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Stress Management for Doctors

Stress Management for Doctors
Published Thursday 30 September 2021

How to keep calm and healthy in such circumstances

Stress is an integral part of healthcare workers’ lives. Constant doctor-patient interaction, high responsibility, making important decisions - all these do not lead to emotional calmness. Take into account changeable work schedule, multitasking, high workload, conflicts at work ... The list of “hospital” stress factors is endless. Doctors are under stress. How to keep calm and healthy in such circumstances? Let's figure it out with the psychologist Olga Sergeevna Peskova.

Positive and negative stress

The Canadian pathologist and endocrinologist Hans Selye pioneered stress researches. He was the one who developed the stress concept:

Stress is a set of nonspecific adaptive body responses to various negative stressors that disrupt its homeostasis.

Selye coined “positive” stress (eustress) and “negative” (distress). Eustress increases the functional reserve of the body, helps adapt to the stress factor and eliminate stress itself. It increases personal efficiency, helps focus attention, enhances rational thinking, and helps find emotional balance. We experience such stress when facing interesting life tasks, taking these challenges enthusiastically.

However, if stress is too intense or long-lasting (distress), by contrast, it depletes the body's defenses, leads to adaptation mechanisms breakdown and deterioration of health. A total absence of stress is also bad though. Life appears a boring routine shorn of interest and zest for life.

Hans Selye stated in his theory that every living organism possesses a supply of adaptive energy, which is limited. Depletion of adaptive energy results in the body getting sick, growing old and dying. Any action or event can cause stress, either positive or negative, but only the intensity matters.

If the energy supply is depleted, and stress, on the contrary, keeps on intensifying, the body physiological reaction follows. Most often, the cardiovascular system and the gastrointestinal tract suffer from stress. The most typical consequences are following:

  • Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (stress cardiomyopathy) or "broken heart syndrome";
  • Arterial hypertension;
  • Gastritis, gastric ulcer and duodenal ulcer;
  • Psychovegetative syndrome (panic attacks);
  • Neuroses, depressive and anxiety disorders;
  • Chronic insomnia;
  • Tension headaches, migraines;
  • Transient cognitive impairment (impairment of attention, memory, ability to intellectual activity).

Work-related stress is a story of its own. The American psychiatrist Herbert Freudenberg introduced the concept of burnout syndrome almost 50 years ago. It is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion that develops as a result of chronic stress in the workplace. “Every employee realizes that stress can be a fire of joy made of work being done. But if an employee does not have enough resources to control this fire, he can “burn out” ... ”- Freudenberg wrote poetically.

Stress build-up

“Let's imagine an unpleasant situation has happened - for instance, a dissatisfied patient yelled at you,” says psychologist Olga Peskova. “The thought evokes a certain emotion (in this case, surely, negative). The hormonal process is launched. If the thought is positive, endorphins are produced. If negative - cortisol and adrenaline are produced, the body comes to the so-called "hit-and-run" state, when the muscles are toned and tense. “

Olga states that the emotion that we feel at the moment “lives” for only one to three minutes, hardly ever up to a maximum of 12 minutes. The rest of the time when we “wind up” ourselves is the result of our mentality, attitudes and beliefs. So, the thought "I will get the sack" does not just arise, it is rooted in the belief "I have no value as an employee." It is this belief that is responsible for a long-term stress. If you keep on worrying about the same situation for several hours, or even days, you should try to figure out what kind of negative belief compels you to do this, and work on it.

How to prevent situational stress from becoming chronic

“Stress is divided into situational and chronic,” says the psychologist Olga Peskova. “Situational stress is something that we face literally every day. It is caused by both negative and positive events. This is a conflict at work, and a wedding, and a promotion. If you cannot manage to cope with situational stress, it accumulates and becomes habitual, chronic. This state is dangerous because it can cause serious health consequences. "

How to manage stress properly and prevent it from becoming chronic? The psychologist Olga Peskova has given a few practical recommendations.

  • Accept and experience emotions

Olga recommends first to detect and honestly accept the emotion you are experiencing. “Learning to admit how you are feeling at the moment is crucial”, - emphasizes Olga. “Yes, I am angry, I am very angry. Whom at? At that patient. I have a room for emotions, anger, irritation, disgust. Acceptance and experiencing are vital.

Sooner or later you may find out that you feel anger or disgust not towards a specific person, but towards some previous experiences. Try to remember when was the first time you felt so. Perhaps, by settling those earlier experiences (for example, with the help of a psychologist), you will be able to avoid stress in the future. "

  • Use stress relief techniques

There are many ways to relieve stress. For instance, calm music, meditation, creativity, handicrafts. The main thing is to find what is more relevant and interesting to you. Olga shared one of these relaxing techniques with us. We present it in the final part of the article.

  • Take care of physical health

Healthy sleep, rest, walking outside and exercise are a must for a stable psyche. Remember to plan your free time as carefully as other things, do not forget to delight yourself with such pleasant bonuses as a massage, a bath or a contrast shower. This is not self-pampering, but a valuable investment in your health.

  • Switch

It relates to that very habit of "winding up" yourself, experiencing an unpleasant situation for a long time. You can suffer for a long time and ecstatically, turn on "that" song from the past, get depressed and stuck in it for a long time. On the other hand, you can switch to other thoughts and impressions. The difference, as they say, is obvious.

  • Think positive

Ability to see advantages when there seem to be only disadvantages is an extremely useful skill. And it can be trained just like any other skill.

  • Ask a psychologist for help

This option is for those who want to deal with the cause, not the effect. An expert will help to tackle patterns and attitudes that make us experience stress over and over again.

  • Get medical advice

There are situations when the listed techniques cannot help. In this case, it is worth doing a check-up (including the level of hormones) and getting recommendations from doctors if there are problems.

Stress management technique. The psychologist's instruction

Take a deep breath, breath out, relax. Close your eyes and remember when you were stressed. Feel it in your body. Try to imagine what color the stress is in your body? Try to rate the level of this stress on a scale of 0-10. Write down your answers.

Similarly, with your eyes closed, imagine in the fullest detail one of the recent situations caused you stress. By doing so, try to relax to the utmost, breathe calmly and evenly. Imagine that you are stepping out of your body and looking at the situation from the outside. You observe calmly what is happening with you, with other participants in the situation. It is possible that from the outside it does not look as terrible as it seemed from the inside.

Close your palms, touch yourself (body contact is very important) and start breathing deeply with your belly. Breathing out should be longer than breathing in. Imagine that the color of stress that was inside you and spread throughout your body comes out with each exhalation. Take 10 breaths in and out. Do not hurry. With each exhalation, the stress scale gradually decreases, the body relaxes.

Then try again to rate your stress level on a scale from 0 to 10 and compare the results.

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