enjoyment, of course, it can be uncomfortable for us at times, right?

Of course, it can, that's not the ocean we swim in. It's not the world that we grew up in or trained in or practice medicine in. So, we have to be intentional and purposeful, I think, in order to bring that into our lives. And it doesn't even matter what it is. It could be cooking dinner, it could be something creative, it could be painting or singing, or whatever it might be, just something that is not purpose driven. I think it's a wonderful invitation for all of us.

Kristi: I totally agree. This is, of course, not to demonize the amazing, really soul nourishing, purpose driven activities that we do have, that really fill up our cup. It's just to add to and sort of open everybody's minds to think about it in a slightly different way.

Kathy: You hit on something really important there. What we do that is purpose driven activity, is such an important and beautiful piece of who we are, how we show up in the world, and what's meaningful to us. So, I think to be able to look at that and embrace that in balance with other things. And where is that balance point? I think it probably changes at different stages of our lives.

But perhaps in medicine, we might find that the scale has tipped a little bit. That there's not enough play, compared to driving the kids to soccer practice on time, and everything we do as we help others in our worlds. So, to perhaps relook at that scale and that balance point like, ‘oh, well, where is that other…?

Yet, recognizing that one can't exist without the other. I don't think any of us would feel comfortable if it was completely all play, hedonistic. Or all work, all purpose driven work, I should say. And so, there's got to be a balance. Looking at, where's that balance point? Is it the right balance point for me right now?

Kristi: I think you can use your intuition, and that sense of what feels really good, to help you navigate that and articulate that in a way that does feel really good. So, let's get back to the original question that I had. I love this little segue because it does relate.

But what I would love to hear more about, and have the listeners learn about you, is how you got into doing retreats and into doing small intimate conferences as part of your work?

Kathy: I've always been a person who gathers other people. That's how I'm wired. I love bringing people together. And I think, when physicians gather, really powerful things happen. There's a lot of fun. There's a lot of laughter. There's also a lot of learning and healing and growth and connection that I think are so important to our wellbeing.

So, even before I became a physician, I was a physical therapist in my first career. Even then I would bring people together for whatever purposes, and I did that in medical school. I was a mom in medical school, a new mom in medical school. I looked around and there were other new parents in medical school, and I thought, “We should get together. We all have a lot of questions, and we're all a bit overwhelmed,” and all that, so we formed a group in medical school.

It was just wonderful to be able to be there in that way and connect in that way with each other. And so, it's just this theme that's always kind of run through my life, that I love bringing people together. Even as an introvert, I just I love connecting in that way.

So, I was out of residency for some period of time, and I kind of got out of that plain old survival mode of new job, young kids, all of that kind of stuff. Ready to the point… There's certainly a need in medicine, and I'm ready. I'm ready to bring people together. So, that was when I started IPW. I just thought, “Okay, nobody's doing this, and it needs to happen. So, I'm just going to jump off the cliff and figure it out, make it happen.”

Kristi: I love that you put words to being an introvert, yet really finding the power in connection and community. Because I can so relate to that. Because as an introvert who can hold my own with the extroverts, to a certain degree, it's the community and connection that has been so important for me as well.

But I think it says something when you recognize your strengths. So much so, that you decide to form an institute that basically operationalizes connection in a way that's not just getting together at the coffee shop with a couple of friends here and there. It's definitely deliberate and intentional. So, I find that super beautiful to hear that you did that.

I followed you for a while. I've learned from you from afar, before we ever actually crossed paths in the online sphere. And before we ever met in real life. And if somebody said, “Give me one word, when you think of Dr. Stepien.” That word would be “self-compassion”.

I've learned so much from you. Not only from being an attendee at your conferences and hearing you speak, but just in what you post and what you share that has its roots in how foundational and how essential it is to cultivate a sense of self-compassion. Many of the listeners to this podcast they've heard this.

I mean, they listen to a lot of personal development podcasts, they understand self-compassion; it's sort of the important thing to know how to do. And yet, sometimes it can be really hard. So, I would love to hear how you define self-compassion. And then, we can talk about why it might be difficult.

