Dr. Amy Madden chairs the legislative committee for the Maine Medical Association, which sponsors House (and Senate) calls for physicians each day of the legislative session for its “doctor of the day” program. Madden has served in this role several times and sees how important—and often how stressful—being a legislator can be. She offers some tips on how legislators can take care of themselves in order to better serve their constituents.
FOLLOW BASIC RULES.
Madden tells all her patients to begin with the basics to remain healthy. Eat a balanced diet. Get a good night’s sleep. Find time to exercise, even if it’s only 10 minutes. “Those are the basic things I tell everybody that comes into my office,” she said.
SCHEDULE GOOD HEALTH.
While most everyone knows the basic rules for good health, it’s sometimes difficult to actually follow those rules, Madden said. That’s why people should schedule the time needed to eat right, exercise and go to bed at a decent hour. “By making it a deliberate choice,” Madden said, “it becomes a little easier to do.” She has some patients who have found a specific way to turn off the stressors of the day. “They leave work and when they hit three blocks from their home, they basically switch into home mode,” she said. For the next two hours, for instance, they’re only available to family and that’s scheduled into their day.
When she served as doctor of the day for the Maine legislature, Madden observed that it’s a hard job. “Often you don’t hear the thanks that would be nice to hear, but I’m sure you’ll also hear about the things that aren’t going well,” she said. To alleviate that added stress, she suggests recognizing the purpose for serving. “Some people find it helpful to reflect on what it was that originally made them want to be a legislator … and use that to ground themselves when they’ve had a particularly tough day.”
TURN IT OFF.
“You’re a legislator 24-7,” Madden said. That makes it difficult to turn off the position. “How do you find time to just be you, yourself, and not you, the legislator?” she said. Some people meditate, others do yoga, while others accomplish that goal through exercise or hobbies. “Find some time during your day to reconnect and recharge, because it’s got to be pretty all-consuming to be a legislator,” she said.
FOLLOW GOOD GROUND RULES.
Legislators often are faced with conflicts over legislation and their bodies can react physically. “Your body kicks into high gear and that will exhibit itself in different ways,” Madden said. “You see people’s faces turning red or they start to shake.” People who are successful at avoiding the stressors of such conversations, she said, follow good communication ground rules. “If the conversation is getting personal or when it starts to become about the person instead of about the issue, you’re able to redirect that and say, ‘let’s get back to what we’re really talking about,’” she said.