Doctors should do these 3 things daily

By Jonathan Ford Hughes
Published April 27, 2021

Key Takeaways

Habits: The things we do automatically, without thinking about them. When it comes to stress reduction, the idea of stress-reducing habits is essential. Turning these practices into habits amplifies their stress-relieving potential. While you might feel relief once in a while doing them irregularly, you’ll miss their ultimate potential.

Why are stress-reducing habits so essential for physicians? First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. You’re probably more stressed than ever because of covid. Second, and perhaps more importantly, because you’re so time-starved, if you don’t make these stress-busting practices into habits, then you won’t do them.

First, we suggest reading this post on habit-formation for doctors. Then, if you’re committed to doing the work of reducing stress (yes, it sounds paradoxical, but it works), then start implementing these habits one at a time.

Go outside

A meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Psychology sought to determine:

  • What is the minimum amount of time in nature that improves mental health among college-aged students?

  • What types of “engagement with nature” caused the greatest improvements?

After screening nearly 12,000 studies, the researchers selected 14 that met their criteria for the review. The meta-analysis revealed:

  • 10 minutes in nature improved psychological and physiological markers of mental well being.

  • The effects occurred in a “diverse array of natural settings” and could be gleaned from sitting or walking in these settings.

study published in Scientific Reports reveals that your target should be 120 minutes a week in nature, if you want good health and well-being. The research team queried nearly 20,000 participants about their “recreational nature contact” in the last 7 days, and their self-reported well-being and health. The researchers found:

  • Compared to no time in nature, those who spent 120 minutes or more outdoors had a higher likelihood of reporting good health or high well-being.

  • Self-reported health and well-being gains stopped between 200-300 minutes.

  • Findings applied to older adults and those with “long-term health issues.”

  • The 120 minutes could be spent all at once or broken into shorter intervals.

Stretch it out

A study published in the Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health may prove beneficial for healthcare workers struggling to cope with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers ran two concurrent studies to compare cognitive behavioral stress management (CBSM) with yoga-based stress management (YBSM) among healthcare workers.

In Study 1, a total of 37 mental health care workers underwent YBSM for 8 weeks. In study 2, 40 mental health care workers randomly received YBSM or CBSM as interventions. Researchers found:

  • YBSM in Study 1 participants “affected a number of mental and physical well-being indices pre to post.”

  • In Study 2, YBSM and CBSM, significantly improved fruit and vegetable consumption, heart rate, alcohol use, relaxation and awareness, professional quality of life, compassion satisfaction burnout, depression, and levels of stress.

The researchers concluded that YBSM and CBSM may improve the physical and mental health of healthcare professionals. They added that YBSM confers the additional benefits of increasing overall activity and mental health, and “decrease secondary traumatic stress benefits.”

A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine revealed similar results. Researchers concluded that “yoga appears to be effective in the management of stress in healthcare workers.” The following studies helped them reach the conclusion:

  • A six-month study showed that yoga helped Chinese nurses achieve a statistical improvement in stress levels.

  • An 11-week program helped medical students improve self-regulation values for stress, and self-compassion values.

  • Other observational studies showed that healthcare workers believe yoga can improve physical, emotional and mental health.


Journal of Nursing Education and Practice study shows that journaling has helped nurses cope with stress, increase compassion satisfaction, decrease burnout, and cope with trauma/compassion fatigue.

  • 66 RNs took a journaling class, implemented the practice, and then received 3 surveys to evaluate the aforementioned factors. They also received open-ended questions.

  • Journaling produced statistically significant changes in all three areas.

The open-ended questions identified three common trends:

  • Journaling helped the nurses release their innermost feelings.

  • It helped them better understand their feelings.

  • Journaling also led to more reasonable decisions, they said.

Journaling doesn’t have to be a drawn-out, ponderous process. Research supports gratitude journaling, which can take a minute or two each day. A Journal of Psychosomatic Research meta-analysis showed that gratitude interventions, like gratitude journaling, are “clinically usable” and may be most beneficial for sleep.

  • The analysis included 19 studies.

  • Sleep quality improved in 5 out of 8 applicable studies.

  • Blood pressure, glycemic control, asthma control, and eating behavior improved in 1 out of 1 applicable studies.

  • The jury is out on inflammation markers and self-reported physical symptoms.

New habits

Create these habits to reduce stress:

  • Go outside for about 120 minutes weekly. You can get 120 minutes at once or see benefit from increments as short as 10 minutes.

  • Do yoga.

  • Take up gratitude journaling.

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