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Stress: Are we taking care of ourselves?

20 August 2020

Dr Brian Charles, emergency physician based in Barbados, looks at the steps clinicians can take to better care for themselves

True story: a physician of 42 years retired two months after the COVID-19 pandemic started as he felt it wasn’t worthwhile continuing his practice with the operating financial cost and markedly decreased revenue from low attendances to the surgery. Three weeks after retirement, he receives his first letter from an attorney for a lawsuit from a patient he managed two years prior. This was very stressful for him and fortunately he’d been a member of Medical Protection for all his career and we were able to help in many ways, including counselling for emotional distress.

Many of us practitioners spare no effort to ‘heal’ or at least bring comfort to our patients but are we adequately taking care of ourselves? The case above highlights three concomitant stressors in a colleague who was not prepared and could have had serious consequences if not managed appropriately.

Below are some strategies that we can learn to manage stress and lead happier, healthier lives:

  • Recognise poorly managed stress early and seek treatment with a psychologist or other mental health professional trained in stress management. Medical Protection has a counselling service for members who are having difficult times managing stressful events relating to professional practice.
  • Accept that there are events that you cannot control. Try not to let unplanned adverse situations affect your life.  
  • Keep a positive attitude; easier said than done, especially in the present times.
  • Be assertive instead of aggressive. Assert your feelings, opinions or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive or passive.
  • Learn and practise relaxation techniques: try meditation and other established relaxation techniques for stress management.
  • Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when it is fit.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Set manageable goals in your professional and personal lives. Review these goals regularly and adjust appropriately.
  • Learn to manage your time more effectively.
  • Set limits appropriately and learn to say “no” to requests that would create excessive stress in your life.
  • Make time for hobbies, interests and relaxation.
  • Get enough rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
  • Don't rely on alcohol, drugs or compulsive behaviours to reduce stress.
  • Seek out social support. Spend enough time with those you enjoy.

Remember that stress is good in that it prepares us for survival and allows heightened performance in adverse situations. However too much stress, or poorly managed stress, will have harmful effects.