Kathy: I define self-compassion as beliefs and feelings and actions that are kind toward ourselves. But also, there's that kind aspect, that I think we all readily think about when we think about compassion. There's also a fierce protective advocate perspective. Almost like a yin and a yang perspective to self-compassion.

So, when I think about self-compassion, it's thoughts and feelings and behaviors that are both kind toward ourselves, and also protective, and advocating for ourselves. My life has been so impacted by the work of Kristin Neff. Who is, many of your listeners probably know, she's a leader in the world, along with Christopher Germer. Both of them have really impacted me; their work has been profound.

I remember hearing Dr. Neff’s TED Talk on self-compassion, and it was one of those lightbulb moments. I will never forget it, because it's almost like I could feel the gears in my brain move, and it was like my brain explodes, right?

I had studied compassion, and connected with the concept of compassion, for as long as I could remember. And in the traditions in which I was raised, and in my earlier life experiences, I felt like I understood about compassion for others. It was absolutely valued and reinforced in the settings I was in; in the family I was in, and in the settings I put myself in. Being a compassionate person was a wonderful thing.

I found it really phenomenal that I could be… I don't even know, I might have been in my 40s at the time… that I could reach that stage having studied mindfulness for decades, having studied world religions, having studied both secular and non-secular traditions; I just had done so much studying.

And yet, somehow, in the midst of all of that, I didn't get the message that it wasn't just compassion for everybody else in the world, it was for myself as well. To include myself in that circle of people for whom I hold compassion. So, I remember hearing Dr. Neff’s TED Talk, and it just kind of blew my mind. Like, “What! What?”

Then, of course, being who I am, I dove in. I'm like, “I need to learn more about this.” So, I went on retreat with the two of them, studied a whole bunch of their work, and I became a teacher of Mindful Self-Compassion. I think what's been really interesting, it's been quite a few years now, what's been interesting for me is that it's not just the concept of ‘oh, we can be kind to ourselves. We can advocate for ourselves and protect ourselves with this fierce protection.’

It's not just the concept, it's the path of doing that. It's the how of doing that. It's, what does that look like, feet on the ground, in the clinic, day after day? What does it look like when I'm making dinner for the kids? What does it look like when whatever? Right? What does it look like at two in the morning when I wake up worried about something?

It's that path of practicing self-compassion that I think has been ongoing learning. Just when I feel like I understand it, I'm learning it at a whole new level.

Kristi: So, for those people listening who are thinking, “Yeah, I also think self-compassion is really good,” intellectually they get it but there can be that sort of disconnect. I just want to put to words, that what I hear from many of my clients, when they hear the idea of compassion, that it's so easy, like you said, to show it for others. To have thoughts about others, feelings towards others, and behaviors towards other people, that we would say, “Gosh, those are so compassionate.”

You’re advocating on your patient's behalf. Being fiercely protective on behalf of someone else. Very warm, very kind. And then, as soon as we put those four letters, s-e-l-f, in front of compassion, then when they're honest, they will share that, “Well, this feels selfish. This feels weak. It feels soft. It feels self-absorbed. It feels like the antithesis of everything I've learned.”

I’m just putting that out there, that that is very, very normal, for everybody listening, to notice if they have difficulty. Because of the ocean we've been sort of socialized in, as you mentioned.

I would love to flesh out what you mentioned, the path of practicing it. What it actually looks like, once you sort of realize that is super important and you can get beyond the intellectual nod. What is the path of practicing it at two in the morning, when you're tired? Or in clinic, when maybe things are going hard? What might that look like?

Kathy: I think the first step would be to bring awareness of what's coming up. That almost knee-jerk reaction. The concept itself can seem very simple, you're right. It's like, “Oh, just be nice to yourself, just like you're nice to everybody else,” right? It's more complex than that. It's more sophisticated than that.

