“Just one more patient, one more meeting, one more hour of study…” It is easy to keep adding that “one more thing” to our day but doing that “little bit extra” can be a slippery slope and, before we know it, we are overwhelmed and experiencing burnout, seldom realising it until after we have started experiencing the ill-effects.
The limited research available about doctors’ wellbeing also has little emphasis on the comparison with the general population. Doctors are at greater risk than the general population for mental health issues. Suicide rates are higher; doctors are far less likely to have their own GP; and are more likely to self-diagnose and self-medicate due to the misperception that “admitting illness is admitting failure”.
It is worth reflecting on the reasons why we chose a career in medicine, including – our desire to help others; family expectations; a desire for social approval and identity as a reaction to problems in childhood; or low self-esteem. We become caring and meticulous clinicians (important in becoming good doctors) but this contributes to our vulnerability to emotional ill health. Patient expectations to ‘fix’ their problems can lead to a sense of failure if we are not able to ‘fix’ our own issues. Strategies to prevent burnout range from self-reflection to simple daily routines. Feeling, or becoming, irritable with patients and colleagues can be a sign of depression. Having regular peer review groups and debriefing is a good first step.
The ability to sense our escalating anxiety is also useful and adopting immediate strategies such as a one-minute meditation between patients, even if it is simply taking a deep breath or sensing five things in our surroundings, can help to reduce our arousal.
Planning time off work and booking our next holiday on return gives us something to look forward to. Ensuring we always take a lunch break, no matter how busy we are, and actively switching off from work mentally at that time – even going for a short walk can be extremely beneficial!
Simply tidying up our work desk at the end of each day, so we start the subsequent day it is in an organised frame of mind, can help.
It is important for us to resist the temptation to feel overly responsible for others; to avoid accepting unreasonable demands; and to consider carefully when asked to take on additional commitments that threaten our relationships and personal maintenance time. With this in mind, I wish you all a restful, relaxing and fulfilling festive season!
- Allocate time to clarify issues, prioritise yourself and optimise time management
- Keep a personal journal, take regular time off, and do leisure activities
- Delegate paperwork to practice staff, schedule lunchtime, and prioritise CME during the day limiting evenings out.
Questions? Contact the editor.
Author competing interests: Nil.
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