Is Stress Taking Over Your Life?

Stress is an unavoidable part of life – particularly for doctors. Unfortunately, chronic stress can lead to numerous ill effects, both physical and emotional.

Many medical professionals suffer from a burnout, a condition in which career stress causes cognitive and mental health symptoms both at work home. Burnout is defined as loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism and a low sense of personal accomplishment. People with burnout may also experience fatigue, depression, anxiety, decreased concentration and problems with their appetite.

In 2016, Medscape launched a lifestyle survey to examine burnout in physicians in more detail. In this survey, the authors looked at symptoms of burnout in over 15,800 physicians from over 25 specialties.

Prevalence of burnout in ophthalmology

According to the results, burnout among US physicians is at an all-time high. Doctors who are most likely to struggle with burnout work in critical care, urology and emergency medicine.  Ophthalmologists are comparatively lucky, with the second lowest rate of burnout among physicians.

Looking at gender differences among ophthalmologists, 54% of women experienced burnout compared to 35% of men.  Both genders have crept upwards since this question was asked in 2013.

Severity of burnout in ophthalmology

The researchers also looked at the intensity of burnout symptoms in each field. Severity of burnout was rated on a scale of 1-7, where 1 equals “it does not interfere with my life,” and 7 equals “it is so severe that I am thinking of leaving medicine altogether.”

The physicians with the highest level of burnout were those who worked in critical care with a rating of 4.7. Ophthalmologists were tied with three other specialties (physicians in internal medicine, orthopedics and anesthesiology) with a below average burnout rating of 4.2.

Causes of burnout in ophthalmology

When asked to rate the causes of burnout, ophthalmologists cited too many bureaucratic tasks, followed by increased computerization and the impact of the Affordable Care Act. Ophthalmologist also reported administrative bureaucracy and a lack of respect as reasons for burnout.

How to avoid stress and burnout

Even though ophthalmologists are less stressed than most other physicians, burnout is still a very real, very serious problem. Here are some suggestions for how to reduce stress in your daily life.

  • Deep breathing can lower your sympathetic nervous system fight or flight response and increase your calming parasympathetic response.  Simply inhale for 2 seconds of time and exhale for a longer time of 4-5 seconds. 
  • Keep perspective by rating stressful events with a catastrophe scale. Most people tend to over-exaggerate a life stressor by perceiving it to be more stressful than it should be. By trying to view the stressor objectively rather than subjectively, you may feel less overwhelmed.
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. Regular exercise, proper nutrition and optimal sleep hygiene can make a world of difference in reducing stress levels.

Stress management techniques make it easier to thrive in life – not just survive. Remember, it’s not what happens to you, but how you choose to react to it. 

This blog is part of a series written by our friend Kirk McFarland, CPT, NASM, NSCA. Kirk is a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach with Life Time Fitness in Eden Prairie, MN. This article was created to help Sightpath surgeons alleviate health and wellness issues often faced by those in the ophthalmology industry.