And I do think, though, that if we don't say things to a four-year-old, then why are we saying it to ourselves, right? If we don't say it to our best friend, then why are we saying it to ourselves? So, when we do have things come up that are perhaps critical toward ourselves, that whole inner critic, that voice that can offer all kinds of ideas, bringing our awareness to them. And mindfully so.

It requires us to slow down and tune in a little bit. “Oh, look at what my brain is offering me. Oh, my brain is offering me these really critical thoughts. What am I feeling in my body? Oh, my shoulders are really tight. I feel some pressure on my chest. I feel a pit in my stomach.” What is that about? So, becoming aware of it. We can't do anything, unless we are aware first, right?

And then the second step would be getting curious. Why is my brain offering me that? What's been triggered? What's going on? Why do I have this pressure in my chest? Why do I have a pit in my stomach right now? What's going on? So, noticing the thoughts, the feelings, the body sensation, and then getting curious about it.

Like, “Well, why is that? Oh, perhaps it's pushing against a deeply held belief I have about when someone says something that I might interpret as being disrespectful. I'm triggered by that, and so it walks along holding hands with that.” So, getting aware of it, and getting curious about it, I think are the first two steps.

Kristi: I think that's so beautiful. Because it means sometimes, when you're thinking about changing a particular pattern of relating to yourself, as opposed to self-compassionate, it can seem like this big, monumental feat. But awareness and curiosity, they can be really quick.

I can literally remember doing this in clinic. As I'm sort of rapidly typing, trying to get my notes done so that I would be as on time as possible. And in the moment, just noticing I would hear something kind of critical. Where I would feel a sense of judgment or discouragement in my body. As soon as I would hear that really familiar kind of critical tone, or “I feel discouraged right now,” because I'm telling myself, I should be further along; that would take about 10 seconds.

Then I would go, “Oh, I wonder why this is here?” And even if I didn't have an answer, I could follow it up with, “I know it makes sense in some way.” Then, just instantly, there would be a 10% reduction or 20%, whatever, in the stress that was the result of some of the self-critical thoughts. Just by being aware, curious, and then kind of normalizing it. Even if I couldn't get to the root of it in the moment. I love that it can be something so simple as that.

Kathy: I agree, because it's always with us, right? It doesn't matter if you're on an airplane or in the clinic, or if you're in bed at two in the morning, we always have that with us. That we can bring awareness and curiosity to it. And we can recognize, you used the word “normalize”, I think about recognizing that whatever is coming up for us has served us in some way, it makes sense to us in some way.

It might not make sense going forward. But it was certainly making sense for us in some way. Trying to keep us safe, secure, protected. So, to be able to normalize it or put it in perspective, it's like, “Of course, my brain was offering me that. Of course, I'm feeling this. Perhaps this is why.” This is what it's like to be human, really tapping into that shared humanity. It's like, “Of course, this is what it's like to feel discouraged.” Recognize we are not the only one feeling that way, and it's just part of our shared human condition.

Kristi: I almost want to tell people that I didn't feed you those lines to say on cue during this podcast, but it's so beautiful to have such an overlap. Because the way I think about habits is that they are patterns that have been repeated over and over and over, that started for a good reason. They served us in some way. They solved for something in some way. And this habit of self-compassion can be one that we can cultivate, that can also serve us ,even if it's not our natural place that we go to when we're not working on it.

Kathy: Absolutely, it can become as familiar and normal, as the self-critical thoughts might be right now.

Kristi: Which is such a beautiful way to plant a seed of hope for the listeners who are thinking, “I don't know if that's possible for me; 100% possible.” So, you did touch on something that I think is really important.

When you're talking about awareness, you were talking about not only being aware of the things you might be telling yourself in your mind, but being aware of how something feels in your body, or how you feel in your body. Many of us have, for really great reasons, become experts at compartmentalizing and ignoring our bodies, right? We live from the neck up.

And one of the things that you and I both share a passion for is coaching and personal development that incorporates things from the neck down. So, approaches that are more Trauma-Informed, more inclusive of the somatic experience. Can we touch on why it's important to be able to bring that in?

