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Health & Exercise Forum

Worried Sick? Be happy in 2017 (Part 2 of 2)

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Jan 23, 2017
Kathryn Schmidt

Kathryn Schmidt

Worried Sick? Be Happy in 2017! Part 2 of 2

Special Feature “ Health & Exercise Forum” with Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (formerly The Commonwealth Medical College) – The 3rd Monday of every month!

Guest Columnist: Kathryn Schmidt

Personal Bio: Kathryn majored in psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and completed a post-baccalaureate pre-medical and health program at Northwestern University. Throughout school, she worked as a research assistant, first with stem cell transplant recipients and women affected by gynecological cancers, and then with solid organ transplant patients. Kathryn also worked as a medical aid to man affected by diabetes and blindness. Presently, as a 2nd year medical student at the Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton, PA she serves as a volunteer at the Care and Concern Clinic, as well as at an organization called Pathstone, acting as a mentor to men and women who are transitioning back into the community after having spent time in prison. Kathryn’s academic interests include: cancer, colorectal disease, mechanisms of addiction and adolescent psychiatry. When not studying, working or volunteering, she likes to play tennis, kick-box, ski, and be in the company of good friends or family, whether that be taking a weekend trip to a new place or just having a board game night. Something that makes her really happy is traveling… she has been to all 7 continents and is always ready for the next adventure!

In medical school, when things outside of school become turbulent, it is very easy to lose focus and to become distracted and distressed. Perhaps, more importantly, in the midst of studying, it is difficult to find the time to do the kind of soul-searching necessary to feel happy again. An overload of new information is thrown at you each day, leaving little time to see family or friends, to get out of town for a few days to clear your head, or to allow thoughts of the outside world to come tumbling into your mind and onto the textbook page you’re currently reading about the musculoskeletal system (or whatever the day’s topic is). And there’s definitely not time for our immune systems to crash and fail us when we need them most.

This same situation is applicable to people outside of medical school though; balancing kids with other obligations or working multiple jobs can’t be easy. SO, my point is, we don’t have time to let our psychological state negatively affect our physical health and immune systems, and if we are sick with something serious, we need to do everything in our power to give ourselves the best fighting chance at recovery. Just knowing that mood and psychological well-being affect our physical state is motivation in itself to decide that we are going to choose happiness. This is not to say that you can’t ever be in a bad mood… you can! We all have bad days, but we should work harder to not let our bad moods consume us.

But, what else can we do?

Ten easy ways to increase your inner happiness: 2017 is the Year to Start!

  1. We all know this is easier said than done though. So choose to do things that fulfill your daily exercise needs, but don’t feel like a chore. For example, go hiking! It’s a great workout, and there’s usually a pretty cool destination waiting for you at the end. I admit though, I like the view from the top more than the (sometimes torturous uphill) hike itself. Need more ideas? Play tennis or ultimate Frisbee, dance with Wii, or if you’re like my mom, powerwalk through the mall before the stores open while catching up with a friend (Bonus, you get to window shop!). If you’re in school and busy studying like me, grab a fellow classmate and quiz each other while you take a walk.
  2. Fake it until you make it. It sounds silly, but the more you smile, even if it’s fake, positively affects how you feel because it triggers something in the brain that makes you happier…AND LAUGH. Only second to loving, laughing is the easiest way to feel like everything is going to be okay.
  3. Spend more time outdoors. Fresh air, scenic views, and a little vitamin D from the sun can make all the difference.
  4. Treat yourself. A new car would be nice, but a cupcake from your favorite bakery might have to do. And on that note, be kind to yourself. If you mess up (maybe a diet, for example), don’t lose sleep over it. You will do better tomorrow.
  5. Have something to look forward to, big or small.
  6. Don’t fixate on things that are making you either sad or mad. It takes too much energy out of you and is distracting. It’s okay to have these feelings, but allot yourself a certain amount of time to vent or think about it each day, and then, cut yourself off. Sometimes, we have to be harsh with ourselves.
  7. Get out of your own head. Talk to someone about how you feel. It might be uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier, and you’d be surprised at the people who will listen and may even be able to relate.
  8. Take some time for yourself. It’s okay to be selfish sometimes. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn, and I still have trouble with it at times. It is natural to want to do nice things for the people we care about and to put them first, but we shouldn’t lose sight of what makes us happy in the process.
  9. Set goals. Self – motivate. We are resilient. We can pick ourselves back up. We don’t even realize the inner strength we have until put to the test. Find the inner motivation to challenge yourself to be the very best version of yourself. Sometimes, the hardest part is just admitting that there is something to be worked on. We can love ourselves just as we are while acknowledging that there’s always room for improvement.
  10. Be silly. Go out of your comfort zone. Show off your weirdness (to me, weird equals unique, and is a good thing. There is weird in all of us). Seek your inner child. Dress up. Attend a themed party. Go to trampoline world. Take your niece to a tea party. Play charades. Do anything that makes you feel like “Wow, this is just ridiculous, but I am having so much fun.”

So smile more, stress less, and if you have to, “fake it until you make it.” And if you’re someone who is reading this and feeling like the weight of the world is just too heavy right now, be reassured that you’re not alone and that it’s okay, even normal, to feel overwhelmed and inadequate at times. BUT force yourself to do something different, to do something that will help you to float when you are sinking. Do something that reminds you that the world is a beautiful place.

If you’re someone who thrives when challenged, try the 100 Happy Days Challenge. The idea behind this challenge is to enjoy and appreciate the environment and yourself in that moment. For 100 days, you simply submit a picture of what made you happy each day. It surely won’t be the most exciting picture every single day, but remember, this challenge is for you, and the little things that make you happy are important and valid. It could be as simple as your morning cup of coffee in your favorite mug, your pet doing something funny, the sunset you saw driving home from work, or observing a random stranger doing something nice for someone else. People who have completed this challenge report being in a better mood, noticing what makes them happy each day, and feeling blessed or optimistic, and when you’re finished, you will have compiled 100 happy moments to remind you how to live when life knocks you down. You can find more information at

Read Dr. Mackarey’s Health & Exercise Forum – every Monday. This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (formerly The Commonwealth Medical College).