How can young doctors deal with stress?
- Category: Career Development for Physicians
- Published on: Monday, 24 February 2014
The question about dealing with stress is so often discussed that it has become banal. It is a fact, however, that the majority of the world population still ignores the chronic stress until the consequences become clearly noticeable – impoverished health, burnout, lower efficiency at work, etc. Physicians are among these professionals who need to develop good skills for dealing with stress since the jobs in the medical field are connected with facing difficult and urgent situations every day.
It seems logical that people who have dedicated themselves to preserving human health – doctors, should be an example of timely taking measures against the consequences of chronic stress. Unfortunately, things are very different in reality. A great number of medical specialists find themselves unpleasantly surprised, when exactly like their patients, they develop an illness as a result of total physical and psychological exhaustion. It is hard for many physicians to accept that they too are vulnerable and they sometimes need the help of consultancies, mentors or individual coaching. They start changing their lifestyle only when the change is inevitable. To say that you don’t have time to change your thinking or lifestyle is like saying that you don’t have time to stop and fill the tank of your car because you are busy with the driving – eventually you will have no other choice. The career of such doctors is suffering, their family is suffering and the life of these doctors is shattered because they haven’t paid attention earlier.
If you are a young medical specialist, striving for achievements in your profession, place your health in the beginning of your list of priorities. Yes, doctors’ profession isn’t one of the easiest since it is connected with illnesses, human pain and a lot of stressful situations. However, the most important thing is not the situation itself, but how a person reacts to it. Physicians can do a lot of things to neutralize the effects of stress. Even the most resilient people have to keep their health in focus.
More and more employers in the health care sector realize that it is important to take care of their employees’ health. In many hospitals the working time has become more flexible and programs for preserving staff’s health have been implemented.
What can doctors do to reduce the negative impact of stress?
Stress is a state in which the body prepares itself for a “fight or flight” response towards a threat. The stress hormones arouse the organism and create a great amount of energy. If it is not expended in physical activity, a person can remain in this state of overexcitation for many hours. When this repeats every day, the organism pays a huge price.
The time-tested ways of dealing successfully with stress are:
1. Aerobic training
Aerobic workouts are an irreplaceable means for neutralizing the effects of stress. This type of physical activity expends the extra energy and releases the tension built up in muscles. The result is a sensation of relaxation, pleasant physical tiredness and a serene mind. Fast walking, riding a bike, swimming and dancing are different alternatives to training in the gym. You will be able to believe in the positive effect of sport only after you have practiced it regularly for at least one month.
2. Avoid drinking coffee
Even when you know that drinking coffee makes you nervous, it might be hard to give it up as it is the case with any long-established habit. Besides, giving up coffee abruptly may cause headaches similar to migraine. The best way is to do it gradually and try to perceive it as an experiment. Reduce the cups one by one until you reach the number zero. Then, restrain yourself from drinking coffee for 3 weeks and see how you feel. If you think that the tension and feeling of distress hasn’t diminished, you can go back to drinking coffee if you wish. Most people stop the consummation of this drink after this experiment.
3. Maintain a good psychological hygiene
This includes a careful selection of activities during the spare time. For many people watching criminal movies and thrillers is the only way to provide themselves with adrenaline but for you situations full of adrenaline are a part of your daily routine. This means that you need to avoid spare time activities that tend to increase the level of tension. Laughter is one of the best cures so watching comedies and having fun with friends is essential for your overloaded brain. In case that the communication with so many people at work makes you tired, try to find time and space for the much-needed solitude. It is well-known that meditation is more effective than sleeping when it comes to recovering the mind from the stress. Not many people harness this relaxation technique but it is worth trying since your health is in the line.
Playing with your pet, watching the fire in the fireplace, reading a relaxing book are all highly beneficial activities for physicians. Getting a massage isn’t just a treatment when you suffer from back pain. There is scientific evidence that it stimulates the production of the hormone oxytocin which has a very positive effect on human’s body and mind.
You can also listen to CDs which are specially created to enhance a serene state of mind.
4. If you are at a crossroad in your career, find an experienced guide
Nowadays the career opportunities are abundant. Sometimes a person feels as though he is in a labyrinth and doesn’t know which way to go.
Medical specialists can choose between emigration, working in the native country or establishing a private practice. Weighing the pros and cons of all the options and making a huge step in the professional development causes stress in doctors. The solution is to look for consultancies like Forum der Medizin which can help them take the most suitable direction and assist with the necessary procedures connected with the process of moving from one country to another if this is what they want. These companies also help medical students gain education abroad. Some of the consultancies offer opportunities for getting a scholarship. It would be good for medical students to seek support from mentors and consultants even before applying for a university so that they can be sure that they will make the best possible choice.
5. Release the tension by expressing it with words
It is important to have someone in your circle of friends whom you can trust and feel free to share with them what bothers you. You can rely on a colleague, relative, therapist or a life coach to help you go through a life crisis. Maybe you have heard the saying: “A shared problem is a half-solved problem.” If you feel very tense and you have no one to talk to on a particular day, you can write down in a diary so that the sadness, pain, anger, etc. will diminish in intensity. During the process of writing, you might come up with a possible solution to the problem.
6. Sense of humour
It saves most of the doctors from emotional exhaustion. Black humour is typical of medical specialists and for sure there is a logical explanation for this. It is a way for them to transform the traumatic experiences into something they can see from a different angle.
Not every doctor has a well-developed sense of humour before choosing this profession but fortunately this isn’t a trait you are born with - it is a skill that can be learnt.
7. „Professional emotional detachment”
This is a skill all physicians learn in order to decrease the intensity of the pain and emotions they experience from witnessing things that are hard to accept. Doctors “distance” themselves from the situation. It is important not to go to the opposite extreme – total lack of empathy towards patients. Having a kind attitude and expressing compassion is an integral part of doctors’ profession and contributes to the fast recovery of patients.
It is a matter of doctors making a conscious effort to master the skill to “approach” and “distance” themselves emotionally according to the situation, the need of empathy a particular patient feels and the state of the physician on this particular day (whether they still have energy or tiredness has taken over).
When tiredness has taken over, medical specialists should keep their kind and professional attitude towards their patients and at the same time apply the professional emotional detachment approach.
8. Taking regular breaks
This is requirement for maintaining high efficiency of employees. It is better to do medical checkups and procedures in a good condition of the mind rather than in a state of exhaustion since an exhausted person is much more likely to make mistakes.
During the break you can go to the hospital balcony, take a few deep breaths, talk with your colleagues on topics different from problems at work, or even deal with a work activity which doesn’t require a high level of concentration.
If you have an opportunity for taking a nap during the day, set an alarm to wake you up after 15-20 minutes because when a person naps for more than 20 minutes, they wake up feeling dizzy and sleepy.
Author: Mariya Dim
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