Docs give, but don't take their own stress management advice

When it comes to stress management, many doctors talk the talk, but don't walk the walk when it comes to following their own advice.

"Although the obvious doctor recommendations are diet and exercise, I think the biggest gap between what we say and what we do relates to stress reduction," Robert M. Wachter, M.D., professor and associate chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and immediate past-chairman of the American Board of Internal Medicine, recently told the Wall Street Journal.

Much of the other physician contributors' advice followed a similar theme: Physicians who don't adequately restore themselves physically and mentally do themselves and their patients a disservice. In addition to proactively combating stress--through strategies such as exercise, audiobooks, scheduled relaxation time or simply talking about their difficulties--physicians advised their peers to prioritize for themselves the following elements of wellness:

  • Sleep. Physicians' long hours and complicated lives can make sleep nearly impossible to protect. But Atul Grover, M.D., chief public policy officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, challenged his peers to make it happen. "This mind and body is the vehicle you're stuck with for many decades. Treat it as if there's no extended warranty. Eat well, rest and exercise," he said.

  • Downtime. While residency culture in particular pushes physicians to structure their whole lives around medicine, experts agree that doctors need mental rest to optimize higher thinking. A recent opinion piece from the New York Times pointed out that periods of daydreaming are often "responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight, when we're able to solve problems that previously seemed unsolvable."

  • Outside help. With the exception of minor issues or emergencies, physicians shouldn't treat themselves or close friends and family, according to Gurpreet Dhaliwal, M.D., a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California San Francisco and a staff physician at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. "A close personal connection compromises objectivity, and those relationships are negatively affected when there is an adverse event," he said.

To learn more:
- read the article from the Wall Street Journal
- see the story from the New York Times