A Device Called Buzzy, Sci-Fi Superheroes, Stress and Breathing: A Conversation with Amy Baxter

A guest post by Sydney Ross

Only a few years ago, Amy Baxter was a pediatric emergency physician and pain researcher, tirelessly working on bringing to life a revolutionary and cute-looking, vibrating device with a catchy name—Buzzy. Now that Buzzy is used all over the world to block needle pain, Amy has left her pediatric emergency physician days behind and is a full-time entrepreneur and pain researcher.

As an aspiring pediatrician with a background in the arts, I was thrilled by my conversation with Amy. Buzzy is a highly efficacious medical device with a creative design that appeals to children and adults alike. But my conversation with Amy was not about Buzzy—there are plenty of research articles about it publicly available. Rather, it was mostly about the motivating factors in her life, and ways to beat stress. Of course, I could not help but wonder: how was her company, PainCareLabs, born? Here is what I found out from her.

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

One day, Amy Baxter took her son Max (who was 4 years old) to the pediatrician to get his regular vaccinations. Max was terrified of getting his shots, but Amy was fully equipped to divert her son’s attention. Although momentarily successful, she left the pediatrician’s office with a vomiting 4-year old. At that point, Amy realized she had to do something about the fear and pain that are so commonly associated with needles; she later noticed that the vibration caused by her misaligned car steering wheel caused her hand to grow numb, and was thus inspired to create Buzzy. Once the little vibrating device was manufactured and its efficacy proven in countless studies, she faced the challenge of promoting her own product to her patients. She didn’t want to be that doctor—indeed, Amy was apprehensive about encouraging patients to become customers, concerned that other medical professionals would disapprove or, even worse, that patients would be uncomfortable with the feeling that their child’s doctor was trying to sell something to them. Becoming a full-time entrepreneur helped to solve the conundrum.

But what inspired Amy Baxter to become a strong and determined entrepreneur? In addition to the experiences she encountered in the clinical and scientific orbits, she was galvanized by the instances of female ingenuity and leadership she came across in sci-fi comic books and novels filled with superhero characters who inhabit a world brimming with imagination, opportunities, and possibilities—I fondly picture a young Amy Baxter harboring Meg Murry and Friday (from A Wrinkle in Time and Friday, respectively) in her heart. Perhaps these readings have also inspired her to push back on the stigma that women aren’t supportive of one another in a professional environment. “Compliment in public, criticize in private,” Amy Baxter said—when you like someone’s idea, acknowledge the person by name, and in front of other people.

I was intrigued by Amy Baxter’s unique perspective on stress—“I love stress”, she said, and highlighted a story: during a panel discussion, Amy wanted to share her ideas on the topic at hand. However, she was flouted while four men were allowed to express their point of view. Not being heard led to frustration that she channeled by writing an article about her perspective, thus capturing an even wider audience than she could have during the panel discussion.

The concept of loving your stress, or being inspired by it, is food for thought. However, it’s always a good idea to manage stress—Amy Baxter recommended diaphragmatic breathing, also referred to as “balloon breathing,” a powerful practice that induces relaxation effects similar to those achieved through meditation. Completing this breathing exercise twice a day, for 10 minutes each time, can help make your stress your best friend. I speak from experience. I have practiced the technique of diaphragmatic breathing for about 6 years. There is a centering, balancing sensation that comes from simply feeling your body receive and expel air.

Amy also emphasized the importance of getting a good night’s rest—sleeping for 7 uninterrupted hours, for at least 2 nights in a row, can help reduce stress— and recommended a book called Mindset by Carol Dweck. This book is especially helpful to read if you are someone who struggles with your perspective on stress or motivation. The “open mindset” (sometimes referred to as the “growth mindset”) is extremely beneficial for understanding the benefits of your experiences, even when they seem like flat-out failures.

Perhaps we should all learn how to make stress enjoyable—it can also help when working long hours, something that Amy Baxter does almost constantly. She said she tends to agree with Elon Musk, who famously said that nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week. When asked “What’s the correct number of hours a week to change the world, Musk responded: “Varies per person, but about 80 sustained, peaking above 100 at times. Pain level increases exponentially above 80.”

