Stress among doctors - A viewpoint

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Stress among doctors is an issue that is always rare in usual discussions. Understanding the stress doctors face and how it affects them can help us to understand behind-the-scenes factors that doctors deal with, and raise awareness of their heavy levels of stress. More importantly focusing on the job factors that create the most significant stress and the way that this stress can be managed can not only help the doctors who may be reading this article, but anyone who works a job that is more stressful and hectic.

Understanding the risk factors

Doctors work many hours, and these tend to be stressful hours. Their shifts are long and filled with strenuous activity. They are often on-call even when not on duty so they may live with the feeling of always being on duty. This can make leisure time feel less relaxing and contribute to an experience of chronic stress. 

Another burnout risk factor is the feeling that mistakes are risky—that real and lasting damage can come from a small mistake at work. Most importantly in the life of a doctor, any mistake could be a mistake that is remembered for years.

Next risk factor is the concept of perfectionism. Doctors can face a risk of maintaining a perfectionistic attitude in their lives. Over time, perfectionists tend to be far more stressed and even perform more poorly because of this stress—the stress of never quite being enough. They may also succumb to procrastination and burn out more easily as well. 

Another layer of difficulty that doctors face is the perception that they must have all the answers for whatsoever questions asked to them . If they talk to their colleagues about the stress they face or feelings of burnout, this shows a perceived weakness that many doctors don’t want to show. Out of fear of professional or personal ramifications, many doctors don’t discuss the challenges they face or seek help themselves when they may need support with managing stress. This lack of seeking support can take away a line of defence against stress that doctors sorely face.

The need to face emotionally loaded or draining situations on a regular basis is something that doctors face constantly, and another job factor that puts doctors at an increased risk for burnout. They need to deal with patients who may be upset or scared, patients who are angry, and they must break the bad news to patients and their family members -- can be particularly taxing for compassionate doctors, and this constant part of the job can take a heavy toll.

Doctors are expected to deal with these emotionally heavy situations with grace and compassionate support, then go directly to the next patient without slowing their stride. This requires a strong level of self-compassion and a supportive network for doctors themselves.

Moreover, doctors can’t usually take a day off if they feel that they’re approaching a state of burnout. They can’t go on vacation and leave their phones off, most of the time. They don’t always have a high level of choice in their day-to-day lives, and this can be stressful as well. Doctors often have their schedules dictated to them with unexpected surprises.

More to say, doctors face the kind of stress that is less common in a job, and they maintain a promise of confidentiality with their patients, so it may be more difficult to talk about the challenges of their job and their day. For one thing, they’re not able to share everything. But another factor is that their loved ones can’t always relate. This can make it difficult to find social support in the same way that many people find it.

The way forward

Minimising Stressors. While not all types of stress are harmful, too much stress overall can take a toll and lead to chronic stress. The stress of the little things in life—can also add to the overall stress in your life. Getting rid of them wherever you can, leave you with more time and energy to devote to things you enjoy and can leave you with more energy to handle the stress you face at work.

Building a supportive network. Social support really helps with stress, especially the right kind of social support. If you feel that your life doesn’t contain enough of this, it’s important to make a change. You can find more people to create positive relationships with. You can work on strengthening the relationships you do have. You can also join a support group or talk to a therapist -- these things can be really helpful for stress management.

Engaging with patients pragmatically. During today’s world, with the rise of the internet, many patients come in with answers of their own. Though this can often create more stress if patients don’t have accurate information, but it also shows a willingness to be a partner in their own care, which is something that can be encouraged. Doctors should encourage telling their patients pragmatically what they can do in their lives to improve their health and well-being, enlisting their participation in their own care --this can actually take pressure off of both parties, in the long run.

Acknowledging mistakes. It is impossible and unreasonable to expect a doctor, as a human being, to never make a mistake. If you make a mistake, as long as you are honest with yourself and truthful to your patients, know that you did your best and then let it go and continue to do your best.

Practising self-care. One of the most stressful aspects of being a doctor is that you may not have enough time to take care of your basic needs. But you should make efforts in meeting your own physical needs -- getting enough sleep, enough exercise, enough healthy food, and enough positive activities that can help you to manage stress. Moreover, focusing on self-care and stress management can help you to relate to the challenges your patients face and learn to overcome them so you can better help your patients to do the same.

Practising meditation. Important thing to remember is that the best type of meditation that will prove helpful is the type that you will be comfortable practicing regularly. This is a habit that can help you to detach from the stress around you —something that is vital for doctors. It can also help you to build resilience to stress. You can try a daily prayer, a gratitude journal habit, a kindness meditation, or a guided imagery meditation at the end of the day.

Lifting your mood. Research on resilience and positive psychology has shown that lifts to your mood can broaden your perspective and help you to build resilience in multiple ways. Perhaps the best part of these findings is that doing something as simply writing in your gratitude journal—things that put you in a better mood—can bring lasting benefits in the way of personal resilience. Learn how this works and make it a simple and fun part of your daily routine.

Dr.Tasaduk Hussain Itoo J&K based

- Public Health Physician/Educator/Columnist/

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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