11 Stress Reducing Activities Physicians Should Consider Doing More Of
Although we physicians know about the condition of stress, we are not immune to its effects. Several studies are now showing that at least 1 in 3 physicians experience symptoms of stress and burnout. What impact does this have? Consequences can include a lowered sense of job satisfaction, a decreased work/life balance, less productivity and conflicts at work and home. Furthermore, stress can impact a physician’s physical health causing insomnia, general tiredness, depression, and anxiety.
Sounds familiar? Now ask yourself this question: Given the impact, and knowing how stress can impact our body and mind, how often do you directly address your own stress and self care? Tell the truth! Being willing to and learning how to deal with and reduce stress properly is imperative in our profession. By understanding how to listen to the body's emotions and physical signs of stress, we prepare ourselves to correct problems before they have major consequences on physical and mental well-being, and in our work and lives.
Here are some simple stress busting activities that you can either implement in the moment, or daily (for prevention), that will begin to interrupt the ongoing pattern of exhaustion and serve as a buffer that will better allow you to deal with the stressors on a day to day basis.
- Eat – This is a rather controversial tip, as stress eating has become largely a source of our obesity epidemic. However, there are certain healthy foods that actually decrease stress levels without giving you extra empty calories. Foods to turn to in moderation when you feel yourself stressing out include: dark chocolate (70% or greater), turkey, bananas, citrus fruits, oatmeal, nuts and seeds (including walnuts, almonds, flax, and pumpkin seeds), salmon (and other wild seafood), spinach, and certain herbal teas (chamomile, peppermint, and green tea).
- These stress reducing foods work by increasing the serotonin in the brain, decreasing cortisol levels, increasing the immune response and decreasing muscle tension. Keep in mind that indulging in unhealthy foods to comfort your stress can be more damaging than good. If you are going to go to food for comfort, keep to the foods mentioned above to bring stress levels down in a healthy way.
- Music – As doctors, we know some of the benefit of meditation. But did you know music can actually change the brainwaves to a more relaxing state? This phenomenon has been studied, and perhaps this is why so many people resonate with music on such a deep level. Music therapy has been used for decades, so why not try a little for yourself? If you are feeling stressed, turn on some soothing sounds---jazz, new age, soul—and if you are feeling sad, maybe put on some feel good music. Great music for lifting the spirit is music from the Caribbean--- calypso, Latin folk, salsa, and soca. Just remember, if you are already agitated, you want to avoid harsh tunes like metal, hard rock, or certain types of rap genres. They may be counter productive to your current mood.
- Dance – You may be thinking, “Me? Dance?” Just because we save lives doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun! Much like music, dance is the language of the soul. It lubricates the joints, releases endorphins and loosens the muscles. The best thing about dancing is that you don’t have to be a pro to move your body to music. It may feel unnatural and even contrite to some, but the next time you are feeling a little up tight, put a little tune on and dance like no one is looking...because likely no one is!
- Writing – Writing can not only tap into your imagination, but it can also be cathartic. Some choose to write poetry to take the edge off, others delve into short stories and even novels. Still, others may choose to journal or “dump” their feelings on the page never to be looked at again. Whatever your method, take a pen to paper and let the ink flow. Similarly, drawing, sketching and painting can have the same healing effects. Writing also allows for connection, self-discovery and introspection. Sometimes this type of connection and discovery can lead to solutions to stressful circumstances which leave you feeling empowered and more effective in your life.
- Take on a relaxing hobby - Take on a relaxing hobby like knitting, sewing, gardening, painting or crossword puzzles. Sound girly or even corny? Well, all of these stimulate the mind while also relaxing it at the same time. The repetition of this kind of activity allows for the mind to go into a trance-like, meditative state, which gives the brain a rest from stressful circumstances. Engaging in these activities trains the brain to relax when doing any type of repetitive activity. Other hobbies to engage and relax the brain also include scrapbooking, journal writing and photography. There may be others not mentioned here. Get creative and find what interests you.
- Get on the Move - Whether it’s a casual stroll in the woods or an intense kickboxing class, getting your body moving is a great way to burn off some tension. If you are taking a relaxing walk, it is much like meditation (that comes next). If you are engaging in intense physical activity, the releasing of endorphins will give you a nice euphoric feeling to combat the. Exercising warms and loosens the muscles, lowers cortisol levels and strengthens the immune response and heart. Most of all, engaging in some sort of moderate intensity movement lets you blow off some steam, so pick your activity and just get moving!
- Meditating – Meditation comes in many forms and can be done virtually anywhere. Some think that meditation means sitting cross legged on the floor chanting (and sometimes it is), but meditation is really just the process of focusing the mind on a particular thing or activity. This can be as simple as a deep breath or two, a short prayer or a short walk in a quiet place. It can also come in the form of repetitive hobby like knitting, painting, or scrapbooking as mentioned earlier. Yoga is a form of movement meditation that lowers the blood pressure, increases flexibility, and improves peace of mind. Listening to music and dancing can also be forms of meditation. Sometimes just sitting, still, in silence and clearing the mind is just what you need to reset your day. And of all the people who need a little decompression, it’s us type A personality types. As physicians, we resist taking time to just be still. Just try it on for 30 days. For a little treat visit this link: for a 6 minute relaxation that can be accessed anytime:
- Hot baths – There is nothing like soaking in a hot bath to relax the muscles and the mind after a hard day’s work of seeing patients, and completing charts. Add your own ambiance by sprinkling your favorite scented salt, lighting some candles and turning on a little of your favorite music. Let your mind drift away.
- Sex – Sex is an often overlooked part of normal & balanced well-being. It is a great stress reliever as it incorporates a little exercise and hopefully ends with total relaxation. Physiologically, during orgasm, males and females experience intense and momentary muscular contractions which are then followed by relaxation. In women, the hormone oxytocin is often released after sex which gives the women the urge for physical closeness (also known as the cuddle hormone). There is also a release of endorphins with orgasm, as well as a euphoric feeling afterward.
- Laughter – There is scientific truth to back the old adage “laughter is the best medicine”. Laughter actually reduces stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and dopamine, while enhancing endorphins and other feel good neurotransmitters. It also improves the immune system by increasing the effectiveness of the T cells which help fight infections in the body. Finally, laughter brings focus away from anger, guilt and sadness and promotes togetherness and community, even among strangers.
- Connecting w/someone you love - Ever wonder why you usually want to call a best friend, or a close family member, when you are feeling extremely stressed? The answer is that you are most likely reaching out for emotional connection from that person that you care about. We are social beings by nature and an emotional connection is paramount in every aspect of our lives. This is the experience of intimacy in which there are many levels and types. Whether by phone, or in person, a soothing voice can dissolve stressful feelings in difficult times. Hugs are a great way to connect with people you have a rapport with at home or at work. Next time a friend or colleague is stressing out, offer them a hug. You might see a surprised look in their eyes, but underneath (even if they say no), they’ll know you care.
Physicians are required to give their full attention to people day in and day out, which is taxing. It is important to remember that we are human too and require rest, relaxation and some good old TLC. This is not however a substitution for dealing with the ROOT CAUSE of what could be causing your burnout. For that, you may need to take further action (maybe hire a coach even). However these tips and tricks to unwind, will provide space that will allow you to relieve the immediate pressure if implemented daily so that you can think a bit more clearly about what next steps may be in eliminating the underlying cause of your stress and overwhelm permanently.
Maiysha Clairborne © 8/2016
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