As discussed in last week’s blog post, Understanding Emotional Distress among Oncology Providers, there are significant behavioral, psychological, and physical health-related effects of working in a highly stressful work environment. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to buffer the effects of stress and burnout.
The good news is that, by reading this blog series, you are already familiarizing yourself with the symptoms and risks associated with burnout. Once you are able to recognize when you are feeling distressed, it is helpful to reflect on how your stress may be affecting your physical and emotional well-being. Often providers think that detaching themselves from patients can mitigate the risks of burnout. This is actually not effective . The best ways to manage stress is by engaging in self-care.
Self-care is not just an aspiration; it is an ethical imperative written into the code of conduct for healthcare professionals across numerous disciplines. Self-care starts by engaging in basic health behaviors, like sleep. While it is unrealistic to expect that most healthcare providers can consistently get a good night’s sleep, consider that healthy adults are recommended to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night . In addition to sleep, nutrition, exercise, social support, and engagement in positive activities are all important in decreasing stress. Consider what activities help you feel a sense of renewal and relaxation, be it reading a book, gardening, walking your dog, going to dinner with friends, taking a bath, or engaging in any number of other activities.
Cognitive strategies—such as identifying personal “triggers”—can also be helpful. In the oncology world, for example, it may be particularly difficult for you to work with patients who are the same age as your own child or it may be stressful to treat patients who have the same disease as one who has recently died. Identifying automatic thoughts—such as “it doesn’t matter what I do, I should just give up”—can also be very helpful in addressing symptoms of burnout. Finally, though it may seem counterintuitive, taking the time to meet with a therapist can be helpful in coping with stress that no longer feels manageable. Those who work in hospital settings may be able to obtain support via employee assistantship programs.
Nicole Schneider, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist at Texas Children’s Hospital, where she specializes in working with children, teenagers, and young adults with cancer.
- Halpern J. From detached concern to empathy: humanizing medical practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2001.
- Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, et al. Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: a joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Sleep 2015;38(6):843–844.