More than a Deep Breath: Stress in Doctors, and How to Handle It

We’ve talked about how medical professionals are more susceptible to mental health issues, so it shouldn’t be shocking that doctors and dentists are also more stressed out than the general populace. In fact, a study has shown threshold levels of stress that stay constant at about 28%, which is quite a bit higher than the general working population’s level of 18%. This shouldn’t be surprising, even if you disregard all the data associated with medical professionals and mental health; physicians are put in high risk situations every day.

While many physicians may assert that they have been dealing with stress their whole life and thus know how to handle it, it is important to be sure that you know how to recognize the signs of stress and how to properly decrease stress levels. Simply working through it or ignoring your stress may not get rid of it, and could even lead to other complications. For instance, stress increases the risk of conditions such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, depression, and obesity.

We created a list of some of the signs of stress, as well as a list of things that you can do to make your life a little less stressful both during work and outside of the office.

Signs of Stress

Some of these signs are very noticeable, and you could probably identify them in a second, but others are more subtle. If you suffer some of these symptoms on a daily basis, you may think that they are just part of your daily life, but it is important to note that many of these symptoms can be prevented.

Physical Signs – most of these signs will probably be very noticeable as they are something unique happening to your body.

  • Anxiety/panic attacks, nervousness and shaking
  • Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
  • Headaches
  • Tense, aching, or painful muscles
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Gastrointestinal distress – upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, nausea

Psychological symptoms – Some of these signs will be less obvious, and may change on a day-to-day basis depending on what you have to do that day.

  • Irritability/agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Sense of being overwhelmed
  • Difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts
  • Inability to relax, constant worrying
  • Impaired work quality, efficiency, and productivity
  • Depression, low self-esteem
  • Avoiding other people, loneliness

Handling Stress

We know how irritating it can be to have someone tell you to “take a deep breath” when you’re in a high pressure situation. We also know that high pressure situations are part of your daily life as a medical professional. These 10 tips and tricks are not only for at the office, but are also ways in which you can decrease your stress levels after work, so that you don’t bring your work stress home with you.

  1. Take a walk in nature: a study showed that people who went on a 90 minute walk in nature showed less brooding (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of self). ((
  2. Meditate: Take a few minutes a day to sit and recite a positive mantra (either in your head or out loud) with your eyes closed. ((
  3. Listen to music: You can tailor this to fit your own specific needs; if you need something soothing, listen to calming music or nature sounds. If you need to blow off some steam, sing along to some upbeat songs.
  4. Change your mindset: Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. When at work, focus on what you can do to help the patient instead of worrying about what happened in the past or thinking about things that you can’t control. ((
  5. Avoid stress you don’t need: While it’s easier said than done, sometimes medical professionals can take on more than they need to. Shorten your to-do list to make the stress of daily tasks more manageable.
  6. Use aromatherapy: Studies have shown that certain smells, like lavender, can reduce stress levels. ((
  7. Switch your coffee in favor of tea: Drinking black tea can lower your post-stress cortisol levels. High levels of caffeine, such as those found in coffee, can also lead to crashes in energy and mood which can heighten stress even more.
  8. Take a nap: If you can, take a nap during the day, especially if you didn’t get enough sleep the previous night. Napping may not be feasible for the working medical professional, but getting enough sleep is the takeaway from this tip.
  9. Get a massage: You don’t have to spend a lot of money or time either; a 5 minute massage will do. It reduces your heart rate and cortisol levels significantly.((
  10. Keep a journal: Make this journal reflective or write down things that you are grateful for, and look back on it when you get stressed out.


 While none of these tips will end or limit everyone’s stress, they can help you unwind or keep things in perspective. Even if you put these ideas into practice, you should take care to recognize if you are experiencing something more than ordinary stress. Sometimes severe stress-like symptoms may be indicative of other issues, such as panic disorder, depression, or an anxiety disorder.  In those cases, we encourage you to speak to your doctor, therapist, psychologist, of psychiatrist about your stress and its causes.

Did our tips help you deal with stress? Let us know!

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