Stress busting 101: 5 stress relief hacks for the busy doctor

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published August 29, 2019

Key Takeaways

Unfortunately—and not surprisingly—physicians are more stressed than most people. Not only do doctors work an average of 10 hours more per week than the average population, they also experience significantly more emotional exhaustion (43% vs 24%, respectively) and burnout (49% vs 28%), according to a study from the American Medical Association and the Mayo Clinic.

The sources of physician stress include long hours, the unspoken need for perfection, and the heavy toll of making a mistake. Also stressful is the almost constant barrage of emotional situations that are typical of a physician’s daily workload. Other stressors can include overscheduling, difficult patients, and mistakes made by the staff.

Successful stress management

The go-to tips for managing stress sound simple: Avoid unnecessary stress. Adjust to the stressor. Accept what you cannot change. Change the situation. Ask for help.

Yet, these steps can be difficult to implement, especially when you are in the thick of things and have to think quickly, as physicians usually do.

It cannot be overstated that your frame of mind is important and can make or break your efforts to deal with stress. Experts offer the following tips to help change your mindset and make yourself more resilient and able to recover from stress:

  • Stay positive.
  • Don’t be a perfectionist. Give failures their proper place—not as what defines you, but as what helps you learn and grow.
  • Stay focused on things you can control. Focus on your effort and your attitude, as opposed to the outcome.
  • Clarify your goals. Set clear objectives for yourself, and make sure to differentiate them from your daily activities
  • Focus on only a few things at once. Pick 2–3 things each week that will have the most impact on your goals.

To further help with stress management, MDLinx has compiled a few of the many tools and techniques available to help you destress. Try some or all of them. Hopefully, you’ll find the one that fits your life and works for you.

Express gratitude. Did you know that simply allowing—or forcing—yourself to feel and express gratitude can lead to feelings of happiness and relaxation? Feeling gratitude reduces stress and increases your emotional resilience. And, when done just as you are going to sleep, feelings of gratitude can help relax you and even help you sleep better.

Not sure how to express gratitude? One way is to thank a colleague, whether it be another physician or nurse—by phone, text, email, or even a written thank-you note. Think of someone who has helped you with an act of kindness, words of encouragement or support, or even helped you complete a task, make a diagnosis, or finish up some documentation that you would otherwise not have been able to do on your own. Let them know that you are genuinely thankful for what they have done, by any means possible.

Diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Lie down or sit comfortably. Placing one hand on your chest and one on your stomach, and slowly inhale through your nose. Concentrate on keeping your chest still and expanding your stomach. Practice this exercise 20–30 minutes a day to relieve stress and anxiety.

Progressive muscle relaxation. This relaxation technique consists of tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups systematically. For example, start tensing and then relaxing your feet, alternately. Move to your lower legs, then upper legs, then your stomach, and so forth. Move up the body with this technique, ending with tensing and relaxing your face. For some examples, check out some videos on YouTube.  

Tapping. Tapping is a variation of acupressure in which one uses the fingertips to stimulate meridian points, which are energy pathways and points that play a central role in Chinese medicine. Tapping can be used to relieve both physical and emotional ailments, including stress. One session of tapping is said to have the potential to lower your cortisol levels—a marker of stress—by 50%. For guidance, several YouTube videos are available. Choose one specifically for stress relief.

Personal biofeedback. Biofeedback is a stress-management technique that teaches you to manage your breathing, heart rate, and blood flow. Using real-time measurements of heart rate, blood pressure, brainwaves, skin temperatures, and muscle tension, biofeedback can help you become aware of the physiologic reactions you have to different stressors, and compare them to what your body does in a resting, non-stressed state.

Using a personal biofeedback device, you can gradually learn how to relax on command to relieve stress and anxiety, ADHD, memory loss, and even depression.

Some personal biofeedback devices to consider include RESPeRATE (endorsed by the American Heart Association), HeartMath emWave2, and Mindplace ThoughtStream.

Another approach is using a biofeedback device that measures your brainwave patterns. These require wearing a headset. Options include BrainLink Pro, Muse, and Thync.

As with most things, simply being aware of stressors in your life is essential to successfully dealing with it, as is having a proactive plan to do so. Stress is inevitable for everyone, but you can minimize it and maximize your resilience to it with just a few tweaks to your routine.

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