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The profession of a doctor or clinician is considered one of the most stressful and high risk jobs in the world. While they address varied health issues of people very little is spoken of what pressure they would be facing in their personal and professional lives. This situation only worsened with the Covid-19 pandemic. The multiple lockdowns posed by the pandemic led to an increase in stress and anxiety among individuals as well as doctors.
Being frontline workers, doctors often face multiple challenges not only pertaining to the criticality of the case but also dealing with the brunt of patients and their families. Studies suggest that they are often exposed to high levels of stress and anxiety in their day-to-day work and are prone to mental disorders. Due to the very nature of their job, doctors are often exposed to a plethora of emotions, feelings of powerlessness in saving the lives of their patients, and a sense of frustration when their patient’s illness progresses among others.
For them, every single life matters and when these emotions overpower them, it leads to distress arising from the doctor-patient relationship. In addition to this, they are also exposed to stressors of emotions and situations outside their work. Many a time, they have to work in an increasingly litigious and unforgiving environment and face challenges posed by the limited healthcare resources
and a crippled healthcare system.
Like any individual, going through high levels of stress for a longer period of time has wide-ranging effects on doctors as well. The problem multiplies ever more for those who work with traumatized patients and often go through high levels of fatigue.
This often leads to chronic exposure to stress among doctors resulting in ‘Burnout’. According to Maslach and Jackson, burnout is a three-dimensional construct consisting of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment.
While emotional exhaustion leads to tiredness, and decreased emotional resources, depersonalization describes negative, cynical attitudes, and impersonal feelings towards clients which result in treating them as objects.
Burnout can cause severe and chronic stressors among doctors leading to several morbidities and dysfunction including depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and fatigue, broken relationships, and alcohol and drug addictions. Since they are frontline workers who deal with myriad issues on daily
basis, they are at a higher risk of depression and burnout than the general population and people working in other professions.
There is no denying the fact that burnout usually manifests in the work environment. Strenuous long working hours, fatigue, work overload, and cognitive demands from the nature of medical practice can lead to this feeling of exhaustion.
Within the medical fraternity also there is a stigma attached to mental illness and many a time doctors dissuade themselves from self-disclosure and from seeking professional help. Once the problem increases, it affects their overall conduct with the patients and puts them at a bigger risk of emotional and mental breakdown.
Stress and anxiety are a part and parcel of any person and it is no different for a doctor. They can’t ignore it due to the very nature of their job.
Studies suggest that resilience is one of the effective preventive strategies for burnout among doctors. Described as the ability to recover quickly from difficulties and bounce back, developing a resilient attitude helps in coping strategies to enable doctors to carry on in their lives and jobs.
2. Work-life balance
Having a work-life balance and a sense of prioritization also helps doctors in coping with their day-to-day stress.
In the professional space, having sound work management, helping co-workers in strenuous conditions, having good and hard-working staff—nurses etc., streamlining their day-to-day engagements, supportive relations in and outside work, and a positive team-building practice, also helps doctors in preventing stress and anxiety.
Anxiety and depression are treatable with medication and counselling for which doctors should not hesitate in contacting the mental health professional for speedy recovery and resilience in their profession.