A Little Humor Goes a Long Way in Physician Stress Relief
The old adage "laughter is the best medicine" is often used, but frequently underutilized when it comes to in the moment stress relief. Evidence shows the physical, emotional, and even spiritual benefits of humor, so why do we as physicians not use it both with our patients in our own lives. Perhaps we forget in our overworked, stressed and exhausted state the obvious tools that could instantly diffuse stressful situations or during stressful times. Particularly during the holidays, the pressure increases as a physician. Not only are we expected to meet the normal holiday expectations with family, but also, we are pulled by patients to go the extra mile before the turn of the new year. Patients are trying to get their labs, office visits, and surgeries in while their deductibles are met. Parents need themselves and their children to be well for Christmas. Families are traveling and trying to get it all in before they leave. People have money to spend on their flexible spending that they don't want to lose; and guess who they come to? It can be a time of high emotion and stress. Rather than allowing the emotions to get the best of you, there is an opportunity to bring humor (where appropriate) to help you to cope with the pressures of the season.
Why humor particularly for physician stress relief?
Let's face it. As a whole, we physicians are serious bunch; our training has taught us that everything is life or death. Our medical education system trains us with an intensity that over time integrates into our very being. We truly could benefit from a little humor. Sure, not ALL physicians are that serious. However, in general we take ourselves very seriously as an industry. Combined this with the intensity of our industry, the fact that the outside world sees us as unfeeling, money hungry robots and that most healthcare organizations see physicians as factory line workers here to produce high patient satisfaction scores and meet other useless "quality indicators". These factors alone increase our risk for burnout, depression and suicide. Furthermore, it is known that the prevalence of depression and suicide increases in the normal population during the holiday season, and physicians have a higher risk for suicide than the normal population. Not to be too dramatic, but add the holiday season and you have a perfect storm.
Yet, bringing humor is easy, fun, and often right at your fingertips. Moreover, utilizing our own experience as physicians can ease the pain of some of the intensity we experience. Obviously, using humor to the expense of others doesn't work, but there are many comical experiences that we have as physicians that we can remember and share with others for a little instant comic relief for ourselves and others. One person who does this masterfully is Dr. ZDogg (Dr. Zubin Damania). He has made a career out of bringing humor to physicians through his live keynotes, online posts, and hilarious music video spoofs. There are many other ways to insert medical humor such as telling doctor and patient funny stories, reading medical comic strips, and watching medical comedies (like Dr. Ken).
Medical humor is obviously not the only way you can bring laughter.
Watching comedy TV series and movies, family roasting, game nights, and family outings are other ways to bring laughter to you and those around you. The point is, laugh. It decreases cortisol, releases endorphins, relaxes the muscles, improves memory and mood. As well, utilize humor beyond the holidays. The stress of being a physician are year-round. Humor may be the bridge that brings joy & fulfillment to the day.