Kathy: Absolutely, I truly believe that our body… You know the saying, “The Body keeps the score”. I do so believe that's true. I also think our body has a lot more wisdom than we give it credit for. If you ever look at a downhill ski racer that's somehow making split second decisions without thinking, I think part of that is motor memory; a really finely tuned motor memory.

But then also, this almost innate knowing. And I think, some of the most excellent physicians, and other people in healthcare that I've worked with, tap into that bodily wisdom, that bodily knowing.

Perhaps for you, as an OB-GYN, when you were in the operating room, there was probably a lot that you did because you were trained to move a certain way, have your body a certain way, and even perceive things in a certain way, that allowed you to perform the operations that you performed. Right?

I think we inhabit that, whether it's something like downhill ski racing or something highly skilled, like in the operating room. But we inhabit all of that knowledge with everything we do. Whether it's driving a car, whether it's knocking on the patient door and then walking in the room, whatever it might be, that wisdom is with us as well.

So, you're right, I think physicians, for the most part, we walk around with our brain, not too far, but absolutely removed from our bodies. And when we can bring the two together, I think we have, it's all of us showing up to be fully present in that moment for our patients that we're caring for, or for the EMR that we're working on, or through the phone call we are returning, or whatever it might be.

We're bringing all of our wisdom, not just our logical, prefrontal cortex critical thinking skills, but also this deeper, innate knowledge that helps us navigate things. Including making those some of those decisions, those more logical neocortex decisions that we make as physicians all day long.

Kristi: Yeah. So, if somebody is listening and they hear that and that really resonates, but they do live a lot in their heads, and they're really cerebral, very analytical, and it's one of their strengths. But they're interested in sort of how they can be a little bit more connected to their body, is there anything that you can think of that would be sort of like that easy entry? Like, technique or tool that somebody might try this week?

Kathy: In mindfulness, we have all different kinds of anchors to help us stay present and kind of get grounded and centered into our bodies. Everybody knows about following the breath, and how easy it is to just pay attention to the breath as it comes in through our nose and down our passageways into our lungs. And then, paying attention as we exhale passively.

That seems so unsophisticated, right? Here, we're talking about some really smart people who are performing at high levels. And it's like, “Oh, follow your breath.” It sounds so unsophisticated. But there really is something to it. And I think that's perhaps why, in a variety of traditions, we've used that as an anchor.

Because it's always there. We can always pay attention. We can tune inward to something as simple as our breath. So, that's one. It’s literally just focusing your attention on something you're already doing anyway, such as breathing.

Another thing that I think can be helpful; I use this in residency a lot. There was a corridor between the clinic and the hospital that I've walked thousands of times during those years, with my typical Doctor walk; clip, clop, clip, clop, clip, clop; you're walking, but barely walking. But every time I hit this one corridor, I would be committed to just being where my feet are.

So, I wasn't thinking about the child in the PICU or all the pages, and everything I was going to deal with on the floor or in the clinic, when I was running late to get back to clinic, or whatever it might be. That corridor was my time to literally show up where my feet were touching the floor. Which was somehow connected to the building. Which eventually was connected to the earth.

It was a way for me to get grounded back into my body. And I think I developed that tool… I mean, it was one of the things I had taught. But one of the reasons I developed it was because I was, by nature, I am so much in my head. Then, of course, I was in an environment that reinforced that. I went to graduate school in philosophy. I mean, you can imagine philosophers are very much in their head as well, right?

So, I'm very much, by nature, a person who thinks about things and kind of lives in that higher-ordered thinking mode, logical mode. So, to be able to balance that out in some way and stay human, is to just notice where my feet are. So, that would be another tool that listeners could try.

One would be following the breath. The second could be simply noticing your feet on the floor. Where your feet end and the floor begins. And just bringing attention to that. Again, it's something that most of the time we always have access to it if we chose to pay attention to it.

Kristi: I'll just put the words for the listeners, please everyone, do not mistake simple with ineffective, or simple with easy. So, these techniques, there's a simplicity to them, and an elegance to them, that might make you think, “Oh, it's just so silly.” It's just like you said, it's just following that breath, it's just feeling my feet on the ground.

