Doctor Stress, Overwhelm, And Physician Burnout Treatment

by | Jun 17, 2018 | Physician Mindfulness

Demystifying Physician Mindfulness: A 12-Part Mindfulness In Medicine Series

Does mindfulness in your medical practice seem achievable, or are you allowing “doctor stress”, overwhelm, and burnout run your life?

For many of my readers, the concept of mindfulness may seem out of reach. The term evokes imagery of tranquil monks and mountain tops, existing miles away, both literally and metaphorically. I created this series to bridge this distance, and to introduce mindfulness to practicing physicians as an accessible stress management tool for doctors, and a form of physician burnout treatment.

Each post in this series will examine the relationship between mindfulness and a specific area of a doctor’s day-to-day life. They each include a doctor’s story, and how the rigors of practice hamper their ability to fully enjoy that part of their life. After detailing their situation, I provide guidance for how the doctor can utilize mindfulness to gain fulfillment and mastery in that area.

With each post, I’ll give you an actionable step that will help you integrate the post topic into your daily life. I’ll also provide an exercise that you can practice in your free time that will help strengthen your resilience, calm, and fulfillment. My goal is to transform mindfulness from a daunting, unapproachable ideal into a broad toolkit that you have easy access to. Simply put, I want to help you be a happier, more productive version of yourself, at the workplace and at home.

Without further ado, the inaugural installment of Demystifying Mindfulness!


TODAY’S TOPIC: Doctor Stress, Overwhelm, And Physician Burnout Treatment

Our physician: Dr. P, is a cardiologist in a large Midwestern practice: 
“I don’t know what to do. I feel like I’m drowning in my work. Every day of my practice feels like a battle, and when I’m with patients all I can think about is getting to the end of my day. I used to be in love with my practice and I don’t know what happened. Now, my work feels meaningless, and I’m completely overwhelmed.  What can I do?”


 
Dear Dr. P, 
You’ve already won half the battle. You’ve noticed that you’re locked in an ineffective pattern at work, and you’re interested in strategies to improve your situation. This realization is no small thing! What I want you to start doing is focusing on your physical experience. You’ve just wrapped up with your last patient of the day, you’re late to make it home for dinner with your family, you still have a half dozen charts to complete – what does your body feel like? Is your heart rate elevated? Are your hands tense? Are you sweating? Get in tune with the physical sensations that accompany the feeling of overwhelm, and you’re well on your way to combating it,  and feeling more in control. 
 
Physical sensations often precede feelings of overwhelm; in some ways they’re an early warning system that can help you break the vicious cycle. Once you notice these physical precursors, take a brief pause. If you can take 5 seconds in between patients to take deep breaths and ground yourself, that’s a victory. See how many of these pauses you can give yourself in a workday. While this may seem trivial, over time, mindful pauses will begin to weave together into a calmer day, and a calmer and happier life. 

In addition to your feelings of “doctor stress”, overwhelm, and burnout, you wrote that you no longer feel connected to your work. Overwhelm and lack of passion and fulfillment often go hand in hand. Of course, it’s challenging to stay connected to work when it’s so demanding. Reducing feelings of overwhelm by mindfully pausing throughout the day will help you feel more authentically connected to your work, and may revive some of the enthusiasm you’ve experienced in the past. Reciprocally, mindfully nourishing your commitment to patients will shrink feelings of overwhelm.

At the end of every day, I encourage you to write down things that went well in your day. Focusing on what went well can reconnect you to your strengths and your sense of meaning. As doctors, we are trained to focus on what is going wrong. Give yourself structured time to focus on what is going right. 

Give this mindful strategy a shot to offset the daily stress in the medical field physicians like you face,  and to help reduce the risk of physician burnout as you move toward being more present and fulfilled in your practice 

To your resilience,
Dr. Gail Gazelle


Have an idea for a future Demystifying Mindfulness post? Want Dr. Gazelle to help you tackle your problem? Write in at drgazelle@mdcanhelp.com or contact us on the website.


6 Free Resources To Help You During COVID19 And Beyond.

  1. 14-day meditation series 
  2. Imposter No More PDF
  3. Resilience Book Chapter
  4. Leading In Crisis PDF
  5. Balance To Burnout PDF
  6. 30-minute consult

Take advantage of one or more of these valuable resources created for clinicians and non-clinicians.