Working 80+ hours a week and enjoying stress is probably needed to successfully bring a product as successful as Buzzy all around the world, but I believe it’s a stressful concept to think about. Everyone functions best on a different level. While I agree with Amy Baxter that stress could be transformed into healthy motivation, we should be careful about pushing ourselves too hard. Some of us can only thrive when we relax, and that’s OK. Most importantly, whether you are someone who craves stress and loves to be busy at all times, or you are someone who needs a day (or two) off every now and then, find what works for you, and stick to it. If you want, make stress your motivation, but understand your own limits and do not forget to eventually breathe yourself to calm—with breathing exercises, of course.

About the author — Sydney Ross: I am an aspiring pediatrician, currently attending Georgia State University and conducting Neuroscience research focused on Perinatal Opioid Exposure in rats. Science is my passion, and as a volunteer medical assistant, being able to share my scientific knowledge to better someone else’s life is my mission. When I am not in the lab or the clinic, I spend time nannying young children, throwing pottery, practicing yoga and traveling. I stand to prove that allowing my creative side to flourish makes me a better, more technical doctor and scientist.

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  1. I think stress is such an important topic to address. I always felt that I functioned better when I was busier. I used to work in a lab, play soccer for Georgia State, take 18 credit hours a semester, and was always on the go. I liked that feeling of getting home and being exhausted because I had accomplished so much. I realized that by doing all of this I lost out on doing some of my favorite things and that I really was on over drive all the time. I was burning myself out. Eventually I cut back on a lot of the things I was doing and I felt a lot better. I had more time to exercise, to do yoga, to hang out with friends and family, and to focus on my well being. While I know what it feels like to thrive under stress, I also realized that I thrived when my life was more well balanced. I know that I can do both, but I am a healthier, happier person when I am not overextending myself. I also have more energy to put more effort into one thing instead of just checking the box. So I do agree that some people are made to thrive under stress, but it’s impossible to not let other aspects of your life suffer in some way. There are only 24 hours in one day. While I appreciate and admire the women who love their 80+ hour work weeks, I think the key to my life is balance.

  2. Very Well Written Sydney.

    As a student interested in a career in the medical field, it is important to realize that while, understanding the medications, the anatomy, and the general medical jargon are important. One thing that is often understated, is this power dynamic between the Doctor and the patient.

    Studying medicine for years and years on end, will fill someone’s head with all the possible answers to whatever ailments they are presented with. What they may not however possess, is the ability to confer this knowledge to the patient in a way that they can understand.

    Dr. Baxter’s experience with the pediatrician, who undoubtedly went through many years of schooling, was still left unsatisfied with the visit after the appointment. This inspired her along with other events, to produce Buzzy. Her mindset to see patients as consumers instead of patients, may have received backlash as one may think she was trying to make a quick buck. But when you see a patient as a consumer, your mindset isn’t I need to treat them as fast as possible, but it is I need to treat them as best as possible, and the best way I can do that is to appeal to their needs.

  3. Stress is an inevitable issue with which all leaders confront. On one hand, stress may cause health risks and chaos in workplaces. On the other hand, stress may enhance work performances. The ways that leaders deal with stress influence their followers’ work experiences and stress levels. Dr. Amy Baxter’s perspective of loving stress is an effective way to decrease stress’ negative influence on her work and followers. Meanwhile, the concept brings positive energy to the workplace.
    Dr. Amy Baxter’s methods used for stress management are applicable to the general public. According to Ma et al.’s studies, as a mind-body practice, diaphragmatic breathing has an impact on mental function. It can improve sustained attention and lower cortisol levels. Additionally, whether sleep time is enough directly influence stress levels. Based on Akerstedt’s review, lack of sleep causes the increase in cortisol levels and therefore may worsen stress levels.
    Your article is not only useful for us but shows us how a successful leader deals with her stress.

    Ma, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., … & Li, Y. F. (2017). The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 874.
    Âkerstedt, T. (2006). Psychosocial stress and impaired sleep. Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health, 493-501.

  4. Amazing post Sydney! Regarding Amy’s thoughts on 7 or more hours on sleep is something I wish I could achieve. Too often my sleep is fluctuating, either I get 8-9 hours or 4. I struggle with loving my stress because, stress is stressful! But I understand Amy’s idea that stress can lead to healthy motivation and productivity. I focus more on managing my time and stress so that i have no stress, too often when things build up, due to my procrastination, is when that stress is a form of motivation.

