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3 Ways Physicians Can Decompress and Rejuvenate During Time Off

Practical Tips for Physicians to Overcome Work Stress
Romolo Tavani/

Physicians and healthcare providers cope with major stressors in their line of work:

  • Long hours
  • Crisis situations
  • Being on-call
  • Emergencies
  • Patient deaths
  • Family consultations
  • Ethical conflicts
  • Profound emotions
  • Weighty decisions

You might sit down, ready to eat your first meal in 12 hours, when your pager goes off. Next thing you know, you’re running off to the operating room for an emergency surgery that might take hours.

By the end of an average day, you’re tired. Exhausted. Fatigued. Famished. Stressed. When you finally clock out, you feel a sense of comedown accompanied by a host of heavy emotions.

All in a day’s work, right?

Yes… and … no.

While there is not much that can be done to change the work day of a physician — how the provider copes with or responds to these stressful work conditions, can mean the difference between life and death. Maybe that is too extreme. However, what you do on your time off could determine whether you experience burnout or job satisfaction. Making the most of your days off can also contribute to the maintenance of mental stability and the avoidance of a nervous breakdown.

[Read Also: Turn Back Time — Healthy Ways to Side Step Stress!]

With all the trauma and serious conditions physicians face on a daily basis in the workplace — how can providers not think about work and their patients on their days off?

Three ways to decompress and rejuvenate on your time off work to prevent burnout, increase job satisfaction, improve work performance, and heighten positivity are listed below.

3 Ways to Decompress and Rejuvenate During Your Time Off Work

1.   Never Take Work Home with You (When Possible)

Listed as number one for an important reason, the sheer significance of not taking your work stress home with you cannot be overstated. Physically speaking, a UK Health and Safety Executive study revealed that 43 percent of missed days were stress related. Another study by the American Psychological Association (APA) revealed that the two most common stressors that lead to absences were work and money. This study listed the following behaviors as direct results from said stress:

    1. Irritability
    2. Nervousness
    3. Anger
    4. Anxiousness

Avoid this added tension in your daily life by attempting to not bring the stress of work home with you. Leave your job at the workplace. A great way to do this is by utilizing a locker or secure spot, where your work-related items or tools can stay. Shower and come home in a different set of non-uniform clothes. Avoid talking to co-workers whose conversations tend to re-live work experiences while off the clock.

2.   Exercise During Your Time Off Work

Embrace the healing power of endorphins. No matter if it’s only a 15-minute walk, a day at the park with your kids, or a cardio session at the gym — commit yourself to squeezing in some physical activity during your time off. A Harvard Medical School article revealed that exercise not only increases the production of endorphins — which are chemicals in the brain that elevate moods and ease pain — exercise also reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Therefore, exercise enhances your level of optimism and relaxation — even in just short sessions.

The behavioral benefits of increased stamina, strength, and a shrinking waistline contribute to greater self-image and confidence. Subsequently, you enjoy renewed vigor and energy to complete tasks.

[Read Also: Top 10 Most Unhealthy Jobs in Healthcare (and the Secret to Surviving)]

3.   Use Your Vacation Time

Restrictive budgets. Limited sick time. Slothful accrual of personal time. In today’s financially-conscious healthcare model, it’s harder for physicians and other providers to gain sufficient time off work for emergencies and family leave. Such factors create temptation and often the necessity to use one’s vacation time for other purposes. Life happens. However, make a true and faithful effort to only use your vacation time for just that. Vacation!

The APA’s 2018 Work and Well-Being survey conducted online by The Harris Poll showed that taking time off helps workers recover from stress and improve their sense of well-being and job performance. David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, the head of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence, explained: “People need time off from work to recover from stress and prevent burnout.”

Physician unwinding and rejuvenating
Aridha Prassetya/

Avoid the habit of trying to build up vacation time year after year for a dream trip planned for the future; instead, take at least one vacation each year. You can always break up the standard time off in a year to have quarterly mini-vacations where you spend three to four days on an adventure. Moreover, do not, I repeat, do not just stay at home during your vacation time! Even if you are financially unable to plan an exotic cruise in the Caribbean or an African safari — think local and simple. Volunteer for a local organization you’re passionate about. Also remember that time spent outdoors in nature, whether it’s hiking through a local state park, a weekend of camping, or a fishing trip — is medicine for the soul.

Evaluate Your Stress Level and Satisfaction with Your Current Position

All the tips above are healthy and effective ways to decompress and make the most of your time off, but what if you are working in a position that poses a tremendous amount of unnecessary strain on your energy? Perhaps the place you work has some of the following aspects that lead to additional stress:

  • Inadequate staffing
  • Poor management
  • High patient acuity
  • Lack of modern equipment

Many factors contribute to a position that exerts more stress than the average job. Analyze your career and be sure you’re in a spot that advances your happiness and growth as a professional without taking away from your enthusiasm for the medical field. If you’re interested in a change, browse our available jobs for physicians by clicking here.

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About Miranda Belcher, RN

To be a travel nurse was the goal that inspired Miranda to pursue a career in nursing. Her fast-paced career began at a community hospital where she worked on a well-renowned orthopedic surgery floor and the pediatric unit for four years.

Once this solid foundation was established, it was time to travel. Escaping a cold Ohio winter, she traveled with her husband and young child to work a contract at a Florida community hospital on the Gulf side where they lived in their class-A RV for four months.

Two years of traveling brought her much experience in the realms of intensive care, cardiac care, and healthcare IT. For an entire year she worked as an IT consultant providing go-live support for hospitals that recently implemented new healthcare technology.

In 2013, her adventurous spirit landed her and her family in Bolivia, where she currently resides and works as a full-time copywriter with special focus on healthcare issues affecting the United States. In her free time she enjoys exploring the outdoor markets, traveling around the Bolivian countryside, and taking adventurous motorcycle rides with her family.