Monday, November 16, 2009

Maintaining Health in Stressful Jobs

By Bill Callahan, M.D.

I have been asked frequently in the past 10 days how psychiatrists deal with their own reactions to what they hear every day and what its impact is on them.

When I became a psychiatrist after five years as a flight surgeon in the military, I was struck by how much of the four years it takes after medical school to become a psychiatrist was spent on making sure that we dealt with our emotions, knew our own warning signs for stress, and would set limits on a reasonable work load. We are also trained to know when to ask for a consultation with a colleague, or to get additional training for ourselves. Our educational requirements are life-long and part of our commitment to do our best for you.

A big part of my role is to be the “personal trainer for emotions.” At the end of each day, after spending eight hours immersed in the emotions and struggles of other people, I spend some time experiencing the different emotions that work caused in me. That will mean being able to cry to relieve sadness that is created, feeling the full impact of anger, as well as the affection I feel for the people I work with. This process lowers anxiety and stress and prevents a toxic buildup of emotion every day.

In future posts I will talk about how to feel healthy anger, since I find this is the most misunderstood emotion, and the fear of feeling it is a major source of stress for many.

I already had the fundamentals of a healthy life from my military flight surgeon experiences. Daily exercise for at least 45 minutes, combining aerobic and weight training, sleeping from 7 to 9 hours a day, moderate alcohol use and avoiding it all together when under increased stress or emotional strain, and making sure I took time to have fun with family and friends are things we can all do as well.

Please leave your own tips for what you do to relieve stress in the comment section.

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