Medicine is one of the most stressful careers out there. It has always been stressful, and it looks like it will continue to be for the foreseeable future. There are serious complications to being stressed, including physician burnout and suicide. If you’re not familiar with the term, burnout is the mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion in addition to a loss of desire to help patients and doubting the work you’re doing has any significance. In fact, some doctors stop caring about their patients and think of them as potential lawsuits; this is called depersonalization.
Doctor burnout and suicide only started being viewed as serious issues in the 1990s. It’s not just limited to accomplished physicians, either; it also affects medical students. Up to 50% of medical students experience burnout, while 10% of them have contemplated suicide. It’s also a very common issue, as 25%–75% of residents feel this way. Other statistics show that up to 60% of doctors suffer from burnout. Burnout shouldn’t worry only those in the medical profession, but everyone in the general population as well. If your physicians start feeling this way, without a doubt, the quality of care they provide for you will decrease as well. Like we said, doctors will be too exhausted in all aspects to give the full care they can and, in addition, they’re going to care less about their patients.
If you think burnout is a minor issue, certainly suicide should move you. It is the second leading cause of death, the first being accidents, among medical students. Doctors have the same rates of suicide as the rest of the population. These statistics should concern you, and this is why doctors need ways to relieve their stress and refresh their spirits in order to keep providing the highest quality of care they can.
Exercise is the ultimate way to relieve stress. It’s ironic it’s something doctors recommend to almost all their patients, while they never do it themselves. Exercise releases enzymes from your muscles that detoxify substances released as a result of stress. Exercise doesn’t have to be frustrating and a chore. Walking thirty minutes a day will help. For me, the best exercise is swimming; you get all the benefits of a full-body workout and, at the same time, you’re having fun in a pool. It also barely requires any equipment; all you need is a swimming pool and a swimsuit. You could even exercise early in the morning before you take your morning showers. You’ll never run out of exercise options, whether you’re doing it alone or with friends. It’s time to start taking the advice we give to patients.
Another way to relieve stress is to check your emails and your phone less often. A study was conducted at the University of British Columbia which had people either check their emails only three times a week or check it as often as possible. The result was that the group that chose to only check their emails thrice a week felt a lot less stressed than the others. Of course, three times a week might not be the best option for a doctor, but you could limit your inbox viewing to once or twice a day rather than having notifications pop up every hour or so.
Your diet can help make you less stressed, too. Food such as fish and chia seeds, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, help reduce inflammation in the body; inflammation and chronic stress are strongly linked to each other. Another way to benefit from this is through cooking. You could learn to cook from scratch if you haven’t already. The process of cooking itself is enjoyable and calming, and the results of seeing what you cooked will make you feel satisfied and happy.
Photography can be considered a relatively new hobby, and it is a lot of fun. As with cooking, you don’t need to be a pro with the most expensive camera to enjoy being a photographer. You can buy a camera and go outside to take pictures of things you like. As you take more pictures, you’ll get better at it and will end up with some fantastic photos. Photography helps you see the world from a different perspective, which will open your mind to new ideas and take it off medicine and anything else that’s making you stressed. It’ll also encourage you to visit new places to take pictures, and you’ll end up with lots of memories and tons of pictures to remember them by.
Making new friends is a great way to improve the quality of your life in general and not just to relieve stress. Studies show that if you feel lonely, you’re more likely to feel threatened, which in turn will make you feel stressed. You could make friends with people you work with in the hospital or at your practice, or you can combine sports with making friends. Perhaps you might make a friend who likes the same sport as you, which will encourage you to play that sport more often with him/her.
Sleep is one of the best indicators of how a person is feeling. In mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder, you’ll find people sleep too much or too little. If you’re stressed, you’re likely to suffer from insomnia and interrupted sleep. Find ways to get more sleep, which will give your body time to rest, and you’ll feel better when you wake up. Methods to improve your sleep hygiene include refraining from any electronic screens, such as TV or, more importantly, your smartphone, for a while before going to bed. It also helps to have a fixed wake-up time and to stay away from alcohol and caffeine as much as possible.
Maybe you’re stressed because you spend all of your time working and you have no time for your thoughts or self-reflection. Writing really helps with this. You could start a blog, or simply write in a journal and keep it to yourself if you’d rather not share with anyone. Writing gives you the opportunity to really spill your thoughts on paper or a screen, and by doing so, you will discover more about yourself and maybe even come to realize things that are stressing you out that you hadn’t really thought of. Reading is a great stress reliever, too. According to The Telegraph (a British newspaper), reading alone for six minutes relaxes your muscles and lets you unwind. Imagine reading entire chapters, or even a book!
Solving puzzles is another way to relieve stress, and you’ll never run out of them. There are also several kinds of puzzles you can do depending on what you prefer. Puzzles will also boost your memory in a fun way. You can even download puzzle apps on your phone so you can do them anywhere. Of course, yoga and music are well-known ways to unwind. Simply listening to music or practicing an instrument will definitely make you feel better. As for yoga, it’s a simple enough process that can be done anywhere, and even with a group of friends.
Basically, there are tons of ways to unwind and relax. It’s impossible for anyone not to feel at least one of the things we talked about. Some will require more effort and time than others, such as working out and playing an instrument, while others can be done anywhere and anytime, such as writing, reading, listening to music, or doing puzzles. Some things are must-dos, such as getting more and improved sleep, as well as limiting how many times you check your inbox. At the end of the day, remember nothing is really worth stressing about, and being stressed out too much will affect your health and your job performance.