American Association for Physician Leadership

Stress Management

Stress Management and Reduction for Physicians

Techniques to actively reduce your stress levels in a variety of situations

Physicians are not immune to stress and are not always well-equipped to handle it. Although many physicians have discovered healthy, individualized methods of stress reduction, many others continue to feel overwhelmed and struggle to cope.

If this sounds like you, just remember that you’re not alone and there are numerous resources online that can help you rise above short-term and long-term stress. Below are some tips on how to handle common sources of work-related stress for physicians, such as negative coworkers and electronic health records, as well as a top-10 list for stress reduction and management techniques that you can begin today.

Electronic Health Records & Stress

EHRs are frequently cited as a major source of stress and physician burnout. What was supposed to be a revolutionary and easy way to electronically store and transmit medical data has instead become a time-consuming burden that divides physicians’ attention during appointments and forces them to spend countless hours at home completing these records. However, there are ways that your organization can make electronic health records less stressful. For instance, see if your organization is willing to hire medical scribes or delegate some of the EHR responsibilities to medical assistants. Doing so would afford physicians less time on their computers and more time caring for the patient during appointments. Additionally, you can customize EHR workflow with time-saving templates and tools, such as simplifying forms that replace numerous and sometimes irrelevant text boxes with a single free-form space for notes.

Organizations may also consider new AI technologies and speech-processing tools that catch keywords in physician-patient interactions and record pertinent information. Institutions like Stanford University assert that such technology will eventually be the norm, so testing these tools now can put your organization on the cutting-edge of technological advancement and allow physicians to focus on patients during appointments while maintaining a healthier work-life balance that minimizes unnecessary “pajama time.”

Secondhand Stress: Helping Stressed-Out Colleagues

Stress can be contagious – not in the clinical sense but in the sense that the poor attitude of one person can affect an entire team. While you can’t necessarily change someone else’s behavior, there are a few things you can do to help. The best first step is to simply talk to the person; they could be dealing a difficult situation at home and might appreciate someone reaching out to them. If their stress is related to work, offer to assist them or perhaps divide their tasks into smaller, more manageable components.

Before committing to help a struggling colleague, however, be certain you can follow through; don’t make promises you can’t keep or assume workloads you can’t properly manage. Remember, too, that another person’s stress is not your burden to take on; sometimes the healthiest course of action is to take breaks from stressed colleagues and counter their negativity with your own resilient and optimistic presence.

10 Stress Reduction Ideas That You Can Do Right Now

  1. Learn something new: Learning a new skill, whether it’s related to work or not, is a  great way to build confidence in yourself and your abilities. Learning also keeps your mind sharp and prepares you for new challenges in your life and at work.
  2. Make a mindful transition when leaving work: Having a conscious and deliberate mantra or routine when you leave work can help you effectively transition from work to home. Sit on a park bench for a minute or two and allow yourself to just breathe and take in your surroundings. Over time, this transitional period can signal your mind and body to leave behind the workday and its stressors.
  3. Take a vacation: According to a 2014 study in Harvard Business Review, 94 percent of people returning from vacations reported having as much or more energy than they did when they left. Vacations don’t need to be long or in exotic locales to be effective stress-reducers; a weekend trip to a nearby city can be just as rejuvenating.
  4. Don’t confuse numbing yourself with self-care: It can be tempting to reach for an after-work drink to decompress after a long day, but if you’re reaching for one every day then there might be a problem. Relying on drugs or alcohol to destress means you’re numbing yourself instead of engaging in productive self-care.
  5. Challenge your own assumptions: Physicians are generally highly driven perfectionists, which is why it may be helpful to take a step back and see if work stress is the result of you not meeting your own high standards. Give yourself a break, learn to say “no”, and realistically plan what you’re able to accomplish everyday without feeling overwhelmed.
  6. Keep a “brag book” or gratitude journal: We often don’t realize how much we have to be grateful for and how skilled we are until we write it down. Keep a “brag book” of your accomplishments in your office or practice writing down a few sentences each night to reflect on what and who you’re grateful for.
  7. Exercise, eat well, get enough sleep: Stressed-out physicians often neglect their own health, so keeping a regular exercise schedule, eating a well-balanced diet, and getting enough sleep at night are of the utmost importance in the battle against burnout.
  8. Talk to someone: Keeping your feelings and troubles bottled up only amplifies your stress level. Talk to your colleagues, your family and friends. They’ll appreciate your willingness to open up and share your struggles.
  9. Address your spiritual needs: Many physicians of religious persuasion feel rejuvenated and determined when they feel their spiritual and professional purposes are aligned. Take some time to reconnect with your spiritual beliefs or join a church community.
  10. Learn to play again: What did you love doing as a child? Did you paint cartoon characters? Engage in arts and crafts? Read about your favorite animal? Try doing some of your favorite childhood activities again or join in a play session with your kids.
Remember: Reducing your stress level isn’t an overnight process and progress isn’t always linear. Try a variety of stress-management techniques and initiatives at work and decide what best benefits you and your organization.

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The American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL) changed its name from the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2014. We may have changed our name, but we are the same organization that has been serving physician leaders since 1975.


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