Studies show that choosing to view challenging situations in a positive light actually improves your mood. Here are our suggestions to get started.
1. Be positive. Aside from the usual suspects — getting enough sleep, avoiding excessive alcohol use, and eating a healthy diet — it is also important to consciously choose to adopt a positive outlook on life, says Catherine Hambley, an organizational psychologist based in Monterey, Calif. Studies have shown that choosing to view work and/or home situations in a positive light actually improves your own mood. It can also motivate others around you, like staff, to become more positive about their jobs.
2. Mentor. Another strategy might be balancing clinical practice with another professional pursuit such as teaching or practice administration and/or leadership. Hambley says many physicians so love the challenges of practicing medicine they may not need to branch out to feel fulfilled. It is a very personal decision. But however you craft your schedule, make sure there's time to step back and enjoy some of the simple pleasures in life. Our experts suggested these strategies but certainly there are many others.
3. Volunteer. How important is developing outside interests as a buffer to stress? Only you can say for sure. But getting out into the community can bring multiple benefits to physicians and their patients, say experts. Volunteering could mean giving a presentation on diabetes and weight control at a local community health fair or something as adventurous as becoming part of a medical mission in a Third World country.
4. Practice mindful meditation. There are numerous studies that indicate practicing mindful meditation can have significant effects on reducing stress. The problem, says Hambley, is carving out the time to put intention into action. She broaches the subject this way: "I'll say, 'If you had something that required 10 minutes of your time each day and it would allow you to develop greater resiliency, it would allow you to be in a better mood, it would improve your interactions with other people, it would help you to make better decisions, would you do it?' And most people will say, 'Ten minutes a day? Well sure.'"
5. Exercise. While it may seem a no-brainer, exercise confers multiple benefits, not the least of which is stress management. But it is all too easy to push that to the back burner and tell yourself you are too busy to get out and walk or take a run. Hambley says she often reminds her clients that devoting 30 minutes a day to some form of exercise is relatively easy, given the demonstrated benefits it brings. "It's recognizing that that's part of [a physician's] job to make sure they're at their highest level of performance," she says.
6. Become politically active. KrisEmily McCrory, an academic family medicine physician who practices in upstate New York at Ellis Family Medicine Residency, says she is very active with her state academy (she is affiliated with the American Academy of Family Physicians), as a way to make things better for herself and physician colleagues. "Being able to bring things into the state legislature [is how] we can help physicians have more control over their practices. We cannot pass laws that are ridiculously burdensome to physicians and not helpful to patients," she says.
7. Have fun. Just as play is important for children, adults need to let their hair down too. Especially physicians who make life and death decisions every day. Here's a few of our favorite physician stress-busters. Why don't you give them a try?
8. Network. The AMA and Rand Corporation conducted a study that looked at physician burnout in the context of the current healthcare environment. Anesthesiologist Gerald Maccioli, who is chief quality officer for Sheridan Healthcare, and a member of the AMA's Physician Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability Committee (PS2), says, "RAND found that physicians believe that when they are in a high-quality care organization that they report better satisfaction …" But getting there is often a problem. To help physicians derive better professional satisfaction and help sustain medical practices, the AMA has developed a series of knowledge-based educational modules called the AMA Steps Forward program.