Kindlelife

Insight, Inspiration, Motivation

Is ‘Stress-free Physician’ an Oxymoron?


I am back, with a year-end blog, this time. Today, the winter solstice has led me to do some reflection. I launched my new website, (www.stressfreephysician.com).

Is it really possible to have a ‘stress-free’ life at all? When I look around me, I see people who are complaining about the stresses in life, and in work. There seems to be no workplace today, that can be considered stress-free. No matter what people are doing, there seems to be this drive for efficiency, return on investment, better quality, greater quantity, and so on. The healthcare field – and in fact, any service sector – just seems to have a greater intensity of stress, because of the increasing demands, and the diminishing resources. There is the pressure from the business aspect, to get better results with lesser expense, while medical care is inherently more expensive. There are also increasing advances, and the pressure to do whatever it takes, to keep people alive longer. One very palpable effect of the global stress levels, is that people often take out their frustrations on anybody at work who does not have the power to fight back, or at home, on the people who are closest to them, and therefore often taken for granted!

So, the big question is: Can we really hope to achieve a stress-free state? More importantly, is any amount of stress actually good for you? My answer would be a resounding “No” to the first question, and an equally resounding “Yes” to the second.

Stress is the body’s response to a real or perceived threat. The purpose of stress is to get people ready for some kind of action to get them out of danger. The action can be the ‘fight or flight’ response. In other words, the action taken either helps the person overcome the danger, or helps them remove themselves from harm’s way.

Some stress can be a good thing. It can motivate us to focus on a task or take action and solve a problem. In this situation, stress is manageable and even helpful. In a questionnaire I remember doing many years ago, a wedding was described as one of the most stressful events in a person’s life.

When a person is unable to achieve either of those results, is when stress becomes a negative thing. This is perhaps the biggest problem facing people today. Often at work, they feel frustrated at not being able to perform in the way they feel is best, or feel that they are in an environment that clashes with some values they hold dear to their hearts. There are also feelings of not being appreciated enough, and the demand to do more and more, with very little emotional support.

It is when such stresses occur repeatedly in a person’s life, with inadequate recovery in between, that burnout occurs. Burnout is of course the stage where a person gets physically exhausted, emotionally drained, with a sense of detachment, and has a feeling of ineffectiveness. “What’s the point?” is often their attitude.

Instead of aiming for a stress-free life, I think it would be best if we accept the reality of life as it is today – the reality that stress is not something we really can avoid, unless we become monks and go into the woods to meditate!

Once we accept what is, then we can equip ourselves to deal with it. We can figure out methods to recover well from the individual stressful episodes and to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of stress, so as to prevent burnout.

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December 22, 2014 Posted by | Personal Journey, Psychology, Refocus and Thrive, Self Improvement | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Burnout: Chinese vs US Physicians


Just read yet another article on Physician Burnout (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/803968). This one compared burnout amongst physicians in China and the United States. In order to keep the groups comparable, only the responses of physicians less than 45 years of age were selected – there were 6000 Chinese, and 7500 US physicians. I was specifically intrigued by one of the charts presented, which is reproduced here:

Options Chinese US
It is manageable and I’m not making any changes 36% 25%
It is manageable but I need to make some changes in hours/workload/etc. 52.2% 62%
I am thinking of leaving my current position 7.3% 7%
I am thinking of leaving medicine altogether 4.5% 5%

Forty two percent of US Physicians, and 82 percent of Chinese physicians who took part in the survey reported burnout. Of these, 52% and 62% respectively said they needed to make changes in their working lives. This is very significant in that 3120 Chinese and 4650 US physicians know they should do things differently. It would be interesting to know how many of them are really doing something about it, and how many simply feel stuck, and will sooner or later end up either resentful or leaving their jobs.

What is even more disconcerting is that almost 12% of the responders in both countries were thinking of either leaving their current job, or giving up medicine altogether. This means, 720 physicians in China and 900  in the US – all under 45 years of age). If we consider the entire physician population in both countries, this number would obviously be much higher.

These physicians who report burnout must have put in a lot of time, money, and sacrifices to get to where they are. The government also would have spent a lot of resources, training them.

I wonder, what would it take for these physicians with burnout, to decide to stay? What would it take for them to re-discover their love for the profession that attracted them initially.

Please let me know your thoughts, either through comments on this page or by e-mail: kindlelife7@yahoo.ca.

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June 17, 2013 Posted by | Personal Journey, Psychology, Self Improvement | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What is Burnout?


While talking with a colleague recently, I was asked this question – and I realised that the word ‘burnout was used a lot, and the signs of severe burnout, the point where it hits you in the face, is easily recognisable. However, burnout is something that has to be recognized before it reaches this stage, and there are many people who seem to be functioning reasonably well, and yet, do have many of the symptoms of burnout, which they put down to stress.

There is a big difference between stress and burnout. The main difference is that a person under stress will feel better when the stress is relieved, whereas a burnout person has no hope that things will be any better, even if the current stresses are relieved. Burnout is the result of too much stress, often repeated, without enough recovery in between, over a period of time.

The term was first used by Freudenberger, who described it as a “state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life.” This is characterised by exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of inefficacy.

Causes of Burnout: There are many factors that lead to burnout. While most cases occur due to stressful work environment, burnout can occur in a stay-at-home parent, or in a person working two or more jobs to make ends meet, without any vacation or leisure. It can also occur in the obsessive compulsive person who expects too much of himself- and everybody else!

Burnout can thus be due to a combination of work environment and responsibilities, lifestyle, and personality traits. Some of the factors are as follows:

Work Conditions: (anybody in the healthcare field know what these are like)!

Overly demanding job, with high expectations

Working in a chaotic or high pressure environment

Feeling a lack or loss of control over the work

Lack of recognition or reward for good work

Lifestyle Factors:

Too much work, no time for relaxation or socialization

Inadequate sleep

Too many responsibilities

Being too many things to too many people

Lack of or inadequate support

Personality Traits:

Perfectionistic tendencies – expecting too much from self and others

Pessimistic attitudes – related to self and the world

High-achieving, Type A Personalities

Need to be in control – reluctance to delegate

Burnout is something that happens over a period of time, and can be prevented, if the symptoms and signs can be recognized early enough. It is important to be vigilant and pick up these signs, many of which may be subtle.

The symptoms and signs may be categorised as follows:

Physical:

Feeling tired and drained most of the time

Lowered immunity, feeling sick a lot

Frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches

Change in appetite or sleep habits

Emotional:

Sense of failure and self-doubt

Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated

Detachment, feeling alone in the world

Loss of motivation

Increasingly cynical and negative outlook

Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

Behavioural:

Withdrawing from responsibilities

Isolating yourself from others

Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done

Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope

Taking out your frustrations on others

Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early

In the next post, I will be discussing methods of avoiding burnout, as well as measures to manage burnout, once it has occurred.

 

 

January 14, 2013 Posted by | Personal Journey | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

   

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