Self Care for Doctors

Doctors often work long hours, and for most, around half of their day involves communicating with patients. At times this exchange is difficult and stressful. The demands on a doctor’s stamina, emotions, and attention is unremitting.

When doctors eat, sleep, and exercise well, when they set aside time for pleasure and relaxation, they are more likely to not only have a higher degree of empathy with their patients, but better perform their clinical duties, and become a more valuable and productive colleague in their practice. For many doctors however exhaustion and emotional strain means they live a less than healthy life.

A doctor’s family, friends, and colleagues are the most important resource that will help counter the effects of stress and anxiety. Frequent and open communication complements any care taken over diet, rest, and exercise.

Recognizing Signs of Burnout

When an increasing number of doctors suffer burnout it is important to recognise its signs.

Burnout is a state of physical and/or emotional exhaustion that becomes overwhelming and impacts negatively on work performance and a person’s quality of life.

Although the doctor provides advice about physical and mental well-being to almost every patient they see, they may pay little attention to their own physical and mental state, or their sense of social satisfaction, accomplishment, or personal fulfilment, all of which contribute to an experience of wellness.

If a doctor feels helpless to change their circumstance, feels overloaded or unappreciated every day, they may be on the path to burnout. Burnout is recognized as a frequent condition of doctors.

Doctors need to be especially mindful if they begin to feel tired nearly all the time, if they become ill more frequently, and see a shift in their appetite and sleeping habits. Burnout may also become apparent through an increasing sense of self-doubt, detachment, and a cynical or negative outlook. More generally they may withdraw, take longer to get things done, or use food, drugs, or alcohol to cope.

Burnout becomes apparent to others when a doctor takes out their frustrations on their colleagues, become more irritable with their patients, or seem to loose interest in their work.

Burnout manifests itself physically, emotionally, and socially as it impacts negatively on a person’s well-being. It is cumulative rather than sudden and is different to stress in that it is characterised by a decline in engagement. Recognizing signs of burnout is the first step to recovery.

Although doctors have a reputation for being poor patients, it is important they always seek help from friends, family, and other practitioners as they rebalance their life.

A Doctor’s Checklist

Doctor’s often forget to follow their own advice!

  • Eat a more healthy diet: eat less meat, eat more fruit and vegetables.
  • Exercise more: walk more, and take vigorous exercise at least three times a week.
  • Do pleasurable activities each week that are unrelated to work.
  • Rest more: get at least seven hours sleep a night.
  • See a doctor and get a health review.
  • Receive the same essential health checks that are recommended for anyone of the same sex and age, for example, get a mammogram or PSA check.
  • Check blood pressure and cholesterol every six months.
  • Recognize signs of stress or burnout.
  • Improve your work life balance.

  •  

    Burnout manifests itself physically, emotionally, and socially as it impacts negatively on a person’s well-being

    Burnout is cumulative rather than sudden and is different to stress in that it is characterised by a decline in engagement.

    Recognizing signs of burnout is the first step to recovery.

    Articles