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The Wellness Balancing Act

Waguih William IsHak, MD, Clinical Chief of Psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai.

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"It helps to ask yourself, 'What do I have control over?' Think about something you can do every day to enhance your wellness. And genuinely connect with others—that's really important to increasing the joy in your life."


MEDITERRANEAN DNA

IsHak grew up in Port Said on the north coast of Egypt, in a Mediterranean culture that prizes joie de vivre—joyful living.

"I was taught that a bon vivant is not a hedonist but an altruist—someone who not only enjoys life but helps others do the same," he says.

Through teaching, research and clinical work, he has dedicated his career to helping people overcome barriers to wellness and find joy, even in difficult times.

BEYOND SYMPTOMS

IsHak edited and co-authored The Handbook of Wellness Medicine, a 50-chapter compendium of evidence-based practices recently published by Cambridge University Press.

"The goal of the book is to guide clinicians to go beyond symptom management and focus on improving patients' overall wellness and quality of life," he says.

DEPRESSION AND DISEASE

Depression and medical conditions often go hand in hand, worsening quality of life, and resulting in longer hospital stays and higher mortality rates. IsHak helped create the now-standard practice of screening every Cedars- Sinai patient for depression. He is currently collaborating with the Heart Failure Program at the Smidt Heart Institute on a study comparing various approaches to treating depression in heart failure patients. One technique that shows promise is behavioral activation therapy.

"It involves reengineering your day to include the activities that give you the most pleasure and joy— something we all need to do,” he says.

IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE

Wellness is about balancing your life—on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis, IsHak says.

This means tending to physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, professional and social needs. IsHak enjoys yoga, outdoor outings (especially boating, swimming and snorkeling) with his emergency physician wife and two sons, meditation, and “storytelling and laughing in good company.”

SACRED TIME

“Saturday is nuclear family day for us,” IsHak says. “The weekend is for enjoyment. It’s sacred that way. We take turns doing one-on-one sharing to deepen our connection.”

They initiated family movie nights after spending too much of stay-at-home time "in our own little bubbles." They take turns choosing the film (IsHak's favorite for character transformation is Groundhog Day) and spend time discussing it.

CONNECTION CULTIVATION

It can be tough even for people in the best of health to keep their spirits up in the midst of a pandemic. "It helps to ask yourself, 'What do I have control over?' Think about something you can do every day to enhance your wellness," IsHak says. "And genuinely connect with others—that's really important to increasing the joy in your life."