Dr. JoAnn Yanez, AANMC executive director, joins KCAA’s NBC LA affiliate On the Brink to discuss how the pandemic has impacted naturopathic medical education and the importance of disciplining your thoughts.
Full Transcript of Interview Below.
- Staying positive during the uncertainty of a pandemic
- Taking time for mental health and self-care; disciplining your thoughts
- How the pandemic has changed naturopathic medical education
- Finding your purpose in life
Erin Brinker: I am super excited to welcome back to the show Dr. JoAnn Yanez. She is the executive director for the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges, and she joins us once a month to talk about health and wellness and just having a lifestyle of health and wellness because naturopaths treat the whole person. Dr. Yanez, welcome to the show.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Thank you so much. Good morning.
Todd Brinker: Good morning.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: I love that song. It is a happy song.
Erin Brinker: Right, it is. It just makes you smile.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Yeah. So, what do you all do to stay happy right now? I think with Coronavirus and stay home orders and homeschooling and uncertainty and everything else, folks are stressed. So, what are you all doing to find your own peace and happiness?
Todd Brinker: Getting out of bed.
Erin Brinker: Yes, goofing around on the radio. It helps a lot. I think it’s just connection with people. Even though we’re doing it from a distance over the phone and over the radio and over Skype and over whatever, I think that connecting with people makes a big difference in your mental health. I think you have to be … What I’m doing is being very intentional about reaching out to people, because that’s really what matters to me. How about you? What are you doing?
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: I’m trying to do the same, I think and remembering time for self-care and to unplug a bit from technology. Because it’s really easy to work all the time if you let yourself. The normal distractions that we have of going away in conferences and getting to go to the movies or things of that sort, aren’t there where you could unplug for a couple hours by going to a movie theater. But I think for us right now, it’s like you said, it’s just being mindful and being thoughtful and being intentional about those connections.
Erin Brinker: Well, you talk about being at work all the time. I work until in … So, I start my day on the show and it’s getting prepped for the show and getting … So, I really, we’ll say 5:30, and then I did not finish working last night until nine o’clock. So, that was a little ridiculous, but I do have days like that. And then there are other days where I’m less focused on work, but I love what I do. So, it’s not a negative thing, it’s not a grind. I get tired, but it’s not a grind.
Todd Brinker: Well, and you’re still working. There are people who are not working, who are stressed by the not having a job and they have to figure out how are they going to fill their day, because you very quickly can get depressed and bored sitting and watching television or staring at a wall.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Absolutely, Indeed. I think it’s just so important to … There was a word the other day that I was using with a friend who was talking about trouble sleeping and I said, okay, how is your thought discipline? So, I think of thought discipline as when you just let your mind run off into either negative thinking or overthinking. And so, that thought discipline to me, if you wake up in the middle of the night, do you let yourself start thinking automatically about all of the work things that you have to do, all those things that are stressing you out, or do you reign your mind back in and say, okay, it’s three in the morning, none of this is going to get solved right now. Let’s focus on sleep, so that tomorrow isn’t a total disaster and discipline your mind to get you back to bed instead of letting it just run wild on all of the things that might be going on or could happen or whatever.
And so, I think of that as a very important part of adulting and being responsible to yourself. We talk about all of the responsibilities for others, but what about our responsibility for our own mental health? And, if you let your mind run away on all of those negative thoughts or stresses. Now, obviously, there’s a time and a place to think about things and to problem solve and to troubleshoot, but when that starts to impact your sleep, your relationships and so on, I think that’s the point for me when I recognize, okay, we’ve got to take charge here.
Erin Brinker: It’s so interesting, because sometimes three o’clock is what they used to call, I don’t know if they still do call it, the witching hour. That’s the time that you wake up with all the stress in your life. And I’ll do one of two things. If I’ve got a heavy workload, I might just get up and work, because it’s not that much earlier than I get up, or I will start praying because it’s like, all right, God, this is eating me up. I need you to take it. And for me, that brings relief. Also, I will journal. I like to write and journaling helps me. I’ll just put pen to paper and write whatever comes in my mind. It helps me clear out the clutter.
Todd Brinker: I have a question, is that commonly where people’s minds go? I mean, is that, that’s the common thing? Because that’s uncommon for me. That seems odd that if I were just sitting around thinking. I mean, as depressing as things could possibly be, I don’t know, I tend to not focus on the depressing, I guess I compartmentalize or something. And so, I come off feeling generally pretty happy most of the time, because although I know there’s things out there that need to get done or I need to worry about, making the bills are paid and that kind of stuff, it’s not something that I ever other than deal with it and move on or do what I can and move on. Sometimes that just means, writing a letter to somebody saying, sorry, I don’t have a job right now, but then I’ve done what I can and there’s no point in worrying about it, so I just move on. Is that unusual?
