Because of high achievement standards and perfectionist tendencies, most med students, residents and physicians struggle with maintaining physician work-life balance. It’s stereotypical, yes, but more often than not, those in the medical field are detail-obsessed, hardworking (often to a fault) and insistent on having it all: a great job, a happy family and a balanced, fulfilling life.
While all of this is possible to achieve, there’s one pesky thing that often gets in the way of success and enjoyment.
What is it? Anxiety.
Anxiety is a funny thing. We worry because we anticipate things going wrong (or not going according to plan). But no matter how much we worry, whatever is going to happen is… well… going to happen.
So why even worry at all? It’s a cliché question, one that’s as old as it is aggravating. Worry and anxiety seem inevitable. They’re always there, chattering in the back of our minds like annoying, uninvited guests.
Some worry can even be a good thing, and in that case, it’s called positive stress. When we’re overly concerned about something (doing a good job, getting somewhere on time, acing a test), this positive stress can help us perform our best, especially when we’re under pressure.
But most of the time, anxiety is excessive and counterintuitive. It can put a strain on physician work-life balance and affect your relationships, your self-esteem and your ability to enjoy day-to-day living.
While you can’t simply declare that you’re just “not going to worry anymore,” there are several ways to manage anxiety effectively. Let’s look at a few and see how they apply to everyday situations. Using these tactics, you can help get your physician work-life balance back on track.
Face Decisions Head-On
We make countless decisions every day, and some are more major than others. Though even a minor decision can inspire doubt and anxiety, it’s the major decisions that are hardest to make.
By nature, physicians have to make major decisions all the time. Anxiety comes into play because we worry about making the wrong decision.
The next time you’re faced with a decision, remember this quote from existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard:
“I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations — one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it — you will regret both.”
Though it’s a dark way of looking at things, it’s also a liberating way of looking at things. If you accept that no matter what, you will always wonder what could have happened if you’d done things differently, decisions become easier. Of course, you still have to make them — just don’t spend all your time looking in the rearview mirror after you do.
Increase Physician Work-Life Balance and Ease Anxiety by Practicing Mindful Awareness
Another one of the main symptoms of anxiety is the nagging feeling that you’re forgetting something, or that something is wrong but you’re not sure why.
Usually, this is caused by having too much on your plate. When you’re overworked or trying to do too many things at once, you become frazzled, and your thoughts go into overdrive to keep you in check.
Though it seems strange (and even a bit obvious), one of the best things you can do to control stress and anxiety is to be mindful and aware of where it’s coming from.
You can start by making a list of things that make you anxious or stressed — just write freely until you can’t think of any more. Then, determine which of those things you have control over. If a colleague’s behavior is making you anxious, perhaps you can take extra efforts to avoid him or her change your communication style. Though you don’t have control over your colleagues, you do have control over how you react.
Finally, determine which of your stressors are self-induced. This can be an eye-opening exercise. For example, if you’re constantly anxious because you’re eating out for lunch all the time and are afraid of gaining weight, you could reduce that anxiety by taking 10 minutes every morning to pack your lunch.
We tend to blame a lot of our problems on outside circumstances (i.e. “Work is so demanding that I don’t have time to make lunch”), but in actuality, much of our stress and anxiety is caused by our own actions or inactions. It’s a funny little thing, just like anxiety itself.
What do you think about the idea of self-induced stress? Do you think anxiety plays a role in sabotaging physician work-life balance and satisfaction?
Though the views expressed above are solely the writer’s, Bothwell Regional Health Center supports “The Dose with Dr. Goodhook” and is partnering with Adventures in Medicine to create an open, inspiring and insightful community for residents and physicians. Click here to learn more about ways that Bothwell Regional Health Center is making practice purposeful.