Holly Phillips, MD was tired of feeling exhausted.
Though other doctors explained away her fatigue with the pressures of medical school and early motherhood, she knew that something more insidious was at work. And that fact was only further emphasized by patients who complained of similar issues.
Ultimately, through research, trial and error and perseverance, she got to the root of her low energy, finding a way to manage her particular issues with the right combination of healthy diet, regular exercise and alternative therapies. Now, the New York City-based internist and CBS News Medical Contributor has published a book about her experience, The Exhaustion Breakthrough: Unmask the Hidden Reasons You’re Tired and Beat Fatigue for Good.
Here, Dr. Phillips explains how she hopes the story of her personal struggle, combined with her medical expertise, might help others:
Live The Process: Did you grow up with a passion for health and wellness?
Holly Phillips, MD: From a young age, I can recall being interested in what makes us feel healthy and what doesn't. I have vivid memories of figuring out in elementary school that, on post-slumber party Sundays, I had migraines from eating too many Starbursts and nausea from sleep deprivation. But it wasn't until after medical school, during my first months of residency, that I realized I had somehow made my way into the world’s best profession. Having such extensive knowledge about the human body, access to medicine and research and the ability to help make or keep people well is an unimaginable privilege. From my perspective, there is nothing better.
LTP: What inspired you to write The Exhaustion Breakthrough?
HP: I see so many women in my medical practice and in my personal life who say they’re exhausted, and yet they accept this state as an inevitable side effect of having a busy life. Meanwhile, the fatigue is a drag on their bodies, minds, and spirits. It can drain the happiness and vitality out of your life, and it certainly makes life more challenging.
My feeling is: It shouldn’t be that way! Every one of us is entitled to feel well and vibrant, which is why it’s a mistake to take your tiredness lying down. Having conquered my own exhaustion crisis, I decided to try to help other people repair their’s. Because I’ve lived it and I treat it, I want to help readers understand the insidious nature of fatigue and how it affects our bodies and minds—and guide them to find lasting solutions. When you fully appreciate the devastating effects of exhaustion, you realize that you must treat it!
LTP: How do you hope the book will help people?
HP: I like to think of this book as a roadmap that will help people discover the roots of their fatigue, navigate the maze of possible lifestyle and medical-related causes of energy depletion, then set off on a journey to greater wellness and vitality. My hope is that readers will come away with actionable advice on how to mitigate each fatigue-inducing factor with dietary, sleep, exercise, stress-management and other lifestyle changes and, when appropriate, alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, yoga and herbal supplements.
Like me, a substantial number of readers will find that it takes a combination of traditional and alternative treatments to kick extreme fatigue to the curb for good. It’s worth the effort to find the magical formula that works for you because it can change your life for the better.
LTP: How do you personally manage your energy despite your busy schedule?
HP: I make it a priority to get plenty of sleep, consume a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein and exercise regularly by doing power walks and yoga. If I skip my power walks and my green juice habit, which I describe in The Exhaustion Breakthrough, for a few days, I really feel it.
When life feels overwhelming, I make a concerted effort to stay in the present moment: I try not to play the “what if?” game, imagining potentially bad outcomes to challenging situations. Instead, I focus on taking things one day at a time, even one period of the day at a time. This helps me pace myself. I have also learned to honor my limits—I really try not to overcommit myself—and I have learned how to say “no” to requests and invitations that are too much for me.
I have a keen sense of what’s doable and what’s not for me—and I try to respect those boundaries. I think this has made a tremendous difference in my overall energy level and my sense of well-being.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
HP: To me, happiness is presence.
Too often, in the hustle and bustle of daily life, it's easy to allow our energy to be expended on everything but the present moment. My two daughters have this magical ability to pull my mind back from what just happened, and away from what's going to happen, so that I'm fully experiencing the present. Those moments, no matter where we are or what's going on, are happiness.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how do you do that every day?
HP: Every day, I feel grateful that I broke through my own debilitating exhaustion and gained a greater sense of well-being. I have found energy-boosting solutions that work for me and, because I’ve done that, I’m now able to handle the pressure and chaos of my usual responsibilities more effectively. I’ve even come to enjoy my life more now that I’m fully present for it.
My own fatigue-fighting odyssey continues to be a work in progress. Even now, I have good periods and not-so-good periods, better months and worse months—but I can honestly say that I’ve come a long way from my low point. These days, I’m usually at a seven or eight on a scale of one to ten, with ten being high energy; that’s pretty good, all things considered. These days, I really do feel like I’m thriving.
Editor's Note: other interviews you might enjoy either A Moment With Amie Valpone or A Moment With Sophie Chiche.