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Stress Management in Medicine


Editor’s note: This article was originally published here by contributing writer Paul Thomas.

Stress in medicine is a topic that often comes up in the medical literature, in the popular press and in our own interpersonal experiences. But what does stress management look like for a young physician in training? And what are large health systems doing to promote stress management among their employees?

This week, I had the good fortune of attending a one-hour session on stress management. The session was entitled “Finding a Balance: A Plan for Stress Management” and it took place at one of the health systems in Southeast Michigan.

The introductory twenty-minute lecture focused on the health effects of stress, the definition of stress, assessment of the individual’s stress level, identifying sources of stress, an introduction to stress management techniques and a familiarization with the resources of the health system. The presenter stated that stress is linked with cardiovascular disease and a compromised immune system, as well as emotional and physical changes. The presenter also taught how to identify internal versus external stressors — for example, ‘being late’ is an internal stressor and ‘traffic/commute’ is an external stressor.

For me, the most interesting part of the session came when we were given the opportunity to measure our own stress level. The one-page metric was broken into three categories: physical signals, emotional signals and behavioral signals. The assessment measured how frequently each person experienced muscle tension, sweating, trembling and rashes; depression, anxiety, impatience and irritability; insomnia, appetite changes, fidgeting, forgetfulness and substance overuse. The scores were stratified into ‘Significant Daily Stress,’ ‘Moderate Stress,’ ‘Well-Managed Stress,’ and ‘Ideal Stress Level.’

Importantly, the metric was followed by an action plan, which had the participant list specific examples of life stress, how that person currently deals with stress, new ways of managing that stress, and an action plan for the one leading stressor. Finally, the hour ended with a thirty-minute yoga session. It was interesting watching the physicians and nurses remove their stethoscopes and white coats, take off their shoes, and sit cross-legged on yoga mats spread across the auditorium floor. The group was guided through deep breathing exercises coupled with stretches and poses that were aimed at releasing muscle tension and at creating a meditative state for the participants.

As a medical student, I was thrilled to see this sort of educational piece integrated into a week full of consults, patient notes, rounds, night calls and lectures. By promoting and implementing sessions like this, hospitals can affirm the value that each resident and physician has by putting an emphasis on their personal health and wellness, because without healthy physicians, the health of the patient will ultimately suffer.

Paul Thomas Paul Thomas (3 Posts)

Contributing Writer Emeritus

Wayne State University School of Medicine

Critical thinker, photographer, and writer, Paul Thomas has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and understanding. He studied biology and bioethics at Michigan State and is finishing his medical degree at Wayne State. His clinical skills have been enhanced by serving the uninsured in Detroit and by learning from patients with unique challenges.

Recently, Paul has been trying to cure a severe case of wanderlust — cross country road trips and backpacking adventures have thus far been unsuccessful. He once came in second place in a three-legged race, which both cemented his status as a good team player and reminded him of his own fallibility. He blogs, he tweets, and he holds merit badges in astronomy and motorboating.