Erin Brinker: Yes, that’s unusual. That’s a gift.
Todd Brinker: Okay.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Yes, be thankful you have that gift. I think there are many, many people out there who would say that they struggle with the ability to turn off their brains and to turn off that thinking component, whether it’s during the day or in the middle of the night, or what have you, there are a lot of folks who struggle with that. And so, that thought discipline concept of being mindful of your thoughts and are you allowing yourself to go down that rabbit hole or reeling yourself back and saying, all right, this isn’t something that I can change right now and worrying about it further, really isn’t going to make any difference other than impacting my quality of life right now. So, be thankful, Todd.
Todd Brinker: That’s my natural default is like, well, if I can do something about it, I’ll do it. If I can’t, I can’t.
Erin Brinker: But I bet your wife worries.
Todd Brinker: Oh, I’m sure she does. I wonder if there’s a gender bias in that too in that way. I mean, not that guys don’t stress and ruminate over things and I’m not saying I’m completely stress free. I mean, I have times when my brain goes and I can’t sleep well, but it’s rare.
Erin Brinker: You are lucky.
Todd Brinker: Yeah. I mean, I’m truly curious because it’s like, you’re talking about stuff and I understand it, I empathize, but it’s like, I don’t experience that very often. I don’t.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Count your blessings Todd.
Todd Brinker: I guess. I wonder if there’s other people like me or am I just a lone weirdo. I don’t know. I mean, should I be worrying more now, worried that I’m not worrying enough?
Erin Brinker: No, you’re fine.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: No, that’s funny. Now we’re going to cause him to worry about not worrying. Gosh, that’s hilarious.
Todd Brinker: Tomorrow morning, I’m going to be like, I didn’t sleep at all last night, I can’t do this show. I don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s stressful though.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: So, if it puts any number on it, about 47% of naturopathic physicians say they deal with insomnia and anxiety and fatigue and so on, about 45% with mental health issues. So, there is a large population out there that struggles with those issues. So, it’s definitely something that is front of mind for many people.
Todd Brinker: Is there a diet component to stuff like that?
Erin Brinker: Is there a what?
Todd Brinker: A diet component.
Erin Brinker: Oh diet.
Todd Brinker: I’m talking about drinking caffeine, this morning before you came on and I’m wondering, just thought processes going here. I mean, I have my cup of coffee in the morning and I’m done, but I can imagine that if you’re caffeine sensitive, a cup of coffee in the evening could cause your mind to cycle a little bit more because it’s hyper-stimulated and … I mean, caffeine is an obvious one …
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Yes, there totally is a nutrition component. There can be for some people where blood sugar dysregulation, excess caffeine, not enough food or timing of meals and timing of food can impact mood. And so, absolutely, as a naturopathic doctor, our core is always nutrition and gut health and mind, body medicine and stress reduction, the lifestyle basics. So, that for us is always bread and butter. But I think that when you think of like you asked nutrition and caffeine, sure, but that’s only part of the picture, there’s, like I said, there’s making sure the blood sugar is regulated throughout the day and that we’re really taking care to nourish the body, to make sure that caloric intake is appropriate.
Conversely, some people can get depressed from their food choices or have ups and downs and mood swings from the food choices that they make and even medicate their moods with their food choices. We see that with over eaters, we see that with binge eaters. And so, there’s so much involved in food diet and nutrition and the mental emotional connection with that, that yes, it definitely can be, and is often looked at from a naturopathic approach.
Erin Brinker: So, I’m wondering, are you seeing an uptick in people enrolling in naturopathic medical schools, think, okay, well I’m not working and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. The timing is right now. Are there more inquiries? Are there more people becoming students?
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Yes, that’s a great question. I think, in general education tends to uptick during times of economic uncertainty. And so, we have seen, despite the fact that we’re in the pandemic, we have seen an uptake in inquiries over the past few months and also people may be inspired right now because who are some of the heroes? The heroes right now are your teachers and your medical professionals. And so, I think that if we think of who is really getting the accolades during this pandemic, it’s the folks in the health professions, the research scientists and the teachers, and you can do all of that with a naturopathic degree.
