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Minimizing stress around time off


Posted by Alexandra Cappetta

There’s a lot about being a physician that can be stress-inducing. From long hours to physically, mentally and emotionally demanding tasks, there’s not much about your job that’s simple. It can be especially difficult to get out from underneath stress when on the clock, and even once you step away.

Finding balance between work and personal time as a health care worker is more critical than ever right now - but just as important is how you manage and minimize work stress when you’re not practicing. As you take time off to rest and recharge, here are some ways you can keep work stressors from following you home.

Identify your stressors

At the end of a long shift, what stressors are difficult to shake? Is it the mindset of being in hyperdrive as you’re moving from patient to patient? Is it the difficult news you had to break to a family? The ongoing threats of treating, being exposed to or contracting COVID?

Burnout is a concerning possibility for any physician, but especially when stressors like these are compiling at once. The first step to minimizing work stress, and your likelihood of burnout, is to know which work stressors are impacting you the most. Once you pinpoint where it’s coming from, you can narrow down the best ways to combat it when taking time for you. 

Seek counsel

Because you’re a physician, the reality and the weight of some of the circumstances you’re a part of may feel like the norm. Perhaps, as a healer, it is the norm. But whether you think it’s evident or not, your role during challenging instances with patients can take a toll on your mindset, temperament and mental health. That’s why you want to give yourself resources to reflect and digest these situations in a healthy way - and most certainly when approaching time off where you’ll have more alone time.

There’s no shame in seeking outside help or professional counsel to process the encounters you’re having, especially those that are most difficult. As an advocate for health, you want to be sure you’re upholding all aspects of your own well-being.

Be present

Sometimes it feels like we’re already thinking about our return from the moment we begin our time off work. You’re probably used to a fast-paced environment where you have multiple priorities on your plate at once. It’s natural to feel a little empty-handed when the time comes to take a break and there’s a lot less requiring your attention.

As you unwind, make an attempt to be mindful. Try to distance yourself from your title as a physician or advanced practice provider, and spend time with friends, family or those who connect you to your personal life and identity as an individual. Whatever you’re doing, be present.

Plan something

As you approach time off, start thinking about how you can and want to spend your time away. What’s something you can look forward to - or something you’ve wanted to do, but haven’t had the time because of your busy schedule? Plan that weekend getaway you’ve been putting off, book the massage or gather your family for the dinner you haven’t gotten around to yet.

Keeping your mind off the stressors that come with work is easier said than done, but it definitely helps when you have some exciting activities planned.

Exercise and practice meditation

As a physician, you know the body will manifest the mind’s stress. Make a point to channel your physical and mental energy toward working through your encounters and stressors, not avoiding them. Hitting the gym is one way to physically work out tension. Not only does it give you a chance to blow off steam, it’s a great way to bring your body up to speed with your mind.

Research from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has also shown that meditation can be extremely effective in reducing stress. More specifically, the practice may help reduce blood pressure, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, depression and insomnia. This may already be common knowledge to you, but it never hurts to be reminded. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, either while working or away, consider giving yourself the opportunity to pause and process what you’re holding onto in a tangible way. 

Talk to your peers

One of a physician’s best resources is often other physicians or APPs. It might be worth asking your colleagues for their best advice on handling stress when taking time off. The bottom line is to focus on your needs. Which pressures are most difficult to confine to your time spent at your hospital, health system or practice? Identify your stressors, and then find outlets that help you recharge and reduce stress.

Physicians and APPs deal with a lot of stress. It’s the nature of the profession, and it’s only human to carry some of that around - sometimes long after certain encounters have passed. But, there are long-term solutions you can put in place for a better work/life balance and a greater chance of avoiding burnout.

Remember: You’re not alone. If your stress feels too overwhelming, reach out to someone. There is support available and peers or loved ones who will be reaching back to you.

Here are some immediate resources if you’re feeling burned out, overwhelmed or just need some additional support:



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