Physicians spend most of their waking hours caring for and treating others. Often, they’re so focused on their patients that their own issues get little to no attention. It’s no wonder, then, that physician burnout has increased at a staggering rate.
Medscape’s 2019 National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report revealed that 44% of physicians report feeling burned out, experiencing “long-term, unresolvable job stress that leads to exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed, cynical, and detached from the job, and lacking a sense of personal accomplishment.” In fact, physicians represent the highest suicide rate of any profession: one doctor commits suicide in the U.S. daily!
So, what can you do to prevent burnout or worse? For starters, heed the advice you give to your patients: eat healthy, exercise, and get proper sleep. We wanted to go beyond those methods, so we’ve compiled six carefully considered activities that can really help.
Gardening can be second nature for physicians: You get all the benefits of caring for and nurturing life (as you would in your job), without the administrative hassles that add to your stress. Indeed, studies show that gardening reduces stress and calms nerves. It also decreases cortisol, that pesky hormone you know plays a role in stress response.
It may be the last thing you want to do after a long day of treating patients, but mental health experts credit cooking with helping to relieve burnout, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and other conditions. The process of planning and cooking a meal relieves stress, improves focus, and even aids in sensory awareness. The joy that comes from sharing your creations with your loved ones is an added bonus.
3. Find a creative outlet
Go paint. Seriously. Or if painting isn’t your thing, find another hobby that lets you be creative. Throw a clay pot, draw, write, sculpt, design, play some music – creative outlets that have nothing to do with work can be a powerful ally in the battle against burnout.
4. Play video games
There’s strong evidence that video games can improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and burnout (per the Journal of Medical Internet Research). There’s even a movement in the world of gaming that has developers tackling mental health issues with games that explore depression and anxiety, and explicitly promote better mental health. These games are a far cry from the industry’s better-known story lines of battlefields and the apocalypse, but game developers like Take This – a nonprofit that educates video game developers on best practices around portraying mental health – are responding to the cultural conversation with creative content that tackles the issue.
5. Start a side project
We know what you’re thinking: I don’t have any time for a side project! But this isn’t about how much time you put into a side – it’s about finding some time for a sideline project that’s all about your unique talents and interests. You’ll be surprised at how much professional satisfaction a side gig can bring you. Your creativity will grow. Your wallet can benefit from a side project, too!
6. Catch up with a friend
It’s tempting to be a recluse after a hectic work day, but investing in relationships is the most worthy way to use your time. Positive social relationships are key to resilience, not to mention a key component to overall happiness in life. If you’re tired and in a place without many close friends, or on the verge of burnout, a simple phone call can help you rejuvenate.
If you find yourself reaching the breaking point, consider seeking help. And if you're unsure whether you're experiencing burnout, boredom, or both, take a look at this post from Dr. Ken outlining physician burnout and boredom. He explains the relationship between the two issues and their causes.