But there is something really effective about them that can be super grounding, and can help you bring your attention out of flash flooding to the future, ruminating on the past, and into your bodily experience. There may be people who try this, and I'm anticipating, I like to flash forward as well, but anticipating there might be a good reason that they don't go to their body. Getting into their body does not feel good.

There's, all of a sudden, all these emotions that they may not don't know what to do with. And it strikes me that what you're talking about at the beginning, with the importance of self-compassion, and that awareness and curiosity and warmth towards oneself, being such a perfect sort of additional tool to bring into these grounding techniques.

So, while you do them, if you do notice you get to your body and you feel lots of emotions that are less pleasant to feel than not feel, bringing in that compassion can be super helpful.

Kathy: Absolutely. And this compassion of ‘this is what it's like to be me, in this moment right now,’ that's okay.

Kristi: That right there is such a beautiful mantra for almost anything. “This is what it's like to be me, in this moment right now.”

Kathy: And it's okay. Sometimes, in medicine, in particular during the more challenging times, recognizing this is a moment of suffering, or this is a moment of stress, this is a moment of discouragement, right? Just bringing attention to what we're feeling and experiencing in our bodies and in our brains. Bringing attention to it in a way that acknowledges it, it validates it, right?

It's like, “Oh, this is what it's like to be a doctor who is suffering. This is what it's like to be a doctor who's totally stressed out on any given day.” Right? Just validating the experience is so affirming. And absolutely, I think the research on all of this, in neuroscience, is absolutely fascinating.

We know that it impacts what's going on in our brains and in our bodies, from the whole stress response. Just validating and pausing for three milliseconds will do it. It's so impressive how dynamic and impactful something so simple can be.

And I love what you said about this is so simple, and it doesn't seem sophisticated, but it can be so impactful in its simplicity. One of the things that I think it's really important to recognize, there's two things actually. One, is that when we start to pay attention to what's going on in our brains and bodies, all of a sudden, we'll be able to hold focus for one second. And then our brain is going to automatically go off in a different direction.

Like, “Look! A squirrel!” Yes, with the pager. Or yes, when the next person asks the question, right. Our brains are designed to think, and they're beautiful at doing that. We should cherish that. Also recognizing that if we find ourselves trying to get grounded, trying to follow the breath, or just kind of, even if it's a doctor pace walking meditation, trying to be present for that, that we may find ourselves off focus.

And that is absolutely what brains do. They're going to do that. There's no such thing as emptying your mind and being still in thought. I think you'd probably be dead, right? Like, the only time our brains don't think is when they're not working. So, if people experienced that their brain offers a lot of chatter, that's just completely normal part of the experience as well. And just to guide it back and welcome that back.

It's like, “Oh, okay, here I am thinking about that. I'm going to come back to the breath right now. I'm choosing to come back to my feet right now. Even though my brain just darted off for the 20th time in one minute.”

The second thing is that things will come up that are objections. I absolutely experienced this as I studied mindfulness. To the point where I'm sure I offended many of the teachers that I studied with. As an ardent feminist, it felt so... And also, as a caretaker, as someone who seemed to be very much service oriented. “Well, I can't just sit around belly staring my belly button. Women are running the world here; we've got things to do.”

So, it felt very uncomfortable to me to waste time, if you will, when so much work needed to be done. Like, “Who has time for this? I've got more important or other things that have to be done.” And to recognize that we can bring mindfulness into all of those activities we're doing anyway. We're just doing them a little differently.

Now, if you want to sit on a cushion and meditate, go for it. Oh, wonderful. And if there's less formal, perhaps more informal practices, like when you wash your hands at work anyway, why not wash them intentionally. Paying attention to the fact that you have hands, that you're able to watch them, what it feels like to be washing them, and just give yourself that moment to be present with what it's like to be you in that moment?

Kristi: I love these critical pieces, to this process that you put to words. And as always talking with you is itself, for me, a very grounding experience. So, I have the sense that people are going to want to sort of know about you more. How can people follow the work that you're doing and learn more about the Institute for Physician Wellness?

