I am back, with a year-end blog, this time. Today, the winter solstice has led me to do some reflection. I launched my new website, (www.stressfreephysician.com).
Is it really possible to have a ‘stress-free’ life at all? When I look around me, I see people who are complaining about the stresses in life, and in work. There seems to be no workplace today, that can be considered stress-free. No matter what people are doing, there seems to be this drive for efficiency, return on investment, better quality, greater quantity, and so on. The healthcare field – and in fact, any service sector – just seems to have a greater intensity of stress, because of the increasing demands, and the diminishing resources. There is the pressure from the business aspect, to get better results with lesser expense, while medical care is inherently more expensive. There are also increasing advances, and the pressure to do whatever it takes, to keep people alive longer. One very palpable effect of the global stress levels, is that people often take out their frustrations on anybody at work who does not have the power to fight back, or at home, on the people who are closest to them, and therefore often taken for granted!
So, the big question is: Can we really hope to achieve a stress-free state? More importantly, is any amount of stress actually good for you? My answer would be a resounding “No” to the first question, and an equally resounding “Yes” to the second.
Stress is the body’s response to a real or perceived threat. The purpose of stress is to get people ready for some kind of action to get them out of danger. The action can be the ‘fight or flight’ response. In other words, the action taken either helps the person overcome the danger, or helps them remove themselves from harm’s way.
Some stress can be a good thing. It can motivate us to focus on a task or take action and solve a problem. In this situation, stress is manageable and even helpful. In a questionnaire I remember doing many years ago, a wedding was described as one of the most stressful events in a person’s life.
When a person is unable to achieve either of those results, is when stress becomes a negative thing. This is perhaps the biggest problem facing people today. Often at work, they feel frustrated at not being able to perform in the way they feel is best, or feel that they are in an environment that clashes with some values they hold dear to their hearts. There are also feelings of not being appreciated enough, and the demand to do more and more, with very little emotional support.
It is when such stresses occur repeatedly in a person’s life, with inadequate recovery in between, that burnout occurs. Burnout is of course the stage where a person gets physically exhausted, emotionally drained, with a sense of detachment, and has a feeling of ineffectiveness. “What’s the point?” is often their attitude.
Instead of aiming for a stress-free life, I think it would be best if we accept the reality of life as it is today – the reality that stress is not something we really can avoid, unless we become monks and go into the woods to meditate!
Once we accept what is, then we can equip ourselves to deal with it. We can figure out methods to recover well from the individual stressful episodes and to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of stress, so as to prevent burnout.