How Physicians can Overcome Stress
For physicians, even the most normal days at work are like being in a pressure cooker. You run nonstop for 10 to 12 hours. Patients and colleagues demand constant attention. Vital patient care decisions must routinely be made in the absence of complete diagnostic information. And, the “professional detachment” technique taught in medical school only goes so far.
So, what can busy physicians do to de-stress after a hard day on the frontlines?
Take a 15-minute walk.
Perhaps the most tried and true way to reduce stress is to take a walk. Although walking along hallways or up and down stairs can still offer some benefit, the best strategy is to get outside and get moving for at least 15 minutes. This will enable you to clear your head, boost endorphins and, in turn, reduce stress hormones. And, if you’re able to immerse yourself in a natural setting, such as a park or a wooded trail, you can double the benefits. Being in a green or natural environment induces a meditative state known as “involuntary attention” which is when something holds our attention, yet also allows for simultaneous reflection.
Take deep belly breaths.
As physicians already know, controlled or “deep” breathing exercises can reduce blood pressure while also aiding physiological systems harmed by stress. In fact, recent research indicates that breathing exercises may be able to change the expression of some genes involved in how the body reacts to stress, as well as immune function, energy metabolism, and insulin secretion.
Visualize where you’d rather be.
If you can’t escape for a 15-minute walk, an alternative tactic is to simply visualize yourself in a more desirable setting or circumstance. The NIH already recognizes “guided imagery” as eliciting a relaxation response. The key here is to find a private, quiet space where you can close your eyes for a few uninterrupted minutes. Then, imagine yourself basking on a sun-drenched Caribbean beach, walking hand-in-hand through Paris with your partner, or slicing through powdery snow on the slopes in Lake Tahoe. You’ll be amazed how readily this technique can snap you out of a stressful state of mind.
Drop the electronic gadgets.
Computers, smartphones, televisions and gaming devices can enable hours of fun and pleasure, but they can also be major sources of stress, especially when used in the hours just before bedtime. Start by keeping TV’s and other electronic devices out of the bedroom. Another effective strategy is to schedule your use of electronic devices so they do not become omnipresent in your daily life. For instance, allow yourself 15 minutes to play a game on your smart phone, but only after you complete a chore.
Turn on some music.
Listening to your favorite music is a known stress reliever because it floods your brain with neurochemicals like dopamine. Classical music, in particular, has been proven to lower heart rate, decrease stress hormone levels and reduce blood pressure.
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