We have all dealt with stress: at home, at school, and especially at work. Some stress in the workplace is to be expected and in fact is often useful; it can provide us with the motivation to be creative and productive. But too much stress can lead to anxiety, which can have negative consequences.
People rarely consider the levels of stress that physicians have to cope with throughout their careers, as well as on a daily basis, including getting into and graduating medical school, clinical training, establishing a practice, doctor-patient relationships, medical malpractice suits, and long work days, among many others. Stress will eventually affect most physicians. This job stress can lead to exhaustion, poor health, depression, and substance abuse. If you can’t take care of yourself, how do you expect to take care of your patients?
The wrong ways to cope
In order to address job-related stress, many physicians adopt coping strategies that have a high risk of emotional exhaustion, including internalizing the stress, ignoring the problem, and pushing themselves beyond what is practical. Such coping mechanisms are inefficient and counterproductive, and can be considered a denial response to the stress.
What to do?
First, it is important to determine the factors that stress you out. A useful method is to maintain a stress journal for 1 week. Record the events or people that increased your stress level, noting how each situation made you feel, in what way you responded, and what you wish could be altered. After reviewing your journal, it will be easier to adjust future situations accordingly. When you know your stressors and can distinguish patterns, you will be able to recognize triggers and be better able to act in order to avoid them.
The right ways to cope
Some tips for reducing stress:
- Stay positive —You are doing your best to help others. Feel good about that.
- Say “no” more often —Slow down. There is a limit to what you can accomplish during the day. Learn when to multitask and when you need to focus on one thing.
- Give yourself adequate breaks — Take a brisk walk outside, and enjoy the view along the way.
- Take regularly scheduled days off — You don’t need to work every business day of the year. Your patients and staff will understand that you are not a machine.
- Develop a support system — Family and friends can relate to your issues and advise you even if they are not physicians.
- Leave it at the office — Don’t take your patients’ problems home with you. When you’re out with colleagues, try to steer the conversation away from medicine.
- Exercise— Regular exercise naturally lowers the symptoms of anxiety and stress.
- Meditate— According to a study of primary care physicians published in JAMA, meditation has been shown to improve mood and decrease feelings of burnout, decrease feelings of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, and improve feelings of personal accomplishment and patient empathy.
Unmanaged job-related stress can negatively affect aspects of your life away from your practice. Try some of the tips mentioned above. Not only will you benefit, but so will you patients, family, and friends.
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