Kathy: Probably the easiest way is just to find us online. Just Google us at the InstituteforPhysicianWellness.com, and you'll find access to a lot of our offerings there. I'm on Facebook, of course. I have the Institute for Physician Wellness Facebook group. Anyone who's a physician is welcome to join that. Much of the work that I do is with women physicians, but I do welcome people of all genders. I think that if they feel it's just the right fit for them, I want to include them as well.

I'm on LinkedIn. Not very active on LinkedIn, but you can find me there. And then, I'm on Instagram @KathyStepienMD. I love coaching, with women physicians, in particular, at all stages in their careers. Often, I work with women who are at the middle of their career, or the final third of their career, and ready for some change. Ready to do things differently.

I have individual coaching clients. I have the group program that we lead, is called She Thrives, MD. And the women in that community are ready to do things differently. Often, there's feelings of ‘things should be different than they are’. I can't tell you how many times physicians have shared with me how they went into medicine to help others, and they find that they're just on a treadmill.

And how often they've shared with me, “I don't know how much longer I can keep this up.” And then the tears come because it's a really overwhelming, stressful place to be at. What I love about working with women in medicine is, we really are such great people. We're smart and hardworking and service oriented and giving and loving, altruistic, wonderful human beings on this planet. And understand what it's like to also be really exhausted and stressed out.

So, in my coaching group, I think there is this connection. It's like, “Oh, it's not just me. Wait a minute. It's not just me. This is what it's like to be a woman in medicine, and me at this stage of my life.” And so, that's a really long answer to your question. Sorry about that.

But there's various ways to interact with me. One is through coaching. And then, you mentioned the retreats. I absolutely love… This is when I started IPW. It was really about starting the retreats, and bringing women in medicine together, people in medicine together, to connect and learn and heal and grow and all the good stuff.

We have some retreats coming up. We have our winter retreat every year at Mirabelle Tucson in January. This next year, in February… It had to get rescheduled because of some personal stuff I had. But we're going down to Costa Rica next year, in February. So, people could certainly join me at one of our retreats.

We have our Physician Wellness conferences, where we bring in a variety of speakers on all different topics. You're going to be one of them this coming October. That's in southern Utah, which is going to just be fabulous. We've been there before, years ago before the pandemic, for one of our conferences there. It's just such an incredible location. So, there's all different ways to access the work that I do.

Kristi: So, we will include… Your answer was perfect, by the way. Because I think there's so much depth, and you have a very comprehensive, not only set of offerings, but what you do is not this monochromatic thing. And so, I think it's great for everybody to hear who you help and why.

And I think people can just hear in your voice, when you're talking about it, how moved you are by it. I know they can't see us speaking, but both of us had big grins on our faces, and it's clearly work that lights you up. It's just so fun to be in the presence of somebody who feels that passionate about it.

We'll include all that information in the show notes. For people who want to learn more, you just go to the show notes, you'll find it there. And then, go on to Facebook and find Kathy there. And just want to say thank you so much for taking time out of your afternoon, and instead of being out the ocean or hiking, to hang out and talk to my listeners for a little bit. Thank you so much.

Kathy: Thanks for having me. It's great to be here with you.

Like what you heard today? If you're a woman physician, and you're ready to start taking ownership of your experience, to change habits like perfectionistic thinking, second-guessing, self-criticism and more, enrollment for the HOPP Small Group Coaching Program is open now.

We start July 11, 2023, and we meet weekly for six months. HOPP is an intimate group, capped at 30 physicians, so if you're ready for an evidence-based intervention, to learn the things that no one taught you about habit change, go to HabitsOnPurpose.com/HOPP.

If you want to use CME funds to stop feeling reactionary, start being consistently intentional in your life, this program is for you. Why wait to start feeling better? Check out the details today. It would be such an honor to have you in the program, and I'll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to Habits On Purpose. If you want more information on Kristi Angevine or the resources from the podcast, visit HabitsOnPurpose.com. Tune in next week for another episode.

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