By Dr. Richard Juman, PsyD, TeamHealth National Director of Psychological Services
Your palms are sweaty and you can feel your pulse pounding in your veins. You’re trying to focus on the all-important task at hand, but at the same time your mind is sending competing thoughts your way, and you curse yourself for being in over your head. Your cell phone starts ringing, and you find yourself wishing that the world would “just stop” for a minute so that you can fully focus. Your head is pounding and you feel that things are spinning out of control.
Are you a federal agent trying desperately to defuse a nuclear device, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance? No. You’re a healthcare provider trying to e-prescribe a medication through a prickly EHR, knowing that seven other patients need your immediate attention and you need to be at your daughter’s school in two hours to pick her up.
Stress is a natural part of the human condition, and while it has positive elements, chronic stress that is not addressed can have a significantly negative impact on one’s quality of life and physical health.
For a variety of reasons, healthcare providers are more at risk for the negative impacts of stress than the general population. We are trained to be in control, to be able to work long hours, to put the needs of our patients ahead of our own and to “push through” when we feel overwhelmed or exhausted.
We often have to work long, and sometimes unexpected, hours, which jeopardizes the relationships with family and friends that optimally serve as buffers against stress. We can become preoccupied with our negative clinical outcomes and come to fear for our job or our license. Stress makes us more prone to errors, which exacerbates those concerns. The starkest evidence that healthcare providers are more susceptible to the negative impacts of chronic stress is that doctors take their own lives about twice as often as the general population.
So, how are you feeling? Does any of this ring true for you? Do you find yourself overreacting to small things, suffering from headaches or other stress-related physical symptoms and generally feeling that the demands placed on you are surpassing your ability to manage? Has your use of alcohol, nicotine or other drugs increased? Is your sleep suffering or do you find yourself making poor choices with respect to your diet? All of these are likely symptoms of stress or “burnout.”
If feeling stressed and overwhelmed has become “normal” for you, it’s time to take decisive action, and the good news is that there are many ways to build stress-busting activities into your regular routine. Schedule time for exercise, meditation, warm baths, outdoor activities and hobbies that interrupt the stress cycle. Make sure that you stay connected to family and friends, as these social supports are crucial to maintaining your equilibrium. You should also build adequate transition time into your schedule, so that you’re not constantly racing from one stressful activity into the next, and be deliberate in terms of how you spend your break times. Fifteen minutes spent walking outside or lightly stretching in a quiet room is much more salutary than 15 minutes spent wolfing down a bag of chips and bad coffee from the vending machine.
Because of the prevalence of stress in the healthcare industry, TeamHealth is committed to helping clinicians achieve wellness and work-life balance. We are a clinical organization whose success, and the welfare of our patients, depends on our clinicians being at the top of their game. We encourage you to speak to your supervisor about any challenges you’re facing that can be addressed directly, such as assignments or scheduling.
Pushing through stress isn’t a healthy long-term strategy- address it head on by taking decisive action now.
As a part of TeamHealth’s commitment to physical and mental well-being, we invest in programs to aid in clinician wellness. In 2016, we enhanced available wellness resources through our LiveWell WorkLife Services to help colleagues combat personal challenges—burnout, depression, anxiety, financial and legal issues and more. For more information on this program visit our clinician wellness page, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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