Restoration is the Best Medicine: The Value of Recovery Breaks

On the fifth floor of the Medical Office Building at Scottish Rite, there is a small, unremarkable conference room. Located in the Aflac Cancer Center, it’s used for meetings and quick conversations. Once per week, however, the Clinical Cancer Survivor team transforms the space into a meditation oasis, rich with essential oil aromatherapy, a calming sound machine, and seated yoga stretches.

Often led by Lillian Meacham, M.D., Medical Director of the Cancer Survival Program, the clinic staff members gather together once per week for a 15 minute mental and physical restoration. Drawing from the core theme of energy management in the Corporate Athlete training course, the team recognized the need to restore their energy by taking a recovery break.

“Long days can take a toll and you can become exhausted with little energy to give at home.” Dr. Meacham says. “If we were going to do anything to break the cycle, I knew that we needed to plan time for ourselves.”

The Aflac Cancer Center Survivorship Program, founded in 2001, follows more than 1,500 childhood cancer survivors who are at least two years off of therapy. The team holds clinic hours all day on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. By positioning the break at the half-way point between morning and afternoon clinic, Dr. Meacham describes the practice as “washing away the morning and breathing in the afternoon.”

They send out a group e-mail, usually on the day-of, to announce when yoga time will take place.

“You can’t keep making withdrawals without putting something else in.” Dr. Meacham says of hectic work days. “We all look forward to our break and it makes such a difference in how we feel that day. I really want everyone to feel recovered.”

Beyond the practice of seated chair yoga, the group also takes wellness walks around the Scottish Rite campus and celebrates birthdays with great office fanfare. Dr. Meacham added that the team embraces laughing and breathing together as quick and effective breaks throughout the day.

“I do this with the team because I’m trying to say that their wellness is important to me, too.” She says. “In medicine, there are a lot of opportunities for energy expenditure without recovery. But the better we take care of ourselves, the happier we’ll be.”

Her advice for physicians who want to implement recovery breaks for themselves and their teams?

“Live by example.” Dr. Meacham says. “To benefit the team and to benefit the patients, you have to live it, too.”