  5. Sydney,

    This was an awesome post! Dr. Baxter is such an inspiration. I can totally relate to loving your stress. I thrive under pressure whether it’s at work or last-minute studying for an exam. When I am stressed from a long day, I release my frustrations by cleaning my home. It is so therapeutic for me! I think it is because I can immediately see a difference in my environment. You also made a great point when you mentioned that we should be careful about pushing ourselves to an extreme. We must be able to know when to take a break to breathe. It is very important that as a student, I recognize when I am pushing my limit. This was a well written blog post! I will start to utilize the diaphragmatic breathing technique.

  6. This was such a well written article! I personally have experience with diaphragmatic breathing. I use this technique whenever I’m feeling stressed and it calms me down quite well. I may also incorporate this technique when I’m doing meditation or yoga. I think of it as mindfully breathing. Taking the time to do things with intentionality.

    I also love how Amy Baxter was able to find a solution to a problem and help the children. She took her own personal experience with her son and created this amazing device.

    Again, great blog post!

  7. I thought Dr. Baxter had a handful of great advice and one of the things that stuck with me was to make stress your friend. I think she is a great example of someone who does not fear stress, in a way that I do. It’s also very admirable how she was able to turn stress into her motivator and see the success she gained from it. I think that’s something that everyone can learn from- to not let stress control your life. Stress is something that every single person will encounter, so it’s up to ourselves to find a way that helps us alleviate it. Sydney did a great job of clarifying that everyone will have their own way of handling and one helpful tip that they both suggested was diaphragmatic breathing. This is actually something I have recently started, however, I am not very consistent. It’s something I tend to do when I feel overwhelmed or more stressed than usual. For me, downloading a meditation app on my phone really helped. There’s a lot that have timed breathing with visuals that allow you to properly inhale and exhale.

  8. I’m so happy Dr. Baxter found Sci-Fi inspiring. I’m a would be Sci-Fi writer and a would be scientist with great aspirations and I decided I wanted to be both when I started reading Sci-Fi in elementary school. I’m there with her on this Sc-Fi stuff. I wrote down this quote a few months ago I copied from a magazine but I forgot which magazine exactly. It said: “Science fiction writing has inspired everything from underwater travel to massive multi-player online role-playing games. One author’s fanciful imaginings becomes the next generations real-life technology.” So it seems Dr. Baxter follows up with this quote because her buzzy is next generations real-life technology. Do you know the “sea shells” and “thimble radios” in Fahrenheit 451? They’re the early versions of the current earbuds and bluetooth headsets. I’m already thinking to put a slowly walking buzzy in the short story I’m writing now and make it go walking to those in pain after sensing them through some beautiful silver vibrating antennas, and then those in pain will welcome buzzy with a little party and great food, so buzzy the slow walker goes around from party to party bringing pain relief to those in need. I could make it fly but I like more a slow walking buzzy so I can describe how the flickering silver pain-sensing antenna perceive the pain of others and buzzy makes teeny tiny movements to figure out the exact direction it needs to go after many trials and errors, turning right and then left, going backwards, uphill, downhill, but then it gets to give health and celebrate with everyone. Namaste.

  9. I would love to meet Dr. Baxter! She is a true inspiration. I want to be a pediatric nurse and I hope I’ll use buzzy everyday for the little ones I’ll be taking care of. Dr. Baxter’s advice about stress is on point. Everyone knows that medicine and nursing are very stressful professions and she was likely very familiar with stress even before starting to think about buzzy. She has carried over her overwork habits and stress managemt knowledge from being a pediatric doctor. I’m happy all of that served her so we’ll when she decided to become an entrepreneur. I think buzzy will progress to become very useful for so many more medical applications, and to make it happen you need someone as dedicated as Dr. Baxter. This story has inspired me to read some sci-fi, I never read it because of lack of interest, I want to try it now, perhaps I’ll get some more inspiration myself.

  10. Love the suggestion about diaphragmatic breathing, it’s an important suggestion to get out there. However, I can understand that someone developing such useful medical device needs to work many more hours than the average person, but if you run an effecient and competent team you can delegate to those you trust and avoid the 80 hours work week. Many times those that work so many hours don’t trust others to do the work, and want to keep control over everything. I personally avoid getting involved in any type of project where I need to interact with overworked and overstressed people. Productivity increases when stress levels are low. Sometimes though people need to overwork and be overstressed to avoid facing personal problems in their lives, so take that into account when working with them, be nice and cooperative.

  11. Wow – I’m so honored at the impressive distillation of our panel and the things that have worked for me. This is beautiful, particularly your understanding that someone’s advice or path may not work for you. Best of everything to you on your path to being a pediatrician. Thank you SO much for this thoughtful piece.

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