Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jennifer Frank, MD: Vulnerable to stress?

I recently took an online quiz to assess my vulnerability to stress. I was anxious to identify those areas that I needed to improve in order to lower my cortisol-induced stress haze.

I scored a perfect score of invulnerability. Seriously – I didn’t even fudge any of the answers. The questions were things like “Do you get regular dental care?” and “Do you get seven to eight hours of sleep at least four nights per week?” It didn’t even ask if I have kids! Needless to say, I don’t believe that quiz. I am vulnerable to stress, and I feel it on a fairly frequent basis.

These are my stress triggers:

1) Over-commitment. It is my modus operandi to say “yes” too frequently. As a result, I get stressed by competing appointments and demands.

2) No breaks. In medical school, you were better and tougher if you didn’t need to sleep, eat, or use the bathroom during a call shift. This has translated into marathon workdays in which I down a Power Bar on my way to the bathroom in a twisted unhealthy multi-tasking spree. Don’t even get me started on how the mother of four small kids is supposed to take a shower.

3) Perfectionism. Doctors are expected to know everything, do everything, be everything. Actually I think this is just what we expect of ourselves. During those (too frequent) times I have had to confess an error or mistake to a patient, they are much more forgiving of me than I am of myself.
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In looking at my quiz results, I realized there are a number of stress insulators – things that protect me from stress. Probably would be a good idea to maximize these areas. According to the authoritative stress vulnerability profile, this is what I have going for me to keep my stress to a minimum:

1) Healthy lifestyle habits. Okay, I admit to eating half of an apple streudel dessert and a handful of barbeque flavor rice chips for breakfast occasionally, but in general, I eat healthy, exercise, and get as much sleep as my children allow.

2) Friends and family. I do have a “four o’clock in the morning” friend (you know, the person you can call at 4 a.m. with any concern minor or serious) and am fortunate to have family close by.

3) Comfortable lifestyle. Physicians (even primary-care physicians) make a great salary. This enables me to afford all kinds of stress minimizers like dental care, babysitters for date night, and even a cleaning service for our house.

4) A strong marriage. A poem that hangs on the wall of our bedroom describes it perfectly: “You are the strong embrace in my challenge.”

5) Finally, spiritual grounding to give it all meaning.

You probably have your own list of stress inducers and stress deflectors. It is crucial to avoid those things that cause stress while soaking in the wonderful parts of life that reduce stress.

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