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The Stress of the Holidays for Physicians


Everyone is at least a little stressed during the holidays. Physicians are no exception to the rule.

Everybody is at least a little stressed during the holidays, and physicians are no exception to the rule.  If anything, in some ways they may be even more stressed.  Well, at least I know that holds true for me.

Like everyone else, in addition to work, there is shopping and cooking to be done.  There are trees to be decorated and lights to be put up, there are holiday parties to plan and prepare.  Yes, all good happy things, but certainly more work than most times of the year.

Compound that with the holiday traffic that keeps patients from being on time.  Our office happens to be a couple of miles from the mall and down the street from a big discount store, and a few miles from an outlet mall.  Patients who are coming for the later appointments are told to allow for traffic.  It can get pretty ugly out there, especially the week right before Christmas.  I can only hope the weather stays decent because snow could really foul the schedule up.

The bigger problem though is sicker patients.  Or maybe not sicker, but less healthy.  At this time of year, patients are less likely to take of themselves.  They, too, are busy with all the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations that they stop their healthy habits (if they had any).  They eat on the run and eat poorly.  They have less time to exercise.  Patients with congestive heart failure have exacerbations because of the high sodium content of the holiday foods, and those with diabetes see their blood sugars rise with all the Halloween candy, pumpkin pies, fruit cakes and Christmas cookies.

And those patients with depression or anxiety have it hard this time of year.  Maybe it’s the first Christmas without one’s spouse, the first New Year’s Eve without a midnight kiss.  Maybe it’s the first time without children in the house.  Or maybe it’s the umpteenth time nobody bothered to even send a card.  It’s a time of year when people can turn to alcohol and drugs more so than at other times.  And as physicians it is our job to ask those important questions, to look for the signs of trouble.

Yes, it is the most wonderful time of the year.  At the same time, it is a very stressful time of the year, and we, as physicians, have to make sure our staff, schedule, patients, and psyches are equipped to deal with the stress.

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