Stress is a killer. You know it, you talk to your patients about it daily. But do you take a dose of your own medicine? Do you practice what you preach?
Your fast-paced, high-stakes life could be taking a greater toll on your own health than you even recognize. Don’t let daily demands and pressures rob you of a long fruitful career and an even longer life. Get honest with yourself. Identify your stresses. And start working these super simple tips into your day to day.
- Embrace mindfulness. Forget the idea that mindfulness requires incense and a satin floor pillow. It just means bringing your awareness to the present moment, and can be done throughout your day and on the go. It’s about finding peace in small moments that will collectively have a deep stress-reducing effect. Ronald M. Epstein, M.D.—a professor of medicine at the University of Rochester in New York, family and palliative care physician, and author of Attending: Medicine, Mindfulness, and Humanity uses what he calls a “doorknob” approach when it comes to centering as a physician. The idea is that when you place your hand on each doorknob, before you enter the room to see your patient, take a beat to just breathe in the moment. Appreciate this space in your hectic day and let gratitude fill you up. This tiny change in your day to day routine can have a profound impact on your life.
- Eat stress busting foods. You’re a doctor—of course you eat healthy right? Don’t worry, we’re not judging, but don’t brush this one off. So maybe you’re not snacking on high-sodium, preservative laden junk most Americans embrace. But avoidance shouldn’t be your only technique. Certain foods have stress busting benefits and should be incorporated regularly. Leafy greens are a good place to start. They’re packed with folate, which produces dopamine—that good old pleasure inducing brain chemical that helps you keep calm. Another super stress buster? Tryptophan. Everyone’s favorite post-Thanksgiving nap inducer. So reach for some turkey, fish, lentils, tofu, or eggs to get your fill. And don’t forget those antioxidant and phytonutrient rich berries to help your body’s stress response and fight stress-related free radicals.
- Go outside. The physical and psychological benefits are significant. In fact, research has proven that the closer we are to nature, the less likely we are to suffer from anxiety or depression. Spending time outside lowers cortisol levels, heart rate, and blood pressure. It lessens the symptoms of ADD and ADHD. And it improves sleep quality and even immune function. Want to pack an even more powerful punch? Take your shoes off. The earth is made of negative ions, which can have a dramatic relaxing and therapeutic effect. When we don’t regularly make direct contact with the earth—by wearing shoes—a positive charge can build up in the body. Walking barefoot in the grass helps to ground you and can promote decreased inflammation, improved immune response, faster wound healing, and the treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
- Practice deep breathing. Feeling stressed? Learn to quiet your overactive sympathetic nervous system by activating the parasympathetic. When your adrenaline pumping fight or flight response kicks in, control of your internal state by taking slow, long, breaths—in through your nose and down into your belly. Try four seconds on the inhale and eight seconds on the exhale. Repeat this process until you feel your thoughts slowing down. You’ll be calm and cool in no time.
- Slow your caffeine intake. Nobody consumes more caffeine than those in healthcare. And we get it—long hours can mean less sleep, which can take a serious toll on energy levels. But we don’t need to tell you that caffeine tends to snowball and create a vicious cycle. Once you’re used to downing several cups of coffee a day, you can’t seem to function without them. Your tolerance builds up, and you need to add in another to get the same effects. And all the while, all this caffeine is creating a stress reaction in the body to the tune of increased anxiety and tension. Which can then interrupt healthy sleeping patterns further, creating more stress and less energy, prompting you to reach for more caffeine. Slowly cut back. Stop the cycle.
- Listen to calming music. Certain music can influence our alpha brainwaves, making us feel more relaxed. But one song in particular takes the cake when it comes to decreasing stress. The song, Weightless, by Marconi Union has been named the most relaxing song in the world. Written in collaboration with sound therapists, the song was designed to slow the listeners heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and lower cortisol. When tested, the results showed a 65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates. So cue up the 10-minute track for some instant relief in the office, on the drive home, or before bed.
And there you have it. If you start incorporating these six tips into your daily routine, you’ll be well on your way to combatting the stress of your intense profession. Say goodbye to burnout and hello to peace of mind.
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