The belief that doctors are models of serenity and calm – an oasis of peace in a hectic, turbulent life – is a fallacy. Most doctors I know spend much of their working day gnashing their teeth and generally under pressure. Their saving grace is that they tend to do this in private, which at least means their patients come back to see them again. I am no different, and after a difficult patient has left, a closed circuit camera in the consulting room would suggest I was in the grip of madness.
Nevertheless, I aim to get rid of my stress before giving my full, calm attention to the next patient. The techniques I use to do this can be applied in any situation, at work or at home.
• First, stand as straight as you can and stretch your body. Raise your arms above your head before bending and trying to touch your toes. Repeat ten times.
• Second, stand completely still and breathe deeply ten times to a count of five – five on the in breath and five on the out breath. For one minute, think of a favourite mental image— for example, someone you love or admire, a beautiful garden or similar place – and imagine you are actually there.
You should now feel more relaxed, and can say aloud all the things that you wanted to say to whoever has just annoyed you. If necessary, swear. (Privacy is a necessity here!) It is important that while you are getting rid of your stress, you do not stress others.
If you are constantly dealing with difficult people in a busy job, and are unable to de-stress in this way, you can still get the benefit by taking five minutes every few hours and following similar guidelines. Any reduction in your stress will make you more able to cope. The aim is to prevent a build-up of frustration throughout the day, which not only will affect your performance at work but, if left unchecked, may spill over into your home life. Try to dump as much frustration and unhappiness as you can while at work. After that, constructively discuss any remaining problems. This has the added advantage of preventing any feelings of being a ‘dumping ground’ for another person’s problem day after day. This in itself is very stressful.
After a difficult meeting, impossible colleagues or just too much work, blitz your frustrations by taking a few minutes alone to relax. This can be by doing stretching or breathing exercises, swearing to yourself in private or saying aloud what you might have wanted to say at the time but couldn’t. Mentally shovel your frustration away, calm down and move on.