So, we have definitely seen an uptake in interest. I think everybody is just curious about safety and how do I stay safe? Are you doing classes online is a very common question we’ve been getting. And so, most of the schools have … And we have schools in different locations, different geographic locations, so they’re dealing with different scenarios based on where they are and governors and local jurisdictions making policy, but where it is deemed better to … All of our schools are hosting as much online as they physically can. The coursework, obviously you’re training to be a doctor, so you have to touch a person at some point in the course of your medical school. And so, all of us … I just actually got off of a phone call with folks from the East Coast. It started at 5:30 here in California from all of the other health professions and we’re all grappling with how to handle the physical component of medical education, but we are and as is appropriate and safe, the students are returning to hands on classes albeit very modified, much smaller class cohorts, patient care is being delivered via telemedicine whenever possible and safe for patient care. And so, we have jury-rigged and according to this emergency, naturopathic medical education, but there are some things that are actually working really well. There are courses where the flipped classroom doing more online and then some in person is actually working out quite nicely.
And so, we’re all just looking at this, but I think ultimately our number one goal is educating our students and educating them safely. And then, obviously delivering safe patient care as well. So, we’re looking at all of that, but that is a number one question is, are you doing this online now because of the virus and for the most part, yes. But there are still, there are going to be hands-on components that are absolutely necessary for medical education.
Erin Brinker: Sure. I know that I sleep better if I feel like I have some forward motion, and I think that human beings need to feel that they have a purpose. And so, if there’s a time where you’re in a place where you’re thinking, oh my goodness, my job’s gone away and I don’t know what’s happening. I’m going to take my life in a new direction that perhaps in times like this are a good time for that.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: They can be. And, I think the amount of introspective time we’ve all had being home forcefully has, yes, those thoughts that we were talking about, if they aggravate too much and they lead you to a dark place that can be a bad thing, but if they cause you to take stock of your life and where do you want to go? What is important to you? I think for me, anyway, speaking personally, this has all just boiled down, what’s important, the excess plus has gone away. And it’s just distilled down what is important, family, sunshine, relationships, healthy thoughts, trying to keep yourself positive. All of that has just really risen to the top. And I think in that process, people take stock, am I happy with my job? Am I happy with my relationship? Is this a direction that is moving me in a good place or not? And if the answer is no, and you have the power to control it, do something about it. So, I think it can be empowering and I’ve seen a lot of people trying to make light, to bring some light into this tunnel here that we’re in and not have it be a Mack truck, but just trying to make the best out of this situation. I encourage everybody to just try and keep looking for the good, look for the helpers. Look for the good, look for the positive outcomes that we can look at the end of this.
What was it? They said during the ’18 flu, the 1918 flu, there was actually, you had this almost renaissance afterwards where arts and music and things flourished. I’ve been sitting down at the piano every day and starting to write a song. I haven’t done that in 10, 12 years easily, if not more.
Erin Brinker: That’s awesome.
Todd Brinker: That was calling to you.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: It’s just, it’s fun. And it’s like, would I have had the time to do that any other time?
Erin Brinker: No, no.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: I’m calling it my Pandemic in D, that’s what I’m calling it. (laughs)
Erin Brinker: Well, and I think we should all be doing that, find your bliss, find what’s important to you. And I hope that when this is all said and done, that our new normal is not like our old normal, meaning that we’ve learned the lesson of making time for the things that are important to each one of us and that the rat race, chasing rats is not a life goal. Racing with rats is not a life goal, so.
Todd Brinker: Says she who works till nine o’clock at night.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: She who works for 15 hours a day.
Erin Brinker: But I don’t do it for the money. I work for a nonprofit, so I do it for the mission. That’s different.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Sure. It is different. No, it is definitely different. And I think that’s one of the things we find with folks that choose naturopathic medicine is they feel like they’re pursuing their passion, where going to work is not a chore, it’s inspiring. When you help somebody who has not been able to manage their health concern forever or for a very long time, there’s something so gratifying in that and in knowing that you can do good in the world and that helps fill our cup as well. So, I think, Erin, that’s a really important point is just, having that altruism that’s one of the … One of the tenants of being happy is actually doing things for others and being selfless.
Erin Brinker: Yup. So, this has been delightful. Dr. Yanez, let people know how they can find out more about you and the Association for Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: You bet. So, we’re at aanmc.org, and we host free monthly events. We’re having an event on skin this month and sleep next month. And so, we host three events every month and I’d love to hopefully meet you all online at some point.
Erin Brinker: Well, thank you so much for joining us today. It has been a very important and productive conversation and I really enjoyed it.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Thank you. Thanks folks and have a wonderful day.
Erin Brinker: Thank you, you too. So, with that, we are a little overdue for a break, I’m Erin Brinker.
Todd Brinker: And I’m Todd Brinker.
Erin Brinker: And we are on the Brink, the Morning Show on KCAA. We will be right back.